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Lesson three: Impacts of hazards in the Gobi Desert


Last lesson explored the fieldwork findings of Dr Troy Sternberg in the Gobi desert at three different field work locations in China and Mongolia. It showed that all three rural farming field work locations were facing challenges in the face of hazards in this dry land environment. The sustainability of their food security seems questionable. This lesson will focus on the likely impacts and futures of these communities. It will also provide practise for some literacy skills that can be used when writing about your case study on the Gobi Desert.

Key ideas

Food security, governance, the butterfly effect, globalisation, rural to urban migration, food independence, international markets, world food prices


The Gobi Desert is the third largest desert in the world. Its physical geography is challenging for human survival but has always been settled in mainly by nomadic herders. However its human geography is changing; pressure for the changing nomadic societies in Mongolia in the north and the encroaching high-tech Chinese farmers from the south. The aim of the next two lessons is to understand the physical and human geography of contrasting locations in the Gobi desert and to begin to understand why it is becoming a more hazardous environment in which to live, in particular in relation to food security.


  • Student task sheet 

  • Ask the Expert article 

  • Gobi desert exemplar revision sheet

  • PowerPoint presentation 

  • Follow up task sheet 

  • Follow up PowerPoint 


See the student task sheet for further details.

The butterfly effect

Look at the three data/images on the power point. Using ideas we learnt the last lesson, get in pairs and describe how these sets of data may be linked.

Impacts of hazards – now and in the future

Read the Ask the Expert interview with Dr Troy Sternberg. This gives us a few more ideas about impacts and the future in addition to his field work findings that we learnt last lesson.  Using this and our notes from last lesson, in pairs, fill in the flow chart (on the student task sheet) to consolidate our understanding of impacts in the Gobi, China, Mongolia and beyond.

Writing about hazards and food security in the Gobi Desert

During the last two lessons you have had a excellent opportunity to learn about an engaging and current geography case study of farming, hazards and food security in the Gobi desert based on Dr Troy Sternberg’s field work in the summer of 2012. This is an area of the world that is not widely written about. Our next step is to pull our ideas together and practise some literacy skills to prepare us to write about this case study in our A2 examination.

Step one – Revision notes. Before you begin your essay preparation a good first step is to retype up a summary of your lesson notes. Each time you do this at A2, you might find the following sub-headings useful to help you take revision notes:

  • Big picture. What region of the world is your case study in? What general geography is going on in this region? An important part of A2 writing is having excellent case study knowledge, but also knowing how to put it in context in the global picture

  • Key geography terms I will use when writing about this case study

  • Key geographical understanding (good geography stories - physical or human tends to be chronological - use connectives such as ...this leads to.. consequently...)

  • Key place knowledge. Note down facts/figures/unique geography that you will chose to learn for this case study for the exam

  • Summary of case study in one line

Step two – Report/essay plan. Report Title: ‘To what extent is changing human geography the cause of food insecurity?’ 70 marks.

For longer A2 essays, depending on your exam board, it is likely that a title like the one above is going to require you to write several case studies to show a global understanding. The work you have done on the Gobi desert will just form part of this essay. You may choose to structure your report by case study or themes. In this example we are going to structure by case study and focus maybe on just two of the Gobi Desert case studies. We will now practise writing a paragraph for two case studies.

Step three – Writing your paragraphs. Good paragraphs at A2 need to answer the question, show in depth geographical understand, have excellent place knowledge of the case study and also how this fits into the bigger picture and also communicate both of these skills to the reader well. There are many ways to produce great geographical writing; you might want to try the ‘PEEL’ paragraph as one method:

P: Each paragraph should start with Point (the point and sign post sentence of the paragraph)
E: ...then Explain (chronologically tell the story of the geography with focus to the question)...
E: ...followed by  Evidence (the case study detail – although may be combined with the explain in a geography essay) ...
L: ...ending your paragraph with a Link (your final sentence should link back to the question).

Follow up task

The Global Picture: comparing the Gobi Desert Region with Other Global Regions

Your task is to compare vulnerable people in the Gobi Desert with other food insecure people around the world. You could make notes that compare the causes of food insecurity (physical and human), the effects and the different management solutions. If your examination asks you to have an understanding of global food insecurity, it might be a good idea to do these notes on a world map to get a sense of the distribution and global picture.

There are many areas of food insecurity, but researching the following areas and the key ideas listed next to each would be a good start:

  • Sahel and/or the Eastern Horn of Africa – conflict, issues of governance, food aid, land grabbing

  • Southern Africa – traditionally the ‘bread basket’ of Africa, landform, cash crops,  some issues of internal governance (e.g. Zimbabwe)

  • South America and Caribbean – cash crops, economic growth vs environmental protection, GM crops, hazards (e.g. Haiti – multiple hazards)

  • Bangladesh – hazards, climate change

You could also annotate on a world map areas of contrast i.e. ‘obesity’ – namely parts of Europe, the USA and increasingly China. 

Investigating global power structures which affect food security issues: who are the key “players”?

Which organisations and groups are involved in ensuring food security? The ideas on the Gobi clearly show the importance in the role of the government, especially in China. However, there are many others – often globally operating – organisations that play an incredibly important role in improving food security. Do some internet research, focusing your notes on:

  • What is this player’s role in improving (or otherwise) food security?

  • What is this player’s aims/goals (why are they helping?) – complete some research into the background of the organisation.

  • To what extent do they contribute to improving food security? (difficult to tell from web research – but try and infer the likely contribution they seem to have)