World's Intense Environments Where Humans Live

Earth is our planet and is for sure still the only planet capable of hosting human beings. That does not mean though that there are no intense environments where humans live. But first, what is it that makes planet Earth so ideal for living? Being the third planet away from the sun, Earth has a unique atmosphere that allows and protects human life. Surrounded by layers of various gases, Earth is protected from any unnecessary solar radiation due to the magnetic field that is created. This atmosphere also allows water which is another important factor for the survival of human life on Earth, since humans consist of approximately 75% water, to flow on Earth’s surface. An equally important factor that makes life on Earth sustainable is her temperature; through the greenhouse effect, Earth can maintain an appropriate temperature rate and avoid extremes. Ideally, the living conditions for human beings should include an environmental temperature around77°F/25°C, since above 86°F/30°C we start to feel uncomfortable, humidity between 40-60%, a balance between sunny and rainy or cloudy days and between hot and cold weather in general, no abrupt temperature changes between night and day, available drinking water and no extreme altitude. Even if Earth is mostly friendly towards human life, there are places inhabited by humans that do not fulfill these ideal weather conditions and here are some of them:


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Mecca, Saudi Arabia

Mecca, Saudi Arabia

With temperatures rising sometimes to 121°F/49.4°C, Mecca is undoubtedly the hottest place in the world where there are humans living. People there have to survive in a hot, desert climate where temperatures even in winter resemble summer; temperature can range from 64°F/17.7°C to 86°F/30°C during winter and from 86°F/30°C to 104°F/40°C during summer, while it has never dropped under 50°F/10°C. The warmest temperatures are observed from April to October, July being the hottest month with approximately 110.8°F/43.7°C on average, sand storms and dust storms that are common throughout the whole summer, while during winter hailstorms are those that are more common. The fact that the city has also a low altitude, it lies just 909 ft above sea level, between two mountains and that is really close to the sea, 80 km away from it, makes its climate even hotter. Mecca has only 22 rainy days per year, usually between November and January but even this amount can cause floods that can be dangerous for the residents.



Wellington, New Zealand

Wellington, New Zealand

Wellington’s residents can always say one thing about the weather; it’s windy! With an average wind speed of 29 kph, Wellington is definitely one of the windiest inhabited places on Earth. People over there deal with a mild, moderate, temperate marine climate and of course a lot of wind. The humidity is around 80% all year round and the temperature ranges usually from 43°F/6°C to 77°F/25°C, the hottest one has been recorded at 88°F/31°C and the coldest one at 30°F/-1°C. There is also a high rainfall of about 1,244 mm per year, during mostly in June and July. The winters are short, mild and usually with no snowfall, but the southerly winds give the impression of a much lower and colder temperature. The city of Wellington is next to the Cook Strait which creates a wind-funnel effect that causes the extreme, gale-forced winds during the two-thirds of the year and gusts that can reach even 248 kph at Wellington, which can, in their turn, cause frosts, cyclones and tornadoes.


La Rinconada, Peru

La Rinconada, Peru

Isolated high in the Peruvian Andes, next to a glacier, La Rinconada, placed at over 16,700 ft above sea level, used to be a gold-mining camp but has gradually grown to a city with a population of over 30,000 people, consisting therefore the highest habitable city on Earth. Just to breath is difficult for an average human being, because the air in such an altitude is quite thin. With an alpine climate, the average temperature of the year is 34°F/1°C, with cold days and freezing nights and the annual rainfall is around 707 mm. With the temperature never rising above 50°F/10°C and due to the city’s extreme altitude, it is impossible for trees to grow. Summers in La Rinconada are rainy and the winters are dry with snowfalls. Even though the people of La Rinconada have adapted to the altitude, they face other difficulties. Since the city started as a small mining community, it was not planned to accommodate the constantly increasing population. Therefore, the residents live in tin shacks, randomly built with no insulation or heating and the city has no roads or sanitation systems or any other public service. Only one dangerous road, often covered with ice, leads to the city and it can take many days to reach it. People of La Rinconada also face the danger of the mercury contamination of the air, ground and water as the miners extract gold with their hands, using mercury. People continue to arrive in La Rinconada to live and work, even though the mining is illegal, and the payment system is so old, that the miners are not paid for their services monthly. Instead they are allowed only on the last day of the month to keep what they have mined that day, not actually knowing whether there is going to be any gold or not.


