Desert Facts

Facts about the Deserts

Our Desert Facts will provide plenty of information about our planet's deserts. We will tell you here what you really should know about the deserts. First let's start with some basics!

10 Desert Facts for Kids

  • Deserts are found on all seven continents. All deserts (or arid areas) and semi-deserts (or semi-arid areas) together make up one third of our planet’s land area. 
  • Most of our deserts are located in subtropical regions around the Tropics of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn as well as in the polar regions (not shown on the map below).
Desert Areas
  • Deserts are also called arid areas. Arid comes from the Latin word aridus and means dry, actually so dry that only few plants can grow on it. 
  • About one billion people live in the desert regions of our Earth. The largest desert cities are Cairo in Egypt and Lima in Peru. 
  • There are hot deserts such as the Sahara Desert and cold deserts such as the Gobi Desert or the deserts of our polar regions.
  • Desert Facts: What is a desert? A desert is a region that receives less than 25 cm/10 inches of rain per year. In any desert or arid area, there is very little rainfall and moisture. However, if rainfall occurs in the desert, the rainfall occurs usually in strong downpours which can lead to flash flooding.
Washed out road after flooding in the Mojave DesertWashed out road after flooding in the Mojave Desert
  • Big differences in daily temperatures are experienced in the deserts. The temperature during the sunshine hours are usually very high while night temperatures are cold as the heat can quickly escape. The average temperatures range from 38°C (during the day) to -3.9°C (during the night).
  • Animals and plants living in the deserts have adapted to the environment. Animals usually are night active and live in burrows underground six as the cajole or the fennel fox. Some animals receive their water intake from the fog in coastal deserts or store water in humps such as the camel. Desert plants often have deep roots and waxy leaves where they can store water and often they also have thorns such as cacti to deter herbivores, animals that eat plants. 
Cacti and Joshua Trees in the Mojave Desert/USACacti and Joshua Trees in the Mojave Desert/USA
  • Deserts have dry soil due to the little rainfall and moisture the area receives. Sand, gravel, mineral and other soil particles can easily be moved by wind. Deserts are threatened mainly by overuse of water and climate change as with increasing temperatures, wildfires, droughts, dust- and sandstorms occur more frequently and lead to desertification. Desertification means fertile soil become dry and barren land.
  • Due to the loss of habitat many desert plants and desert animals face extinction. One of the most famous plant examples is the unique Joshua tree which is found in North America. Many species of antelopes or cheetahs that are home to the Sahara desert are now highly endangered.

12 Deserts You Should Know About

Antarctic Desert

The world’s coldest dry desert is located in Antarctica.

There is hardly any precipitation (rainfall, mist, fog, snow) in Antarctica, even rare snowfall turns into hard icy surface. There is almost no flora except for algae or mosses.

Antarctic Ice Desert - image by Shutterstock.comAntarctic Ice Desert

The Antarctic Desert is also the world's largest desert by area.

Arabian Desert

The Arabian Desert is located in Asia on the Arabian peninsula and covers large parts of Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan, Yemen, Oman, Iran and Iraq. 

The centre of the desert is the Rub' al Khali, the so-called 'The Empty Quarter'.

Rub' al Khali dunes in the Arabian DesertRub' al Khali dunes in the Arabian Desert

The sand here has a red-orange colour and the terrain is covered mainly by sand dunes, some gravel plains and rocky plains.

Aralkum Desert

The Aralkum Desert is known as the youngest desert of our planet.

This desert in Asia was formed by the former eastern basin of the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan. It formed in the 1960s when irrigation projects for the huge cotton plantations in the area drained the waters from the Aral lake.

Shipwrecks in the dried up Aral Sea

By 2014, the eastern basin of the Aral Sea was completely dried up. This desert was created purely by poor environmental management and is seen as one of the worst environmental disasters.

Atacama Desert

The Atacama Desert in South America is situated on a plateau west of the Andes Mountains along the Pacific Ocean coastline.

