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Living with the Physical Environment

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Living with the Physical Environment

Calling all physical geographers! Glad to have you here. What's your favourite natural hazard? Maybe it's the super fiery exploding volcanoes, or perhaps it's the spinning, whirling cyclones! Are you interested in our changing climate? Or possibly, what it's like to live on plate boundaries? If these questions excite you, this section is the one for you. Let's outline the meaning of the physical environment, and take a brief look at the topics that you will be exploring in this section. Let's also explore some of the challenges of living with the physical environment.

Physical environment meaning

If you're a keen geographer, when you think of the physical environment you'll think of things like our climate, rivers, coasts, natural disasters, and the list goes on. You would be entirely correct. But what is the textbook meaning of the physical environment?

The physical environment can be understood as the natural world around us.

In our physical geography topics, we have already discussed glacial environments, river environments, coastal environments, cold, hot and tropical environments, as well as natural ecosystems and biomes. Be sure to check out the introduction explanations to each of those topics; Glacial Landscapes, River Landscapes, Coasts, and Living World.

Living with the Physical Environment Mountains and River Landscape StudySmarterFig. 1 - the beauty of our physical environment

This explanation is going to focus on living with the physical environment, where things like climate change, natural hazards, and plate margins all have an impact on how we, as humans, live within our world's physical environment. Let's outline these topics briefly, but, don't forget, this is just an introduction; be sure to read all the explanations within each of these topics!

Living with the physical environment topics

Living in the physical environment of the world means that we, as humans, are completely exposed to mother nature's elements. What kind of threats does the physical environment pose to our daily lives? Can these threats be mitigated? Let's discuss some of the topics you'll be learning about.

Climate Change

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges that our world is facing. Although climate change has occurred naturally over millions of years, with periods of warming and cooling, we are now the problem. As a result of the intensification of farming, burning fossil fuels, increased use of transportation, and changing our environments through practices such as deforestation, our climate has changed dramatically, and, it's our fault. This change is causing glaciers to melt and retreat, crop yields to reduce, sea levels to increase, and ecosystems to go extinct! Because of this, it is going to become increasingly more important to respond to such issues; this can be achieved through Adapting to a Changing Climate or Managing Climate Change.

Climate Change: real or not real? Give our Evidence for Climate Change explanation a read!

Natural hazards

Next up, are natural hazards. We can split natural hazards into two sections; Climate Hazards and Tectonic Hazards. Firstly, let's quickly define a natural hazard.

Natural events occur in the physical environment all the time, such as volcanic eruptions. These events become hazards when people are impacted.

Living in the Physical Environment Volcano Eruption StudySmarterFig. 2 - how would this natural event impact human life?

Climate Hazards

Climate hazards are basically related to the weather and are caused by our weather systems. Make sure you read the Global Atmospheric Circulation explanation to understand how weather systems work! Examples of climate hazards include:

  • Flooding
  • Tropical storms (typhoons, cyclones, and hurricanes)
  • Droughts
  • Tornadoes

In this section, there are many case studies for these hazards, such as the Weather Hazards in the UK, Hurricane Katrina Case Study, or Typhoon Haiyan Case Study, to name just a few! These climate hazards also need to be addressed; make sure you read the explanations on responses and management for some of these climatic hazards.

Tectonic Hazards

Tectonic hazards are caused by the movement of the earth's surface or the movement of tectonic plates. The earth is split up into many layers, a bit like a cake. The outer layer is divided into big chunks of rock, or plates, which move in different directions! This movement can result in earthquakes and volcanoes.

Earthquakes are caused when the earth literally shakes, due to the movement in the earth's crust.

Volcanoes are ruptures in the earth's surface, where vast eruptions of lava, rocks, and gases explode into volcanic mountains

You can read about why earthquakes happen, types, and examples in the Earthquakes explanation, whilst volcano formation, types, and examples can all be found in the explanation on Volcanoes!

Reducing the risks of tectonic hazards is also important, as these are both pretty dangerous events; Monitoring Volcanoes and Earthquake Hazard Management are both important in addressing these tectonic hazards.

Plate margins

No, we aren't talking about dinner plates! We're actually talking about those tectonic plates we mentioned earlier.

Plate margins, also called plate boundaries, are when different tectonic plates meet each other. Think of the world like a terribly sliced pizza!

There are different types of plate margins that exist; constructive, destructive, conservative, and collision. They are all associated with different landforms or hazards. Many people are Living on Plate Margins, for many different reasons, but sadly, there are risks associated with living on these margins, such as damaged infrastructure and even deaths. This means that it is vital to have methods to reduce these risks and impacts, such as resistant infrastructures and monitoring methods.

