Geography Case Studies


Water Insecurity The Murray-Darling Basion


  • Proves 75% of Australia's water ( 85% of the country's irrigation water).
  • Provides 40% of the nation's farm produce.


  • A five-fold increase in water extraction since the 1920s.
  • Due to Australia's size, together with variations in ENSO cycles, annual, seasonal and local variations in rainfall occur between different parts of the Basin. Some areas can experience surpluses while others are in deficit.

Key Players

  • Urban Residents of the south-east
  • Industrial Users- Queensland's mining industry
  • Aquaculture
  • Leisure Interests
  • Local and State Governments- Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland
  • Environmental Groups- Environment Victoria
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Contested Water Resources

China v India

  • The Brahmaputra River could be diverted to ease scarcity problems in southern China, but this would then reduce supplies to India.

China v Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam

  • Chinese dams along the headwaters of the Mekong River threaten downstream nations.

Egypt v Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan and Uganda

  • The Blue and White Nile Basins supply Egypt with vital freshwater, but 85% of it comes from countries further upstream.
  • Population growth and increasing demands could threaten Egypt's supplies.
  • Currently, over 300 million people live within the Nile Basin; this is expected to double by 2030.
  • 1959, the Nile Waters Agreement was signed, which in effect gave all the water to Egypt and Sudan and was signed by colonial powers.
  • Egypt and Sudan refuse to sign a new agreement, but China through neo-colonisation is planning to build schemes and dams in especially Ethiopia, which has the potential to cause conflict.
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Water Insecurity- Managing Supplies (Hard Engineer

The Three Gorges Dam

  • Designed to control flooding on the Yangtze, improve water supply by regulating river flow, generate HEP and make the river navigable.
  • Cost $30 billion.
  • Enables surplus water to build up and be diverted to northern China via the South-North Water Transfer Project.
  • 22,500 MW HEP since 2012- vital to growth.
  • 600km of land flooded, 1.3 million relocated.
  • Low water quality due to no environmental regulations in Special Economic Zones.

The South-North Water Transfer Project

  • Beijing has 35% of China's population, and 40% of its arable land, but only 7% of its water.
  • Total cost $70billion, due to be completed by 2050.
  • 345,000 will be forced to relocate
  • Risks draining too much water from southern China
  • Eastern route is industrial and risks further pollution.
  • Reduced risk of water shortages in Beijing and boost economic development.
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Water Insecurity- Managing Supplies (Sustainably)

Israel- Managing Limited Supplies

  • Smart irrigation
  • Recycling sewage water for agricultural use (65% of crops)
  • Reducing agricultural consumption, and importing water in food as virtual water
  • 'Real value' prices for water

Acquiring New Supplies

  • Importing 50 million tonnes of water per year from Turkey- Manavgat Project
  • Desalination Plants, aim to supply 70% of Israel's domestic water supply by 2020.

Singapore- Holistic Management

  • Per capita, water consumption fell from 165 litres per day in 200 to 150 in 2015, by metering the water supply and educating the public.
  • Leakages have been cut to 5%, UK=20%
  • Water prices are scaled
  • Subsidies protect the poorest citizens from expensive water.
  • Diversified supplies include local catchment water, recycled water and desalinated water.
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Regional Issues Related to Global Water Insecurity

Asia and the Pacific

  • Critical Health Problems- 1/3 lacks access to safe drinking water
  • Water Pollution- bacteria 10 times the recommended levels
  • Agriculture uses 90% of freshwater withdrawals in South Asia.
  • A billion gallons of raw sewage is dumped into the Ganges each day.
  • 42% of China's sewage and 45% of its industrial waste is dumped into the Yangtze River each year.

Europe/Central Asia

  • Half of Europe's cities over-exploiting their groundwater reserves.
  • Declining water quality in countries with groundwater pollution e.g. the Aral Sea.

