Large animals like elephants, lions, and giraffes live in the harsh, arid Namib Desert. How do these animals survive? The secret is the desert’s geography. 
 
Watch this video from the Nat Geo WILD program “Destination Wild.” Then consult the tabs for some critical thinking questions, a list of fast facts to enhance viewing comprehension, links to related materials, and a short glossary of vocabulary used in the video.
 
Instructional Ideas
You can use National Geography Standard 7.1 to better understand how Earth’s physical systems contribute to the “Secret of Survival” in the Namib Desert.
 
4th Grade: There are four components of Earth's physical systems (the atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and lithosphere). Therefore, the student is able to identify attributes of Earth's different physical systems, as exemplified by being able to identify different attributes of physical systems in photographs (e.g., sky, clouds, plants, soil, oceans, lakes, mountains).
  • Questions 1-2 explore attributes of physical systems in the Namib Desert.
 
8th Grade: The four components of Earth’s physical systems (the atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and lithosphere) are interdependent. Therefore, the student is able to identify and describe patterns in the environment that result from the interaction of Earth’s physical processes, as exemplified by being able to identify and describe the patterns that result from the connections between climate and vegetation (e.g., examples of patterns of ecosystems and biomes).
  • Question 3 explores how climate impacts life in the Namib Desert.
 
12th Grade: The interactions of Earth's physical systems (the atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and lithosphere) vary across space and time. Therefore, the student is able to explain how the effects of physical processes vary across regions of the world and over time, as exemplified by being able to analyze and explain the relationships between physical processes and the location of land features (e.g., river valleys, canyons, deltas, glaciated lakes and moraines, limestone deposits, caves, alluvial fans, canyons). 
  • Question 4 explores how Earth’s physical systems have changed the landscape of the Namib Desert over time.
  1. There are four components to Earth’s physical systems: atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and lithosphere. What are some attributes, or natural features, associated with each component in the video?

    • Answer

      Atmosphere: clouds, mist

      Biosphere: animals, plants

      Hydrosphere: rivers, clouds, the ocean

      Lithosphere: sandy soil, rock formations, mountains, sand dunes

  2. What are some attributes associated with Earth’s physical systems that are NOT found in the Namib Desert?

    • Answer

      Atmosphere: Auroras, better known as the Northern and Southern Lights, cannot be seen in the atmosphere above the Namib Desert.

      Biosphere: Animals, plants, and other living things not adapted to survival in an arid climate—such as fish and mangrove trees—are not found in the Namib Desert.

      Hydrosphere: One of the most common attributes associated with the hydrosphere, rain, is absent from the Namib Desert.

      Lithosphere: The Namib Desert is not home to any active volcanoes.

  3. The Namib Desert is one of the driest, hottest places on Earth. How does climate impact life in the Namib Desert?

    • Answer

      Plant and animal species have avoided or adapted to life without rain in the Namib Desert. Very few species survive in the sand dunes themselves. (Those that do, not shown in the video, include beetles and snakes.)

      Animals such as desert elephants, birds, and lions usually limit their range to areas near rivers that bracket the desert. Many, however, migrate through regions with ephemeral streams, which run seasonally.

  4. How have physical systems such as the hydrosphere and atmosphere changed the physical landscape of the Namib Desert?

    • Answer

      Hydrosphere: According to the video, the Namib Desert is created by water. Throughout millions of years, rivers have eroded (and continue to erode) the desert’s hard rock to carve steep canyons and gorges in the landscape. The eroded rock becomes sand, and is carried to the Atlantic Ocean as sediment. Tons of this sandy sediment are transported north by the powerful Benguela Current. Tides and storms deposit it along the desert coast.

      Atmosphere: Storms and southeasterly trade winds carry the sand inland, forming the Namib’s “vast, beautiful, and hostile dunes.”

Here are a few animals shown living in and around the Namib Desert:
  • giraffes
  • elephants
  • owls
  • antelope
  • caracals (big cats with tufted ears similar to a lynx)
  • baboons
  • lions
  • swifts
  • rock hyraxes
Here are some plants shown living in and around the Namib Desert:
  • grasses
  • trees
  • shrubs
  • bushes
  • mosses
  • algae (not technically a plant!)
algae
Plural Noun

(singular: alga) diverse group of aquatic organisms, the largest of which are seaweeds.

arid
Adjective

dry.

Noun

layers of gases surrounding a planet or other celestial body.

attribute
Noun

something belonging or characteristic of a person, thing, or group.

Noun

part of the Earth where life exists.

Noun

deep, narrow valley with steep sides.

climate
Noun

all weather conditions for a given location over a period of time.

Noun

visible mass of tiny water droplets or ice crystals in Earth's atmosphere.

component
Noun

part.

Noun

steady, predictable flow of fluid within a larger body of that fluid.

Noun

area of land that receives no more than 25 centimeters (10 inches) of precipitation a year.

ephemeral stream
Noun

body of water that flows only after a fall of precipitation.

erode
Verb

to wear away.

Noun

study of places and the relationships between people and their environments.

Noun

deep, narrow valley with steep sides, usually smaller than a canyon.

harsh
Adjective

extreme.

hostile
Adjective

confrontational or unfriendly.

Noun

all the Earth's water in the ground, on the surface, and in the air.

Adjective

characteristic to or of a specific place.

Noun

the geographic features of a region.

Noun

outer, solid portion of the Earth. Also called the geosphere.

migrate
Verb

to move from one place or activity to another.

Noun

clouds at ground-level, but with greater visibility than fog.

mountain
Noun

landmass that forms as tectonic plates interact with each other.

natural feature
Noun

characteristic of a geographic region that was not created by humans.

Noun

large body of salt water that covers most of the Earth.

physical system
Noun

part of an environment or community chosen for study or analysis.

Noun

liquid precipitation.

Noun

large stream of flowing fresh water.

rock
Noun

natural substance composed of solid mineral matter.

sand
Noun

small, loose grains of disintegrated rocks.

sand dune
Noun

mound of sand created by the wind.

Noun

solid material transported and deposited by water, ice, and wind.

soil
Noun

top layer of the Earth's surface where plants can grow.

Noun

native, geographic area in which an organism can be found. Range also refers to the geographic distribution of a particular species.

storm
Noun

severe weather indicating a disturbed state of the atmosphere resulting from uplifted air.

survive
Verb

to live.

Noun

rise and fall of the ocean's waters, caused by the gravitational pull of the moon and sun.

trade wind
Noun

winds that blow toward the Equator, from northeast to southwest in the Northern Hemisphere and from southeast to northwest in the Southern Hemisphere.

transport
Verb

to move material from one place to another.

vast
Adjective

huge and spread out.