Kibbutz Ein Gedi, Israel

Kibbutz Ein Gedi, Israel

Ein Gedi is south of the Ein Gedi National Park and oasis in Israel, right at the edge of the Judean desert. Founded in 1953, Ein Gedi covers an area of 24.7 acre, starting from an altitude of 200 m. below sea level and reaching the level of Dead Sea, which is 400 m. below sea level. It is therefore, the lowest and inhabited at the same time place on earth, including also a botanical garden which is the house of about 500 residents and the only one that has people living in it. The population of the botanical garden is mostly involved with tourism and agriculture since the award-winning garden hosts over 900 plant species from different parts of the world and attracts many tourists. The climate of the kibbutz is a dessert, dry climate with hot summers, mild winters and little rain. Yet, sometimes the heavy rain that falls οn near places around Ein Gedi causes flash floods that can reach the kibbutz. Apart from the botanical garden, the kibbutz also hosts the Ein Gedi Park, a facility that works both as a zoo and environmental education center.


Dead Sea, a border between Jordan, Israel and Palestine   

Dead Sea, a border between Jordan, Israel and Palestine

The Dead Sea is a natural border in between Jordan, Palestine and Israel and one of the most famous lakes on earth. It makes absolute sense if you think that the lake’s altitude is 1,412 ft below sea level which makes it the lowest lake on earth. Due to the low altitude, the air around and above the lake is also affected, meaning that it contains a little more oxygen, a phenomenon that is common in high altitudes too, only then the air is thinner. But it is not just that, that makes this lake one of a kind. The salinity of the lake is unusually high, meaning it is 9.6 times saltier than the ocean, around 34%. Thus, the water of the lake is not drinkable nor is suitable for any species, plant or animal, to live in it, hence its name. In addition, the density of the water is 1,24 kg/litre which explains why you can float without even trying. Being at the edge of the Judaean desert, the climate of the lake consists of plenty of sunshine, with average temperature in summer between 90°F/32.2°C and 102°F/38.8°C, while in winter between 68°F/20°C and 73°F/22.7°C, dry air and less than 50 mm of rainfall per year. Because of its uniqueness, the Dead Sea attracts thousands of tourists each year.


Atacama Desert, Chile

Atacama Desert, Chile

Lying in between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes, in Northern Chile, there is a strip of land called the Atacama Desert which covers an area of 1,000 km. It is estimated to be somewhere between 10 and 15 million years old and is for sure the driest desert in the world. Some of the areas in the desert are said to have never seen rainfall, which sounds reasonable since the average annual rainfall is 1 mm. this is explained by the fact that the desert is located between two mountain ranges, the Chilean Coast Range and the Andes. Therefore, surrounded by them, rain or moisture from the ocean is very difficult to reach the desert. Furthermore, temperature in the desert can reach 104°F/40°C during the day but can drop to 41°F/5°C at night, and almost the whole year is sunny. The result is extreme aridity and consequently sterile, barren and stony ground with no vegetation. Yet, there are people living in certain parts of this desert and are mostly involved with mining. The desert may not be the most fertile ground, but the underground is quite rich; gold, copper, iron, silver, sodium nitrate and many others have been found. Salt basins are common in the desert, as it is the largest supply of sodium nitrate in the world.