North America

  • Aquifer depletion due to population and urban growth, and the expansion of irrigation and industry.
  • Changes in rainfall patterns in California have led to drought, declining groundwater supplies and falling reservoirs.
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Regional Issues Related to Global Water Insecurity


  • Oil leaks in the Niger Delta, $1billion clear up costs.
  • 19 of the 25 countries in the world with the lowest access to clean water are in Africa.
  • Lack of groundwater protection from agricultural uses- 80% of total water use.
  • Lack of preparedness and mitigation.

Latin America and the Caribbean

  • Groundwater contamination and depletion from an increasing release of hazardous waste from mining, agriculture and industry.
  • Poor sanitation- 2% of the sewage in Latin America is treated.
  • Economic Scarcity 
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Surpluses Within The Hydrological System

Storm Desmond- Cumbria December 2015

  • Caused by the deep Atlantic low-pressure system, bringing prolonged and heavy rainfall through a mechanism known as a 'warm conveyor'.
  • 5200 homes flooded and 61 000 homes lost power when an electrical substation was flooded.

Exacerbating Flood Risk

  • Overgrazing by sheep means that bare slopes now replace forests.
  • Impermeable surfaces built on top of flood plains.
  • Flood defences were designed only for a 1-in-100-year event; it had been 6 years.


  • Reafforestation, restoration of river channels to their natural meander, restoration of floodplains and refusal of planning permission to build or expand developments near rivers.

Longer-term impacts

  • £400-£500m loss, insurance claims exceeded £6billon across the UK, House prices fell.
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Surpluses Within The Hydrological System

Developing Nations

  • 80% of Bangladeshi people are exposed to flood risk, half the country is less than 12.5m above sea level.
  • Increasing snowmelt in the Himalayas.
  • Mozambique in 2000, a tropical cyclone caused major flooding.
  • Melting snow in late spring regularly causes extensive flooding in the continental interiors of Asia and America. The great north-flowing Siberian rivers, such as the Ob and Yenisei, cause vast annual flooding in the plains of Siberia.
  • The quick transition from winter to spring upstream causes rapid snow melting, while their lower reaches remain frozen- limited infiltration.
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Deficits Within the Hydrological System

Brazil 2014-2015


  • High-pressure systems diverted rain-bearing winds further north, away from the Amazon.


  • Water rationing for 4 million people; water supplies were cut off for 3 days in some towns
  • Halting of HEP, which led to power cuts.
  • Depletion of Brazil's 17 largest reservoirs to dangerously low levels.
  • Increased groundwater abstraction.
  • A reduced crop of Arabica coffee beans, pushing global prices up by 50%.

Human Activity

  • $3000 charged by Brazil's government for granting a license to drill a well. In addition, drilling a single well can cost between US$35,000 and US$100,000. The cost meaning people avoided payment and instead drilled illegal wells, which were not monitored.
  • Illegal wells are generally shallower and less filtered, so contain industrial pollutants.
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Holderness Coastal Erosion


  • Boulder Clay
  • The chalk band that surrounds the boulder clay has created a headland at Flamborough Head

Wave Energy

  • Destructive Waves, due to the circulation of currents around the UK from the Atlantic Ocean to the North Sea
  • Low-pressure weather systems
  • Small, almost eclosed sea generates huge waves during storms.
  • Deep sea floor, little friction.

Longshore Drift and Beach Material

  • Boulder clay erodes to produce mainly clay particles, which are fine and easily transported out to sea in suspension.
  • Beaches are narrow and offer little friction to absorb wave energy.
  • Longshore drift operates to the south - Spurn Head.
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Holderness Hard Engineering


  • Defences: Concrete sea wall, groynes, rock armour.
  • Impact: Groynes trap sediment and maintain the beach, Mappleton has been starved of sediment as a result.


  • Defences: £6.3 million Curved Sea Wall to replace a collapsed straight sea wall from 1875.
  • Impact: Views from sea-front hotels have been restricted, rip-rap at the base is unattractive


  • Defences: Two rock groynes and Rock Armour
  • Impact: At Cowden, the resultant sediment starvation increased erosion of the cliffs by 1.3m a year.
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Holderness Holistic Management

Hornsea- Hold the line

  • Regional economic centre with a population of 8500.
  • Hornsea Mere, a very important lake habitat for birds that is designated as a SSSI.