Challenges of living with the physical environments

It's pretty clear that climate change, natural hazards, and living on plate margins all pose a risk to humans. Let's take a closer look at some of the challenges that exist when living in the physical environment.

Climate change and climate hazards

As we have already discussed, climate change is one of the major challenges in the physical environment. Climate change will likely impact everyone at some point. As climate change worsens, so too, will climate hazards. With melting glaciers, and rising sea levels, flooding will become much more common, which can cause massive infrastructural damage among other casualties, including death.

Living with the Physical Environment Flooding Sign on a road StudySmarterFig. 3 - flooding will become much more common

A warmer climate will produce more heatwaves, droughts, and soaring temperatures. Dangerous weather events will essentially become much more intense, and occur much more often. Reduced rainfall means water availability goes down, which can increase the risks of water insecurity. The warmer climate and reduced water supply can cause crop production and agriculture to fail, which can reduce people's access to food, causing food insecurity.

Food insecurity is the lack of access to affordable and nutritious food.

Water insecurity is the lack of access to enough safe water.

Countries across the world, that already experience high heat levels and high rates of rainfall, will be more heavily impacted. Hot countries will become hotter, and floods will become a very familiar event, affecting people and their livelihoods. Bangladesh is a clear example of this!

Plate margins and tectonic hazards

As you can see on the map above, there are many plate margins across the world. This means that people are bound to be living there. But, of course, this isn't without its challenges. Living on a plate margin means it is much more likely for those people to be impacted by tectonic hazards. Earthquakes and volcanoes are more apparent at plate boundaries, which, if these hazards occur, can cause mass destruction. This can have a huge economic impact on the area. Natural disasters can also result in a loss of human life, and impact the local environment and ecosystems.

It is clear that living with the physical environment comes with many challenges- but we don't have much choice! Take a look at our explanations on climate hazards and earthquake hazard management to see how people cope!

Another hazard associated with plate margins is tsunamis. You won't be learning about these for your exam, but they are still a pretty cool (albeit devastating) hazard to know about. Tsunamis are huge and speedy waves that are caused by earthquakes that occur under the sea. The earthquake causes large waves to appear on the ocean surface. As they move towards land, they reduce in momentum and the height of the waves increases. They break and result in massive damage.

Living with the Physical Environment - Key takeaways

  • The physical environment is essentially the natural or physical world around us.
  • In this section, you will dive into the topics of climate change, natural hazards (climate and tectonic), and plate margins.
  • It is important to read all the explanations on these topics, including different case studies.
  • There are many challenges to living in the physical environment; climate change is going to impact us drastically, and living on plate margins is a pretty risky business!

References

  1. Figure. 1: river and mountain landscape (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Matanuska_River_Landscape.jpg) by Cecil Sanders (https://www.flickr.com/people/31399686@N02) Licensed by CC-BY-2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en).
  2. Figure. 2: volcano eruption (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mayon_Volcano_Eruption_4.jpg) by Darkimages08 Licensed by CC BY-SA-4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en).
  3. Figure. 3: flooding sign (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Flooding_at_Burley_-_geograph.org.uk_-_3269931.jpg) by David Dixon (https://www.geograph.org.uk/profile/43729) Licensed by CC BY-SA-2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en).

Frequently Asked Questions about Living with the Physical Environment

The main topics in the living with the physical environment section are climate change, natural hazards, and plate margins. 


The physical environment in geography is essentially the natural world around us and the study of climate change, natural hazards and plate margins.

The physical environment is very important! The physical environment is essential as it is host to every living thing on Earth, therefore it is important to take care of it.

The physical environment can be exampled by the natural world around us, like our climate, rivers, coasts, natural disasters, among other things. 

The physical environment has characteristics of the natural world, like the climate, landscapes, or natural disasters.

Final Living with the Physical Environment Quiz

Question

Why do scientists study pollen to learn about climate change?

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Answer

Because fossil plant pollen can tell us what types of plants existed at a certain time and place in the past. If the plants grew in warm conditions, then we would know the climate was warmer, or if they grew in colder areas, then we would know that the climate was cooler.

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Question

Why do climate scientists look at tree rings?

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Scientists look at tree rings to see how much precipitation fell at a certain place and time in the past. For example, thicker tree rings means more rain, thinner tree rings means less rain.

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Question

__________ cycles are changes in Earth’s orbit that affect the amount of solar radiation received.

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Answer

Milankovitch

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(True or False) Weather is the short-term condition of the atmosphere.

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Answer

True

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(True or False) Climate change is an unnatural process.

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False

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Question

Ammonia from fertilizer run-off can result in the emission of the greenhouse gas known as ________


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Answer

nitrous oxide

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Question

An Indonesian volcano that almost wiped out humanity 74,000 years ago was.