Sahara Desert, Mali

Sahara Desert, Mali

The hottest and the third largest desert on earth is the Sahara Desert, covering an astonishing area of 9,200,000 km² in North Africa. The size of the desert is such that it can be compared to that of countries like U.S.A. and China. It has many different regions and is part of many different countries. The northern part which is below the Mediterranean Sea coast, has a hot, desert climate, with very warm summers and barely no rain. The central part of the desert has a drier climate with an unstable or no rainfall at all, high temperatures, extreme aridity during the whole year and little vegetation. The southern part of the desert, which is the smallest has a more tropical climate, with hot tropical air masses and a short rainy season. Days in the Sahara Desert are sunny, with no clouds yet strong winds and sand storms, little or no humidity at all and with temperatures around 104°F/40°C and 40°F/4.4°C at nights. The sand’s temperature is also very high, reaching and exceeding 176°F/80°C. The desert is full of sand dunes, shaped by the strong winds, oases and basins that are supplied with water by underground springs, mountains, the highest of them being the volcano Emi Koussi which reaches 11,204 ft above sea level, the two main rivers that cross it, Nile and Niger, as well as almost 20 lakes of whom only one has drinkable water and large areas of rocky plateaus.


Ladakh, India

Ladakh, India

In between two mountain ranges, that of the Himalaya in the south and of the Karakoram in the north, the region of Ladakh, the tip of India, a high-altitude plateau that stands at the very north of the country. From the ancient times, the region is known for its high passes and its ancient buddhist culture and was the crossroad of the trade routes. Its full of ragged and jagged mountains and high plateaus, the highest of them being the Khardung La at 5,359 m which is said to be the world’s highest pass. Leh is the capital of the region with an altitude of 3,500 m which due to the less oxygen can cause acclimatization problems, mudbrick houses and buddhist monasteries that at summertime come alive with colorful festivals. The mountainous scenery and the weather is an obstacle for the access of the area since the roads are closed during winter because of the heavy snowfall and the glaciers. The lowest temperature in winter ranges from -4°F/-20°C το -31°F/-35°C while summer temperatures range from 37°F/2.7°C to 95°F/35°C creating dry, sunny days.  Ladakh’s average humidity touches 78% and the average rainfall is 50mm, since it is surrounded by mountains that prevent further rain. This limited precipitation does not allow for plenty of vegetation to grow. Exceptions to that is the irrigated areas. Ladakh is a cold and dry region, with long, cold winters but during the short summers the glaciers and the snow melts, providing with water the arid region.  


Delhi, India

Delhi, India

Delhi is not just a big city, it is a megacity. Officially named National Capital Territory of Delhi (NCT) and including India’s capital city, New Delhi, this megacity is full of antitheses. With a population of almost 14 million people restricted in a relatively small area that covers 1,483 km², Delhi is thought to be the world’s second highest populated and certainly overpopulated city. Including the extended area around the city that number reaches 26 million people. The city is divided in two parts; Delhi, the old city with narrow streets, chaotic, traffic jams and slums where it is estimated that 52% of the population lives under hard living conditions, without sanitary systems or basic facilities, and New Delhi, the spacious and calmer part of the city, which is smaller as it spreads in a 42.7 km² area. There common problems though for the two parts. The city is built on a seismic zone and it is vulnerable to the danger of serious earthquakes. In addition, the overpopulation, the excessive use of vehicles and the heavy industrialization have led to a significant air pollution, creating dense smog that increases and is worse during the winter. This bad air quality is responsible for many lung related diseases. There is also a water shortage and not because of the lack of rain but because of the lack of facilities and wrong management. On average, the annual rainfall is almost 886 mm and most of it occurs during the monsoon season, in the middle of the summer when also there is an increase in humidity. A combination of humid, subtropical and hot, semi-arid climate results in long, hot summers and dry, mild winters, with average temperatures in summer around 82°F/27.7°C and in winter below 68°F/20°C.