Mappleton- Hold the line

  • Protected at a cost of £2million despite being valued at £650,000

Cowden- Managed Retreat

  • Cost-benefit analysis deemed not worth defending.

Winners: people who have gained from the decision, either economically (property protection), environmentally (habitats conserved) or socially (communities can remain).

Losers: people who are likely to lose property, or perhaps see the coastlines concreted over.

Managing the coast: engineering feasibility, environmental sensitivity, land use and value, impact on coastal processes and political, social and economic reasons.

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Increasing Flood Risk- Bangladesh


  • Clearance and drainage of more than 50 islands in the Ganges- Brahmaputra river delta. These islands are now being used for rice production for a growing population.
  • Human influence has prevented the natural deposition of sediment that used to maintain the island's height.

Removing Vegetation

  • Removal of mangrove swamps.
  • Mangroves are essential to marine, freshwater and terrestrial biodiversity, because they stabilise coastlines against erosion, collect nutrient-rich sediments, and provide a nursery for coastal fish as well as providing protection and shelter against extreme weather events.
  • Bangladesh's mangrove forested coastline is now retreating by as much as 200 metres a year.


  • More people being forced to live in already at-risk areas.
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Soft Engineering

Beach Nourishment- Algarve Portugal

  • Increases tourist potential and blends in with the existing beach.
  • Needs constant maintenance, could cost more in the long-term.

Cliff Regarding and Drainage

  • Regrading reduces the angle of the cliff, this effectively causes the cliff to retreat.
  • Drainage is cost-effective but could cause the cliffs to dry and lead to collapse.

Dune Stabilisation

  • Maintains a natural coastal environment, provides important wildlife habitats and is relatively cheap and sustainable.
  • Time-consuming to plant the marram grass and people may respond negatively to having areas sectioned off.

Marsh Creation

  • Creates important habitats and is a natural buffer but it loses agricultural land.
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Plate Boundary Examples


  • San Andreas Fault, California where the Pacific Plate moves against the North American Plate.


  • The Mid-Atlantic Ridge, North American Plate and the Eurasian Plate moving away from each other.


  • The Andes, Nazca and South American Plate
  • The Himalayas, Eurasian and Indian Plates
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Bam Earthquake 2003


  • Iran is classified as a country with an upper middle income and is ranked 75 out of 187 countries.
  • Magnitude 6.6
  • 26,000 People Killed.

The Event

  • A Shallow earthquake with a hypocentre depth of 7km and occurred at 5.26am.
  • Some buildings were 2400 years old; these were adobe buildings with very heavy roofs.
  • Recent construction had been poor and the Iranian seismic building code was not effectively enforced.
  • Termite activity had weakened wooden structures.
  • The three main hospitals were destroyed, 20% of health professionals were killed and the remainder were incapable of giving care.
  • Initial search and rescue phase was hindered by the destruction of their own facilities and infrastructure.
  • Cold winter temperatures in January meant that a large number of trapped victims died from hypothermia.
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Nepal Earthquake 2015


  • Developing country with a population of about 26.5 million
  • A magnitude of 7.8. 9000 died and 22,000 injured.
  • 500,000 houses collapsed or seriously damaged.

The Event

  • Local earth science is out of date- the current seismic hazard map is 20 years old.
  • Kathmandu Valley has a population of 2.5 million and a very high population density. It is also growing a 4% a year, making it one of the fastest-urbanising areas in South Asia.
  • 85% of the country's population is rural.
  • 92% of houses in rural regions are owner-built.
  • Poor and socially excluded groups are less able to absorb shocks than well-positioned and better-off households.
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Haiti Earthquake 2010

Physical Factors

  • Shallow focus 13km
  • Liquefaction caused building foundations to sink
  • A magnitude of 7.0, 24km away from Port-au-Prince.