This desert is known as the driest (non polar) desert in the world. Some parts of the region receive less than 2 mm/ 0.08 inches of precipitation every year.

Moon Valley in the Atacama DesertMoon Valley in the Atacama Desert

The Atacama desert stretches over 1,600 km/ 1000 miles along the coastline along a narrow strip from Chile to Peru.

Gobi Desert

The Gobi Desert is located in eastern Asia and is the world’s largest (non polar) cold desert. This desert spreads from Mongolia to China. The Gobi desert is Asia's second largest desert after the Arabian desert. 

Gansu in the Gobi Desert - image by RickWang/shutterstock.comGansu oasis in the Gobi Desert

Deforestation, overgrazing and water depletion are among the main reasons this desert is growing every year at an alarming rate.

Dust storms blow away topsoil and the desert turns many previously fertile areas into barren land. The Great Green Wall project aims to combat the desertification by planting 88 billion of fast growing trees in this desert. The world's largest artificial forest will stretch over 4,800 km/ 2,982 miles across northern China. Read more here.

Mojave Desert

The Mojave Desert is located in the USA, to the south of the Great Basin Desert and to the north of the Sonoran desert. The Mojave Desert is the driest desert on the North American continent.

Mojave Desert's Panamint Valley Highway 190The US Highway 190 runs through the Panamint Valley in the Mojave Desert

Death Valley, one of the hottest spot in the world, is located in the Mojave Desert. Mojave comes from the Spanish word for 'place besides the water'. The largest city in the Mojave desert is Las Vegas with roughly 3 million people.

Namib Desert

The Namib Desert is located in Southern Africa along the Atlantic Ocean coastline. The Namib has some of the highest dunes in the world with heights of over 300 m/ 980 ft. Read more here.

The Namib stretches from Angola through Namibia towards South Africa over 2,000 km/ 1,200 miles. 

Red sand dunes around Soussousvlei in the Namib Desert

The coastal desert is also known as the oldest desert in the world. The salt and clay pans of Soussousvlei, a dried up lake, are a popular tourist attractions in Namibia's Namib-Naukluft national park as is climbing the tall dunes along the coastal town of Walvis Bay. Read more about Namibia here.

Pinnacles Desert

The Pinnacles Desert is located in Western Australia. The pinnacles in Nambung National Park are limestone pillars and some reach up to 3.5 m/ 11.5 ft in height. Wild emus can be found in this desert.

This desert is only a small Australian desert but is known for its scenic landscape. The largest desert in Australia, however, is the Great Victoria Desert, which is located further inland in Western Australia and South Australia.

Sahara Desert

The Sahara Desert is the world’s largest hot desert. It is also the hottest of all the deserts on our planet. 

Map of the Sahara Desert

The Sahara Desert has grown more than 10% in the last century due to climate change and other natural climatic variations. A Great Green Wall project, similar to that in the Gobi Desert, has been started in the Sahara in 2007 to combat desertification.

Caravan in the Sahara Desert

The Sahara Desert covers most parts of North Africa and is similar in size to the land area of the USA or China. The word sahra in Arabic means 'desert'.

Huge rolling sand dunes as these in the Sahara desert are only found in about 10% of the world's desert areas. Most deserts consist of sandy or rocky soil or salt flats. 

Salar de Uyuni

The Salar de Uyuni is a desert in South America that has been formed by salt crystallisation through water evaporation of a huge salt flat or playa. The word salar comes from the Spanish and means 'salt flat'. The salar is located in the Andes mountains at an elevation of over 3,656 m/ 11,995 ft. 

This dried out salt pan once was part of a large prehistoric lake in the Altiplano of Bolivia. The salt flat covers more than 10,000 square kilometres/ 3,861 square miles and the Salar de Uyuni is known as the world's largest salt flat. The thick salt crust which contains more than 10 billion tonnes of salt.

When it rains the Salar looks like a huge mirror measuring 129 km/ 80 miles across. The salt flats are a breeding ground for pink flamingos.

