These brief video segments can be used alone or in combination, to introduce a topic or to spark discussion among your students. The video segments can be adapted for any grade level – suggested focus questions are provided. Stream the video segments from the playlist below, or scroll to the bottom of the page to find downloadable QuickTime versions of the videos. These videos are also used in the lesson plan You Can Die Here (grades 9-12).
The extreme climate of Death Valley is attributable to its location on the leeward (downwind) side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in central California. Air that has been warmed and moistened by its passage over the Pacific Ocean is driven up over the Sierras as it is carried eastward by the prevailing southwesterly winds of the northern mid-latitudes.
As the air rises up over the mountains, it expands and cools, triggering condensation that forms clouds and causes precipitation on the windward (west facing) slopes. At the same time, the latent heat stored in the water vapor in the air is released by the condensation process, adding measurable heat to the air As the now warmer and drier air continues its eastward journey over the peaks and begins its descent into the valleys on the leeward side of the range, its temperature rises as it is compressed under the higher atmospheric pressure of the lower elevations. The fact that Death Valley lies below sea level causes even more compression of the descending air, creating a very hot and dry “rain shadow desert” in Death Valley.
Segments from the NATURE episode “Life in Death Valley” provide students with dramatic examples of the effects of the atmospheric and geologic conditions that come together to produce one of the most extreme environments on earth.
Suggested Focus Questions:
Clip 1: You Can Die Here
- Describe the location and size of Death Valley.
- Describe the climate of Death Valley.
- Research the location of two other “rainshadow deserts” in the world. Why are rainshadow deserts located where they are?
Clip 2: Clouds & Currents
- What drives the circulation of air in Death Valley?
- Why is the air that comes down the mountainsides into the valley so dry?
- Air at a particular elevation on the windward side of the mountains is cooler than air at the same elevation on the leeward side. How can that difference be explained?
Clip 3: Runnin’ with the Devil
- What are the threats to human survival in Death Valley?
- What preparations can people take to ensure their survival in Death Valley?
- What adaptations might help plants and animals that live in Death Valley to survive?
Downloadable QuickTime versions of the video segments:
(Note: To download a video, right-click on the video title and click “Save Link As…” or “Save Target As…”. On a Mac, press the CTRL key and simultaneously click the mouse, then save the link.)
Clip 1, “You Can Die Here.”
Clip 2, “Clouds & Currents.”
Clip 3, “Runnin’ with the Devil.”