Banff National Park, Canada

Banff National Park, Canada

This park, created in 1885, stretches for 6,641 km² in the Rocky Mountains of Canada, includes 25 mountains and is considered the oldest national park of the country. Its beauty consists of numerous, iridescent lakes, rivers, glaciers and snowy landscapes, rich forests and high-altitude fields and a huge variety of wildlife. The park owns its name to the city of Banff which is right next to it and because of the park has grown to be a commercial center and a tourist attraction. The park’s climate is subarctic and is divided in three ecosystems; the montane area which owns the smallest part, just 3%, and the part with the lower altitude of the park, is where the forests of lodgepole pine and the wildlife are found. The wildlife consists of 56 mammal species such as bears, foxes, wolves and few other species. The alpine area covers 27% of the park and is found over the tree line whereas the subalpine area covers most of the park, 53% and it is full of dense forest. The park receives an annual average of 472 mm rainfall and 234 cm or more snowfall, evidence of the snowy, harsh winters, yet with high humidity and mild summers. During the winter the temperature ranges from -4°F/-20°C or even lower if windy to 5°F/-15°C. On the contrary, during summer the temperature can reach an average between45°F/7.2°C and 72°F/22.2°C. at the past, the glaciers used to cover most of the park and the Rocky Rockies but gradually they have retreated almost 25%.


The Outback of Australia

The Outback of Australia

The Outback consists of the large, secluded area in the heart of Australia that covers 70% of the continent. It encompasses many different ecosystems and landscapes. In the north the climate is tropical with monsoons and high temperatures, an annual rainfall of 400 mm and high humidity. Thunderstorms and cyclones may also occur. The summer temperature average is around 100°F/37.7°C at day and 77°F/25°C at night. In the south the climate is milder, semi-arid with 200-300 mm of annual rainfall and cold winters. Around the Simpson Desert, the desert zone has temperatures between 97°F/36.1°C to 102°F/38.8°C at summer and 64.5°F/18°C to 75°F/23.8°C at winters  whereas at the very center of the outback, around Alice Springs there is complete aridity with the annual rainfall not exceeding 150 mm, long, hot and dry summers with average high temperature reaching 95°F/35°C or more and warm to cool winters with temperatures about 68°F/20°C but can drop much lower. The different zones of the outback offer different ecosystems and a variety of ground formations, from mountain ranges like the MacDonnell Ranges to forests like the Great Western Woodlands or the ten deserts in the west and central Australia. In these ecosystems many kinds of wildlife and birdlife has thrived despite the variances of the weather. The Outback of Australia is one of the largest areas in the world that are intact from the human presence, apart from the Aboriginal tribes that have adapted in living at the Outback and are no more than 700,000.


Danakil Depression, Ethiopia

Danakil Depression, Ethiopia

The Danakil Depression is found north of the Afal Triangle at Ethiopia, on top of the crossing of three tectonic plates that diverge from each other, a plain that lies 410 ft under the sea level. Apart from being one of the lowest places on earth the Danakil Depression is also considered one of the hottest because of the hot, desert climate which determines the average temperature from 95°F/35°C to 118°F/47.7°C throughout the year while the annual rainfall does not exceed 200 mm. Inside the depression, there is also intense volcanic activity, with active volcanoes like that of Erta Ale that contribute to the formation of the depression’s surface; the lava lake created by Erta Ale is one of the six lava lakes in the world and  the largest one, the salt basins and lakes with the vibrant colors, geysers and hot springs such as the Dallol hot, sulfur springs. In this environment, the nomadic Afar people survive in the Danakil Depression at the Dallol village by breeding camels and livestock, managing salt trade and tourism in the depression. Dallol’s annual maximum temperature is 105°F/40.5°C on average and has a dry, arid climate, conditions that make it one of the lowest and hottest places on earth all year through. These conditions also make it impossible for water to be easily accessible, except for some wells and springs that consist an occasional solution.


Alaska Range, U.S.A.

Alaska Range, U.S.A.

