Naturally found high temperature environments can include volcanoes, some arid deserts, hot springs, geysers, out of atmosphere locales, and any area close to Earth's mantle layer. During certain tectonic plate interactions, extreme heat can be generated and sustained for periods of time. High temperature environments can also be found on the ocean floor in underwater volcanoes, and vents.
Unlike humans and most members of the plant and animal kingdoms, some life forms, particularly microbes, are capable of withstanding extreme heat. These thermophiles can include eukaryotes, bacteria, viruses, protozoans and other single-celled or simple organisms. The organisms that scientists have discovered in high temperature environments have hugely impacted the biotechnology field, where high tolerance enzymes are sold for research and hyperthermophillic (high temperature loving organisms) can be used for a variety of applications in electronics and medicine.
Extreme temperatures can cause unusual reactions for inorganic matter, especially if heat is sudden rather than gradual. Water droplets can vaporize, rock and soil weather faster the higher the temperature, and metals, minerals, and chemicals can have severe reactions in higher temperature environments. Soil components can differ drastically depending on the heat and precipitation in an area, where high heat areas have more clay, iron and aluminum oxides than cool or cold regions. High temperature environments such as high friction areas between sliding tectonic plates under Earth's surface, and surface exposure to heat from external sources such as magma can cause changes to even relatively stable inorganic matter. Metamorphic rocks can undergo prograde metamorphism as the temperature and/or pressure increases on a body of rock. The metamorphic grade generally describes the conditions under which metamorphic rocks form (where low-grade metamorphism takes place at temperatures between about 392–608°F [200 to 320°C], and relatively low pressure and high-grade metamorphism takes place at temperatures greater than 608°F [320°C] and relatively high pressure).
See also Heat disorders ; Heat (stress) index .
Wiedenheft, B., et al. “Bioprospecting in High Temperature Environments.” Soft Matter 9 (2007): 1091–98.
Nelson, S. A. “Metamorphism and Metamorphic Rocks.” Physical Geology, Tulane University. http://www.tulane.edu/~sanelson/geol111/metamorphic.htm (accessed October 25, 2012).
Alyson C. Heimer, MA