Social, Economic and Political Factors

  • Limited resources were spent on more immediate issues, rather than earthquake preparations.
  • High level of corruption at both national and local government level had led to a lack of resources and commitment to improving the country's infrastructure and living standards.
  • Lack of building controls and regulations.
  • Lack of disaster preparedness meant that government officials, police and emergy services didn't know how to respond.
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Haiti Earthquake 2010


  • 316,000 dead and 300,000 injured and economic loss of US$14 billion.
  • Haiti had only one airport, several ports and a few main roads. When these became damaged, crucial aid supplies were prevented from arriving or being distributed effectively.
  • Over a quarter of government officials were killed.
  • An outbreak of cholera in 2010 and is still on-going, killing over 9000 and affecting 720 000.

Haiti's Recovery

  • $13 billion of aid has been donated, the Haitian government and Haitian organisation have only been left in control of less than 10% of this.
  • By 2015, 80 000 were still living in temporary housing and cholera was an ongoing problem.
  • New buildings, roads and schools have been built, and health statistics have improved.
  • The Haitian government is getting stronger and more able to cope with natural threats, in 2013 a government warning was put out regarding Hurricane Sandy and after the storm, the government took a leading role in organising international aid.
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China, Sichuan Earthquake 2008

Physical Factors

  • Magnitude 7.9
  • Landslides lead to a quarter of earthquake-related deaths.
  • Damage was concentrated in rural areas and small towns.

Social, Economic and Political Factors

  • China is a large country with a growing economy, so it had the money to pay for rescue and aid efforts.
  • China has tough building codes; is investing in safer buildings and better infrastructure, and has the resources to respond quickly to a hazard event.
  • Corruption of local government officials and law enforcement means that unsafe buildings practice still continue. For example, the government moved 40,000 people to a newly built city called Yongchange and almost immediately cracks appeared in the brand-new homes.
  • Thousands of schools fell down killing 5335 children, while properly built buildings nearby remained standing.
  • 87,150 died, 375000 injuries and $125.6billion economic loss.
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China, Sichuan Earthquake 2008


  • Within hours, over 130 000 soldiers and relief workers were being sent to the affected areas. Troops parachuted or hiked into isolated mountainous areas to reach survivors.
  • Medical services were quickly restored, which helped to control disease outbreak.
  • People in danger from landslides were safely relocated.
  • The government pledged $US10 billion for rebuilding works, and Chinese banks wrote off the debts of any survivors without insurance.
  • Within 2 weeks, temporary homes, roads and bridges were being built.
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Japan Earthquake and Tsunami 2011


  • A magnitude 9.0 which struck under the Pacific Ocean.
  • 10m metre high waves that surged up to 70km inland.
  • Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant was severely damaged.
  • 15,575 dead and 6000 injured.


  • Strict building regulations (75% of buildings are constructed with earthquakes in mind) and low levels of corruption ensure that these are enforced.
  • Areas vulnerable to tsunami already had 10m high tsunami walls and marled evacuation routes.
  • Many offices and homes were equipped with earthquake emergency kits.
  • An early warning system
  • Emergency drills are regularly practised in both schools and businesses.
  • However, Fukushima had not been built to withstand such a large tsunami.
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Japan Earthquake and Tsunami 2011


  • Within 24 hours, 110,000 defence troops had been mobilised.
  • Immediately, all radio and TV stations switched to official earthquake coverage.
  • The Bank offered US$183 billion to Japanese banks so that they could keep operating.
  • Japan quickly accepted help from rescue and recovery teams from over 20 countries.

Japan's Energy Policy

  • Before the earthquake and tsunami, 27% of Japan's electricity came from nuclear energy and by 2013, the amount was only 1%
  • Price of electricity rose by about 20%
  • Government debt rose, as it had to buy in more fossil fuels
  • Greenhouse gas emissions increased.
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Indian Ocean Tsunami 2004


  • Magnitude 9.1, off the coast of Sumatra.
  • No early warning system in place and many of the countries are of lower-income and therefore do not have the resources to spend on tsunami protection.
  • The epicentre was close to some densely populated coastal communities
  • In some coastal areas, such a Sri Lanka, mangrove forests had been destroyed for tourist development- natural protection to dissipate wave energy.