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Answer

Tambora

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The melting of __________ is causing loss of freshwater resources in Nepal.

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Answer

mountain glaciers

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What would a climate scientist go to the Greenland ice cap to sample?


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Answer

ice cores

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Large volcanic eruptions can cause global ________.


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Answer

cooling

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Question

What are some ways we can learn about the history of Earth’s climate?


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Answer

pollen, ice cores, historical records, geological evidence, tree rings

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(True or False) In general, the wider a tree ring is, the cooler and drier the year.

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Answer

False

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Question

What farm animal is responsible for huge amounts of methane contributing to global warming? 


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Answer

cow

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What living thing stores carbon dioxide in a sink?


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Answer

A plant

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Question

True or False) The Little Ice Age ended about 11,000 years ago

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Answer

False

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Question

Where did Hurricane Katrina develop?

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Answer

Near Jamaica

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What category storm was Hurricane Katrina when it hit Florida?

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Category 1

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TRUE or FALSE: Hurricane Katrina caused tornadoes in Alabama, Georgia and Florida.

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Answer

True

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What is a storm surge?

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A storm surge is a temporary rise in water above normal sea level as a result of a storm.

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Which states were affected by Hurricane Katrina?

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Answer

Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi

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Which states experienced the greatest impacts from Hurricane Katrina?

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Answer

Louisiana and Georgia

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What category storm was Hurricane Katrina when it made landfall in Mississippi?

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Answer

Category 1

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Which city received the greatest impact from Hurricane Katrina?

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Answer

Miami, Florida

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What was the total death toll for Hurricane Katrina?

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1833

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Which state had the highest number of deaths from Hurricane Katrina?

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Alabama

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What was the estimated total overall damage caused by Hurricane Katrina?

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Answer

USD $70 billion

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TRUE or FALSE: New Orleans flooded because the levees protecting the city could not withstand the additional pressure caused by the 8-10 inches of rainfall and the 22ft storm surge. Therefore, they failed, causing flood water to flow into the city.

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True

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How many people evacuated from New Orleans the day before Hurricane Katrina hit the city?

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1.2 million

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TRUE or FALSE: Relief efforts were coordinated only by NGOs and international countries in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

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True

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How much money in aid was mobilized and deployed by the US federal government in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina?

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Answer

USD $62.3 billion

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Question

What is a volcano? 

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Answer

A volcano is a rupture or hole in the Earth from which material from the mantle can emerge.

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Which of the following are the three main layers of the Earth? 

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Answer

Crust, mantle, core

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True or False: Magma that has erupted from a volcano is called lava.

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Answer

True!

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What is a volcanic crater?

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A crater is the actual hole in the volcano from which ash, gas, and lava emerge.

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What is the lithosphere?

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The lithosphere is the combination of the crust and the upper mantle.

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True or False: Tectonic activity is responsible for the formation of volcanoes.

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Answer

True!

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How are shield volcanoes formed?

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Shield volcanoes are formed through constructive plate margins, when plates move away from each other.

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How are composite volcanoes formed?

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Composite volcanoes are formed through destructive plate margins, when plates collide into each other.

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True or False: It can take hundreds of years for lava to cool. 

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False! Typically, lava cools down within just a few minutes, though it may take months or years to harden and solidify.

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Which of the following is NOT a term used to describe how often a volcano erupts?

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Expired

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Where is the Ring of Fire?

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Answer

The Ring of Fire is located around the Pacific Plate.

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Which of the following countries has 100 or more volcanoes? Select ALL that apply.

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Answer

United States

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Question

Define andisol.

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Andisol is volcanic soil; the combination of cooled lava and volcanic ash. 

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True or False: Krakatoa caused a massive natural disaster in the ancient Roman tome of Pompeii. 

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Answer

False! Mount Vesuvius caused a natural disaster in Pompeii; Krakatoa is located in Indonesia.

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Explain how volcanic activity can make new landforms. 

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Answer

As lava from the volcano cools and hardens, it can form new land. After lengthy periods of time, lava flows can accumulate to form new landforms. The Hawaiian Islands, for example, are the product of millions of years of lava flows.

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Question

Why do we monitor volcanoes?

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Answer

To predict eruptions

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TRUE or FALSE: monitoring volcanoes can predict every volcanic eruption

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Answer

False.

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Question

What is ground deformation?

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Answer

Changes in the volcano's surface caused by magma rising up the volcano.

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How is ground deformation monitored?

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Answer

Tiltmeter

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Why does monitoring earthquakes relate to volcanoes?

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Answer

Earthquakes happen more often and more intensely near a volcano just before an eruption. This is because moving magma causes the ground to shake.

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