We all look out the window from time to time and think ‘could the weather get any worse?’, but what we are actually experiencing pales in comparison to other places.
While the majority of the earth maintains a climate and environment that is suitable for people, plants, and animals to thrive, there are certain areas of the world that are much more extreme. What makes a harsh environment is generally extremes in temperature, terrain, or socio-economic situation. When we talk about the harshest environments on earth, we usually think of the desert, right? Not necessarily. While these are included among them, they are not the worst on the list. For the intrepid explorers among us, the harshest environments on earth are must-gos on any bucket list.
With the introduction of survivalism and the television time devoted to it, these areas have been glamourised as must-see destinations, even though they are barely habitable, if at all. However, it is this movement that has made us more knowledgeable and more aware of the variety of environments around the globe. It has opened up the more extreme world to people who will probably never experience it first-hand.
This list details the top five harshest environments on earth, from the hottest to the coldest, the driest to the wettest and roughest, and there are many more besides. There are many more that could be on this list, too numerous to mention, but one this is for sure; these environments, while harsh, are a sight to behold and something every adventurer worth their salt should see.
By all accounts, Antarctica tops the list as the harshest on many fronts. It has been described as the driest, coldest, and windiest place on Earth. Temperatures in Vostok Research Centre plummeted to a chilly -89◦C in 1989. Apart from its extremes of cold, Antarctica is made up ice and rock (98% ice, 2% rock), all of which would make it uninhabitable – or so you would think!
The population averages at around 1,000 people which rises to approximately 4,000 during summer months when there is an influx of researchers to the area, trying to capture much need to information about the area itself and the water that surrounds it. There is an inner area of Antarctica called the Dry Valleys, which has not seen any rainfall in two million years! The reason for this is the 200mph Katabatic winds which evaporate moisture before it can touch the surface, making this one of driest places on earth.
The Sahara Desert is a harsh environment for a number of reasons, though its dryness and soaring temperatures are the main ones. The amount of rainfall in the Sahara each year is so miniscule, it is barely worth mentioning (less than 3 cm), this makes it uninhabitable for the most part. However there is a small group of nomadic people called the Tuareg that live on its outer edges, raising livestock and trading.
The temperatures in this region are almost unbearable, with the average being roughly 50◦ Celsius. However, there have been temperatures as high as 58◦ Celsius recorded in the area. It is not however, the hottest place on earth. That honor goes to the Lut Desert in Iran which has had temperature recordings of 71◦ Celsius.
While the Sahara is now arid desert, it was not always so. As recently as 6000 BCE, grains were grown in the area, and there have even been cave drawings found that depict greenery growing. Parts of the Sahara have been irrigated in recent years, making them usable once more.
Although we envision the Sahara to be vast areas of sand, the reality is that sand only makes up about 30% of the Sahara. The rest is gravel.
Greenland may seem like it doesn’t belong on a list of harsh environments, but when you consider that it is made up of ice (80 percent of the country’s surface) and rough terrain, you can see that it may be one of the worst among them.
An island nation that sits close to the North Pole, Greenland is covered in a thick ice sheet, apart from its coastline, which is mountainous. These conditions keep the island’s population small (approx 57,000) and confined to certain areas.
There is an area to the Northeast, known as The National Park, that is completely devoid of human population and very rarely even has human visitors because of its harsh environment. The area is mostly home to polar bears and walruses. All of these conditions are compounded by the fact that for three months every summer, the sun doesn’t set and during the cold winter months, the sun never rises above the horizon.
We’ve all heard people remark when it’s cold outside that it’s like Siberia. While we imagine that this area must be freezing all year round, this is not necessarily so. There have been temperatures recorded in Siberia of 38◦ Celsius, which is hot by any standard. However, this is not the norm.
There is a village in Siberia called Oymyakon that has recorded temperatures as low as -67.7◦ Celsius and is the coldest permanently inhabited village in the world, so much of what we know about Siberia is absolutely true. Siberia takes up roughly 77 percent of Russia’s territory and covers almost 10 percent of the worlds land surface.
Siberia is also known for being a place of exile used to exile people, such as political prisoners, to a land where they would never be found and from which they would never escape.
Most people have heard of Challenger Deep in the Marianas Trench. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it is the deepest point on earth which is an amazing 35,840 feet below sea level. If you took Mount Everest and put it under water, the peak would still be a mile below sea level!
The bottom of Challenger deep is seven miles down and the pressure exerted down there equates to about eight tons. The original discovery was made in 1875 by the HMS Challenger expedition.