Tabernas Desert

The Deserto de Tabiernas, as they call it in Spanish, is Europe’s only desert area and located in Spain. The Tavernas are an semi-arid mountain region near Almería. 

Tavernas Desert in SpainTabernas Desert in Spain

The high altitude of the region and the scenic landscape of this desert in Andalusia has been beneficial for film making. Many Western-style movies as well as one scene in the Game of Thrones series have been filmed in the Tabernas.

Thar Desert

This desert stretches from eastern Pakistan to northwestern India. About 85% of the desert is located in India and most of it in India's largest state of Rajasthan.

The Thar Desert is also the world's most densely populated desert area. About 40% of Rajasthan's population live in the Thar Desert. Desert safaris around Jaisalmer are a popular tourist attraction.

Thar Desert near Jaisalmer

The subtropical Thar Desert is home to many species of migratory and endemic birds.

More Desert Facts

Desert Facts: Desert Sizes

The largest desert is of our planet is the Anarctic Desert. It consists of polar ice caps and tundra. 

The five largest deserts by area are:

  1. Antarctic Desert
  2. Arctic Desert
  3. Sahara Desert
  4. Australian Desert
  5. Arabic Desert

Desert Facts: Cold Desert and Hot Desert

The largest cold desert is the Gobi Desert in Asia. The largest hot desert is the Sahara Desert in Africa.

Desert LizardDesert Lizard

Desert Facts: Deserts and Rainfall

Did you know that desert areas receive less than 50 cm/20 inches rain per year while rainforests receive at least 200 cm/80 inches rain per year!

Desert Facts: Most populated desert areas

The largest desert city in the world is Cairo in Egypt with about 20 million inhabitants. However, the most populated desert areas are found in the Thar Desert in India. About 25 million people live in the arid areas of Rajasthan. The annual desert festival in Jaisalmer attracts desert settlers in colourful traditional dress from near and far.

Jaisalmer Desert Festival - image by Oleg D/shutterstock.comJaisalmer Desert Festival - image by Oleg D

Desert Facts: Desert Vegetation

Most plants in the deserts are heat, drought and salt tolerant. Some plants store the water in their leaves, stems or roots. Some plants have very long roots to reach the ground water.

The Welwitschia plant in the Namib desert is one of these unique desert plants. They are considered among the oldest desert plants, as they are on average 500 - 600 years old, some are even 2000 years. Their normal lifespan is 400 - 1500 years! They never shed their leaves, they just grow and grow!

Welwitschia Plant in the Namib DesertWelwitschia Plant in the Namib Desert

Desert Facts: Desert Resources

Natural gas, oil and mineral fields are found in the deserts however, all these are not renewable energy sources. Minerals such as gold, silver, uranium, zinc, iron, mineral salts or gemstones such as turquoise are found in the deserts.

World Desert Facts: Popular Pages

World Desert Facts Resources

  • Jeannie Evers, Emdash Editing & Kara West. "Desert." National Geographic. Last updated 19 October 2011. Last accessed 17 June 2020.
  • Alice Notten. "Welwitschia Mirabilis." SANBI. Uploaded March 2003. Last accessed 17 June 2020
  • USGS. "Mineral Resources in Deserts." USGS. Last updated 29 October 1997. Last accessed 18 June 2020.
  • Yale Environment 360. "The Sahara Desert has grown 10% bigger in the last century." World Economic Forum. 4 April 2018. Last accessed 18 June 2020.
  • World Atlas of Desertification (WAD). "Convergence of Evidence." EU Commission. Last accessed 18 June 2020
  • NaDEET - Learning and Living for a Sustainable Future. "The It's Time To... Series - Learning Materials." NaDEET.org Last accessed 18 June 2020
  • Earth Observatory. "Desert: Mission: Biomes." NASA. Last accessed 18 June 2020


Image Credits on Desert Facts: shutterstock.com, sxc photos and own images

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