Desert Facts

Desert Facts
We all know about deserts but what most of us don't realize is that deserts need not always be about sun and sand! Read about more such facts in the following article to update your reservoir of knowledge!
ScienceStruck Staff
Last Updated: May 31, 2018
A desert is an area of land that is marked by very sparse vegetation due to extreme climatic conditions and extremely low levels of precipitation. There are hot deserts, cold deserts, and polar deserts. The Antarctic desert which spans across the continent of Antarctica is the most prominent example of a polar desert.

Due to extremely low temperatures, vegetation and plant life are very sparse in these regions and the soil is ill-suited for farming and cultivation. In hot deserts, the complete lack of moisture coupled with the extremely high temperatures make normal vegetation and cultivation of food items an impossible task. Only about 20% of the Earth's deserts are covered by sand.
Based upon topography and region, there are precisely five forms of deserts:
(1) Mountain-Basin deserts
(2) Hamada deserts
(3) Ergs (formed by sands and water bodies)
(4) Regs (comprising rock pavements); and
(5) Intermontane Basins.

Here are some interesting desert facts including some generic information pertaining to the major deserts of the world.
Facts about Deserts
The following are some common facts that apply to almost all deserts of the world. Take a look to gain a whole lot of amazing information about these arid stretches of sand!

  • Approximately one-third of the surface of the earth is covered by deserts!
  • About thirty countries, mostly located in the African continent, have 75% of their geographical span in deserts.
  • The annual rainfall in deserts is less than 10 inches on an average.
  • Due to scarcity of water and vegetation, animal life forms are limited in deserts. Sonoran desert is the only desert to have the maximum number of animal and plant species dwelling there. It has around 3000 plant species and 5000 animal species including fish, amphibians, insects, birds, and mammals.
  • The sand that we see on desert surfaces is not all that constitutes their topography. Most deserts have rough, gravel bases under the sandy surfaces. Sahara desert is a good example as it comprises 30% sand and 70% gravel.
  • Harsh life conditions and extreme temperatures have evolved certain creatures to completely adapt to desert life. The kangaroo rat, for instance, can survive without having access to any source of water -- it gets all the moisture it needs from its food source, which consists of desert grass seeds and mesquite beans.
  • The Sahara is the world's largest hot desert, covering the maximum surface area among all other hot deserts! Antarctica is the world's largest polar desert.
As mentioned previously, deserts are broadly classified as hot deserts (subtropical), cold deserts (cold winter, cool coastal), and polar deserts. Some of the largest deserts are described below.
Hot Deserts
Sahara Desert
Area: 3,629,360 sq mi
Continent Located In: Africa
Countries It Covers: Algeria, Chad, Libya, Egypt, Eritrea, Morocco, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Sudan, Western Sahara and Tunisia
Check out some more interesting Sahara desert facts to know more about this second largest desert (after Antarctica) and the largest hot desert in the world!
  • Sahara desert plants include welwitschia, peyote cactus, date palm, thyme, etc. The animals include, among others, sand vipers, monitor lizards, ostrich, death stalker scorpion, etc.
  • The Sahara started forming about 3 million years ago. The climate is pretty extreme with scorching hot days and chilly nights.
  • Prehistoric cave paintings in some Sahara desert regions depict it as a greener, more tropical region.
  • The desert is native to just about two million people; the reason for such low population being the extreme water scarcity as it receives just about 8 centimeters of rainfall each year!
  • Strange as it may sound, the peaks located in the Sahara get covered by snow in the winters!
  • It has a mostly rocky topography with different elevations at different places.
  • Some dunes in the Sahara are so high that they reach a height of about 180 meters!
Arabian Desert
Area: 899,618 sq mi
Continent Located In: Western Asia
Countries It Covers: Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen
To know more about the Arabian Desert Facts, engage yourself in the following read!
  • The earliest people, who inhabited this desert were the Bedouins. Bedouin is a nomadic civilization that lived in the Arabian desert for the purpose of breeding camels.
  • Rub' al Khali, the largest sand desert in the world, is a part of the Arabian Desert -- 4th largest in the world.
  • The desert holds valuable resources, such as petroleum, phosphates, sulfur, and ample groundwater storage.
  • The extreme temperatures make it difficult for human inhabitation, with the summer temperature reaching more than 50 °C (122 °F) and night temperatures often going below freezing mark.
  • The climate of the Arabian desert is such that it leads to the formation of a variety of features from quicksands to red dunes.
  • The borders of Gulf of Aden to the south, the Arabian Sea to southeast and the Red Sea in the west protect the sand dunes and help the winds to stay within the desert.
