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Desert, term applied to regions of the earth that are characterized by less than 10 inches of annual rainfall. An evaporation rate that exceeds precipitation and in most cases, a high average temperature Because of a lack of moisture in the soil and low humidity in the atmosphere. Daytime temperatures can reach 55° C in the shade. At night, the desert floor radiates heat back to the atmosphere, and the temperature can drop to near freezing. Deserts are caused by a combination of climate patterns and geological features.
Mountain ranges influence the development of deserts by creating rain shadows. As moisture-laden winds flow upward over the windward slopes, they cool and lose their moisture in the form of rain and snow.
Other desert areas in the interiors of some continents have formed because the prevailing winds are far removed from large bodies of water and have lost much of their moisture by the time they reach those regions.
All but the most arid desert lands support life that is frequently abundant and well adapted to the scarcity of water and the daytime heat.
Desert plants have evolved ways of conserving and efficiently using the water available to them. Woody desert plants either have long root systems that reach deep water sources or have spreading shallow roots that are able to take up surface moisture quickly from heavy dews and occasional rains. Desert plants usually have small leaves called Thorns, which are modified leaves, serve to guard the water from animal invaders.
Among the desert animals, the few amphibian species are capable of long-term dormancy during dry periods. When the rains come, they mature rapidly, mate, and lay eggs. Many birds and rodents reproduce only during or following periods of winter rain that stimulate the growth of vegetation. A number of desert mammals, such as the camel, are able to withstand considerable dehydration. Most desert mammals and reptiles are nocturnal, remaining in cool underground burrows or in the shade by day. Some desert reptiles, such as the horned toad, can control their metabolic heat production by varying their rate of heartbeat and the rate of body metabolism. Some mammals, vary their body temperatures, storing heat by day and releasing it at night.
Tundra, arctic plains encompassing most of the earth's terrain north of the coniferous forest belt, dominated by sedge, heath, willow, moss, and lichen. Similar plains, called alpine tundra, occur above the timberline in the high mountains of the world.
CLIMATE AND LAND FORMATION
Tundra climate is characterized by harsh winters, low average temperatures, little snow or rainfall, and a short summer season. The surface soil, which tends to be rocky, thaws in summer to varying depths. The water forms ponds and bogs that provide moisture for plants, thereby counteracting the low precipitation.
Thawing of slopes in the summer may move soil downslope to produce solifluction terraces. All of these patterns on the arctic tundra, also appear on a smaller scale on the alpine tundra. Common to the alpine tundra is bare rock-covered ground, called fell-fields, supporting a growth of lichens. The numerous microhabitats provided by these landforms give variety to the tundra landscape.
The number of plant species on the tundra is few, and their growth is low. The growing season is short, and plants are more likely to reproduce vegetatively by division and budding than by flower pollination.
Typical arctic vegetation comprises cotton grass, sedge, and dwarf heath, together with associated mosses and lichens. They carry on photosynthesis at low temperatures, low light intensities, and long periods of daylight. These plants are adapted to gusting winds, heavy snows and widely fluctuating temperatures. They carry on photosynthesis under brilliant light in short periods of daylight.
The variety of animal life is also limited in the challenging environment. Musk-ox, caribou, and reindeer are the dominant large grazers, feeding on grass, sedge, lichen, and willow. Arctic hare, or snowshoe rabbit, and lemming feed on grass and sedge. Predators include the wolf, arctic fox, and snowy owl. Polar bears, and sometimes brown bears, are seen.Insects such as black flies and mosquitoes are abundant. Alpine animal life includes the mountain goat, big-horned sheep, marmot, and the ptarmigan, a grouselike bird. Flies are scarce but butterflies, beetles, and grasshoppers are abundant.
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