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Our Glaciers: Then and Now activity kit helps you see the changes taking place in glaciers around the world. See all our activity kits and classroom activities.
This is an aerial view of a hot spring in Yellowstone National Park, U.S.A. This large pool is called Grand Prismatic hot spring. Hot springs are an extreme environment, but some kinds of microbes can live in them. The water in some hot springs is a strong acid, but some microbes manage to live in those, too. Different kinds of microbes have different colors. The colored microbes make this spring look like a rainbow!
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Image courtesy of the U.S. Natl. Park Service, photograph by Al Mebane.

Extreme Environments - Acid, Radiation, and More!

This page describes extreme environments that are filled with acids, are blasted with radiation, are under high pressure, or are tough places for most living things in various other ways. Extreme environments are places where "normal" life finds it hard to survive. That doesn't mean that there isn't any life in extreme environments. Certain creatures can live and grow in extreme environments. Scientists have a special name for creatures that live in extreme environments. They are called "extremophiles".

What kinds of environments are "extreme"? Some extreme environments that you may know about are deserts, mountain peaks, caves, and frozen places like the Arctic and Antarctic. Some environments are very hot or very cold, extremely dry, or both.

Poisonous chemicals in some environments are deadly to most creatures. Some environments have lots and lots of salt, which dries out and kills most living things. The Dead Sea in the Middle East and Utah's (USA) Great Salt Lake are examples of bodies of water that are much, much saltier than the oceans. Some environments have high levels of acids or bases, which tend to kill most creatures. Water seeping through old mines can turn to acid. Some hot springs are also acidic, and only special types of microbes can live there.

Some environments have lots of radiation. The tops of high mountains stick up above most of Earth's atmosphere. High places get hit with ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the Sun. Caves and other places underground, as well as waste dumps created by humans, can have radioactive materials that bombard nearby creatures. There are other sorts of extreme environments in cracks in rocks underground and even inside tiny spaces within rocks.

High pressures make some environments extreme. Places far underground or deep beneath the ocean have high pressures that are deadly to most, but not all, creatures. Some environments have almost no food, making them extreme. Other places don't have oxygen, so creatures like us who need to breathe it cannot survive there. Caves and the deep ocean are always dark, so plants and other creatures that make food using photosynthesis (and other creatures that feed on them) can't live there.

Last modified September 26, 2008 by Randy Russell.

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Extreme Environments

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Extremophiles

Some environments are not good homes for most "normal" kinds of life. Places like that are called extreme environments. That doesn't mean that there isn't any life in extreme environments. Certain creatures...more

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The Arctic: Earth's North Polar Region

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The Antarctic Region

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Extreme Environments - Temperature and Moisture

This page describes environments that are very hot or very cold, extremely dry, or both. Extreme environments are places where "normal" life finds it hard to survive. That doesn't mean that there isn't...more

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