  • In some coastal villages, 70% of the villagers were killed. Overall 300,000 died.
  • In Sumatra, 1500 villages were completely destroyed.
  • Andaman and Nicobar Islands were all but cut off as all jetties were washed away.
  • In Sri Lanka, more than 60% of the fishing fleet and industrial infrastructure was destroyed.
  • In Thailand, the tourism industry lost around US$25 million a month and 120 000 workers lost their jobs.
  • Ecosystems suffered and vegetation was removed up to 800metres inland and freshwater supplies were contaminated
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Eyjafjallajokull Eruption 2010

  • 100,000 commercial flights cancelled worldwide.
  • Over 10 million passengers around the world were stranded or were unable to board flights travelling to or from Europe
  • Worldwide, airlines lost $US1.7 billion in revenue
  • 30% of global airline capacity was cut- with European capacity cut by 75%
  • European economy lost US$5 billion.

Ash was very fine because of large silica content and a south prevailing wind carried it south over Europe.

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Montserrat Eruption 1995

  • Dozens of people lost their lives and more than 7000 moved to other countries.
  • The capital, Plymouth, was destroyed. As the capital, it contained all of the Islands' main services.
  • Two-thirds of all houses and three-quarters of infrastructure were destroyed.
  • Unemployment rose as the Island's tourist industry collapsed.
  • Young people moved away as they no longer saw an economic future on the island- top heavy population pyramid.


  • 2/3 of the Island is still unhabitable
  • A volcanic observatory has been built in the south to monitor the volcano
  • New infrastructure, such as roads and a new airport have been built in the safer northern part of the island.
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Russian Gas to Europe

  • Russia is the world's second largest producer of gas.

Delivery of gas to Europe is through 4 main pipelines and 3 of those pipelines cross Ukraine, bearing in mind Russia's recent military action there including incursions into Eastern Ukraine and annexing Crimea in 2014.

Ukraine is in a position to make life difficult for the Russian gas industry, for example by threatening to hike the price it charges for allowing the transfer of gas across its territory or even stop the flows all together.

Russian anxiety about its pipelines across Ukraine has perhaps been increased by the possibility that Ukraine might join the EU and become a member of NATO. Russia has two basic options:

  • Substantially reduce or stop the delivery of gas across Ukraine by exporting most of the gas through the two Northern pipelines.
  • Annexe Ukraine
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Disrupting Energy Pathways

Energy pathways from Azerbaijan to Europe may be prone to disruption due to ongoing tension with Armenia as well as terrorism from IS.

Energy pathways from the Middle East through the Straits of Hormuz may be prone to disruption due to an increased tension between Shia and Sunni Muslims which control either half od the straits.

Energy pathways through choke points such as the East China Sea may be prone to disruption as China seeks to increase it's exclusive Economic Zone disrupting energy pathways to Japan.

Energy pathways from the Middle East may be prone to disruption as increasingly failed states such as Somalia and Yemen cannot control the piracy that operates from their shores.

Energy pathways from North African countries such as Libya to Europe may be prone to disruption due to the ongoing civil war.

The Trans Forcados, Efurun-Otor and Escravos pipelines in Nigeria were bombed in 2016 by militants resulting in a loss of 300 000 barrels of crude oil a day.

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Unconventional Fossil Fuels

Canadian Tar Sands

  • The biggest deposits of tar sands are in Canada and Venezuela.
  • Exploiting the Canadian deposits on a  commercial scale started in 1967 and has focused on the province of Alberta, most notably the Athabasca area.
  • Currently, tar sands produce about 40% of Canada's oil output.
  • The 2015 fall in the global price of oil had a depressing impact on the tar sands industry because extraction is relatively expensive, largely because of the high energy input.
  • Exploitation of tar sands has massive environmental costs, such as the scale of ***** mining, which requires the clearance of large areas of taiga.