Cold Deserts
Gobi Desert
Area: 500,002 sq mi
Continent Located In: Asia
Countries It Covers: China, Inner Mongolia and 7 Mongolian Provinces (Govi-Altai, Sukhbaatar, Omnogovi, Dundgovi, Govisumber, Dornogovi and Bayankhongor)
Read these interesting Gobi desert facts to keep yourself abreast on the topic of deserts.
  • Gobi desert is a cold desert. Very often, frost and snow can be seen on its dunes!
  • It is not a primarily sandy desert; it is rocky having salt marshes and shifting sands on the lower regions.
  • Due to its location to the north of the Himalayan range, the rain-bearing clouds are blocked by a mountain range and the desert receives as little as only about 8 inches of rainfall every year.
  • The most common plants are drought-resistant shrubs, such as saltwort, sagebrush, and grass.
  • There are about 33 different species of animals that exist in the Gobi. Most common Gobi desert animals are jerboa, golden eagle, Gobi bear, Asiatic wild ass, Asiatic ibex, wild camel, Bactrian camel, etc.
  • The first dinosaur eggs and some of the first paleontological fossils were discovered in the Gobi desert regions!
Atacama Desert
Area: 40,541 sq mi
Continent Located In: South America
Countries It Covers: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Peru
The following Atacama desert facts make for an interesting read.
  • The Atacama desert, located in the continent of South America, is 15 million years old.
  • The desert is flanked by the Andes Mountains on one side and the Chilean Coast Range on the other.
  • It witnesses quite a lot of human activities during the day as the Pan-American Highway runs straight through it!
  • The Atacama is the world's largest reservoir of sodium nitrate.
Polar Deserts
Antarctic Desert
Area: 5.4 million sq mi
Location: South Pole
Region It Covers: Southern Hemisphere (Antarctic Region)
  • Antarctica has an annual precipitation of 8 inches in the coastal area with the inland area recording lesser precipitation (0.8 inches per year). Thus, it is considered as a polar desert.
  • Around 98% of Antarctica, which is the largest desert by area, and also the southernmost continent, is covered with ice.
  • This polar desert holds 70% of world's freshwater since it contains 90% of the world's ice.
  • World's most southernmost active volcano, Mt. Erebus is situated on Ross Island.
  • The southern lights (Aurora Australis) are clearly seen at night near the south pole.
  • These lights are created by the solar winds when they pass through the Earth's atmosphere.
  • Diamond dust, an unusual meteorological phenomenon is also seen in this desert. It is commonly called clear-sky precipitation and is a cloud, similar to fog, at ground level composing of ice crystals.
  • If the entire ice cover of Antarctica melts, it would result in an increase of the sea level by 60 meters.
Arctic Desert
Area: 5.3 million sq mi
Location: North Pole
Region It Covers: Arctic Ocean and parts of Alaska, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden.
  • Since the annual precipitation experienced in the Arctic is as low as 20 inches, it is termed as a polar desert.
  • The origin of the word arctic has Greek roots where it means 'near the bear' or 'the bear'. This refers to the constellation -- the Great Bear or the Little Bear, which comprises the Pole Star.
  • The climate of the Arctic region is characterized by extremely cold winters and rather cool winters.
  • The average winter temperatures drop below −50 °C (−58 °F) and some areas go beyond 30 °C (86 °F) in summer.
Survival Tips If You Get Lost
  • Stay calm -- In order to think straight and smart, you have to make sure you do not press the panic button. The last thing you want to do is worsen the situation by taking decisions in a hurry.
  • Stay hydrated -- Carry and drink lots of fluids, and this means strictly water -- not juices or alcohol. If you happen to come across some water storage in the desert, do not drink it, since it may not be potable.
  • Find shelter -- Extreme exposure to the hot sun and cold winds will reduce your chances of survival. Cover your head with a cap, and find suitable shelter. This will help in preventing dehydration.
  • Conserve energy -- If you are sure that you're lost, you might want to conserve energy by not running around or calling out for help. So, the best thing to do is conserve your energy, have less amount of food (if any) so that you won't feel thirsty frequently, and have less amount of water (do not gulp it down, take small sips).
  • Mark your route -- The moment you set to find your way back to the city, start marking your path with the help of sticks, or rocks, or whatever you can find. These marks will also help if someone decides to look for you.
  • Prepare yourself for the night -- Once the sun starts setting, prepare yourself in advance for the freezing nighttime temperatures. Again, find yourself a warm comfortable shelter before the temperature starts dipping.
Despite being desolate and almost devoid of life and liveliness, deserts are some of the most interesting topographies to study. More so, because with the growing global warming due to increased ozone layer depletion, deserts are perhaps what the future of Earth has in store for the entire planet.
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