Although not as big as other ranges, the Alaska Range covers 966 km in North America forming an arc and a natural barrier between the inner tundra and the Pacific Ocean. The highest mountain of the range is the Denali mountain with its peak reaching 20,310 ft. The range consists of many other major peaks like Mount Foraker (17,400 ft), Mount Hunter (14,573 ft), Mount Hayes (13,832 ft) etc.  and has some other subranges. The ragged mountains of the range experience an arctic weather since it is secluded from the moisture by the Gulf of Alaska in Pacific Ocean at the north, with storms, heavy snowfalls and large glaciers and the temperature around -58°F/-50°C during the winter.  Winters especially at Denali are long and cold with temperatures ranging around 10°F/-12.2°C and can drop much lower and in the short and cool summers around 59°F/15°C. The range is crossed by four main rivers. South of the range there is the Denali Fault which causes many seismic activities. There are many protected parks in the range as well as a stratovolcano, Mount Spurr. In this extreme weather, it is not a strange thing that the state encourages residents to remain in Alaska by paying them.


The Andes, Ecuador

The Andes, Ecuador

The Andes spreads at an immense area that covers 7,000 km, fact that places them as the longest continental mountain chain on earth, touching seven countries of south America; Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Bolivia and Argentina. The average height of the mountain chain is 13,000 ft but in between the mountains and the subranges there are high-altitude plateaus. The highest peak is that of the Mount Aconcagua, in Argentina, which reaches 22,838 ft. The Ecuadorian Andes specifically, is characterized by the existence of many lakes, rainforests and high-altitude woodlands, rocky terrain, highlands, rock and snow glaciers colonial cities like the capital city of Quito, active volcanoes from the north to the south of Ecuador such as the Chimborazo at 20,702 ft, the Cotopaxi at 19,347 ft or the Cayambe at 18,996 ft and more, known as the “Avenue of the Volcanoes” with the snow covered peaks. These ranged mountains attract experienced hikers since there is always the danger of avalanches, snowstorms and strong winds. The average temperature is around 59°F/15°C at days. Rains and hailstorms are very likely all the time. The snowline in the Ecuadorian Andes is between 14,800 ft and 15,700 ft but this changes depending at which part of the Andes one is interested in. All these prove the extreme diversity of the Andes and the extreme weather changes that prevail. Quito, the capital of Ecuador is built from the ancient times on an elevation of the Andes at 9,350 ft and has a subtropical climate with daily temperature at 66°F/18.8°C on average and generally ranging from 50°F/10°C to 77°F/25°C. But the Andes is populated all through its length from ancient times till today, with civilizations like the Incas and cities like Machu Picchu showcasing that people can adjust to the extreme climate and progress.


Mexico City, Mexico

Mexico City, Mexico

Capital of Mexico and the most populated city of North America, the City of Mexico is a city of contrasts, located at a plateau of 7,350 ft high in the Valley of Mexico, hosting almost 9 million people, with the number increasing to 21.2 million people, meaning 20% of the country’s overall population, when considering the extended metropolitan area that is divided into 16 boroughs and referred to as The Greater Mexico City. This megalopolis is expected to be the one or one of the most populated cities in the world in the years to come. The fast growth though has led to many problems. The slums and the shantytowns have spread around the city, with no sanitary systems or any basic services and public facilities. Only in the largest of these slums, Neza-Chalcoltza, the population is thought to reach 4 million people. Surrounded by mountains the population is restricted in that area as is the water that ends up in the Valley and cannot flow out, creating dangerous floods. This problem was reduced after the drainage infrastructure was established. The city also is vulnerable to regular seismic activity since it is built on top of a drained lake’s soft, clay bed, making it sink through time. Air pollution from the use of 4 million vehicles and the 50,000 industries is another common problem for cities such this one, with Mexico City’s ozone pollution being 2.5 times over the accepted safety limits. Concerning the weather in Mexico City, the annual temperature ranges from 54°F/12.2°C to 61°F/16°C, an annual rainfall of 820 mm during mostly the summer months and some tropical winds.



Edited  by Eleni Gkovedarou

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