US Shale Gas

  • In 2000, shale gas provided 1% of USA's gas supply, in 2015 it was nearly 25%.
  • The most important shale gas fields have been found in the states of New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and West Virginia.
  • Fracking for oil in the USA is now a key determinant of US oil security and has an increasing influence on the global oil price.
  • Environmental concerns associated with fracking include contamination of groundwater and production of airborne pollutants such as methane, benzene and sulphur dioxide. 
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Unconventional Fossil Fuels

Brazilian Deepwater Oil

  • Discovery of huge oil deposits off the Brazilian coast in 2006.
  • Brazil is one of the leading emerging economies and is in need of oil and gas.
  • The deepwater oil came on stream in 2009 and by 2020, Petrobras aims to raise production to 500,000 barrels of oil a day.
  • Since the 2006 discovery, the once scenic coast between Rio and Sao Paulo has been disfigured by refineries and the bases that serve the oil and gas fields more than 200km offshore.
  • The rigs are beyond the range of most helicopters, and access by ship is made more hazardous by the prevailing rough seas.
  • The oil and gas reservoirs contain huge amounts of toxic, flammable and explosive gases
  • Risk of a repeat of the accident at the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico 2010.
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Factors Affecting Energy Consumption: UK

Physical Availability

  • Until the 1970s, the UK depended heavily on domestic coal and was amongst global leaders in nuclear technology. Discovery of North Sea oil and gas, altered the UK's energy mix.


  • The North Sea reserves became a 'secure' alternative to dependency on Middle Eastern oil.
  • However, North Sea oil is expensive to extract, so if global prices fall, it becomes less viable.


  • 150 years of coal reserves left in the UK, but current technology and environmental policy make it unrealistic and expensive.

Political Considerations

  • Increasing reliance on imported energy sources affects the UK's energy security and public concern is growing over new proposed fracking and nuclear sites.
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Factors Affecting Energy Consumption: Norway

Physical Availability

  • HEP is the natural energy choice and much of the oil and natural gas in Norway's territorial is exported.


  • HEP costs are low once capital investment is complete, however, the transfer of electricity from HEP production in remote regions to urban population centres and isolated settlements is expensive.

Political Considerations

  • Royalties and taxes paid into the government from the sale of fossil fuels boost the standard of living through government spending, but profits also go to a sovereign wealth fund to prepare for a future without fossil fuels and investment in environmentally sustainable projects.

Environmental Priorities

  • In 2015, Norway committed to a 40% reduction in greenhouse emissions by 2030.
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Alternatives to Fossil Fuels

Nuclear Power

  • Japan- before the earthquake and tsunami of 2011, 27% of Japan's electricity came from nuclear power. The Fukushima nuclear plant was severely damaged and released dangerous levels of radiation. Japan then closed all of its nuclear reactors. However, nuclear energy has since been reintroduced as part of Japan's energy mix.
  • UK- Hinkley Point C is an £18 billion project, which will provide energy for 60 years, and 25,000 jobs, involving French-state owned EDF and China General Nuclear.

Wind Power

  • Hornsea Project 1- 190-metre-high wind turbines will eventually provide power for a million homes once completed in 2020. Located 121 km off the coast of Yorkshire, it will create 2000 construction jobs.

Solar Power

  • Chapel Lane Solar Farm, Christchurch - it cost £50 million and covers an area equivalent of 175 football pitches. It's the UK's largest solar farm, serving 60,000 households or 75% of the homes in Bournemouth.
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Deforestation in Madagascar

Before 1950, Madagascar had 11.6 million hectares of tropical forest, but by 1985 that has been reduced to 3.8 million hectares.

Impact on soil health

  • Raindrop impact washes finer particles of clay and humus away, coarser and heavier sands are left behind.CO2 is released from decaying woody material.
  • Rapid soil erosion leads to a loss of nutrients and increased leaching.

Impact on the atmosphere

  • Turbulence is increased as the heated ground induces convectional air currents
  • Oxygen content is reduced and transpiration rates are lower.
  • Reduced evapotranspiration reduces humidity.

Impact of biosphere

  • Evaporation from vegetation is reduced and less absorption of CO2 means a reduced carbon store.
  • Reduced species diversity and ecosystem services are reduced, loss of biomass.
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