The idea that many people have of a desert is a vast, dry, sandy area with little to no life, blue skies with a blazing sun, high temperatures during the day and freezing at night. Is this image right, you might wonder? Well, yes and no. In this blog, we share information about what a desert is, which types there are, where you can find them, and we zoom in to some desert to illustrate the desert variety and differences.
What is a desert?
Deserts are found all across the globe and cover about one-third of our planet’s surface. A combination of climate and geography results in extremely dry and arid areas in specific regions on our planet. The 33 major desert areas on earth contain 71 deserts spread over our seven continents:
- Asia – 26 deserts
- Africa – 12 deserts
- Australia – 10 deserts
- Europe – 10 deserts
- South America – 5 deserts
- North America – 4 deserts
- Arctic – 3 deserts
- Antarctica – 1 desert
Except for Europe, all continents have one or more deserts in the top 10 biggest deserts of our planet. Roughly half of all the land in the Middle East is desert. Wadi Rum is part of the Syrian desert.
Top 10 deserts and continents according to maps of the world:
- Antarctic desert, Antarctica
- Arctic, polar region
- Sahara, Africa
- Arabian desert (Middle East) Asia
- Gobi desert, Asia
- Kalahari desert, Africa
- Patagonian desert, South America
- Great Victoria desert, Australia
- Syrian desert (Middle East) Asia
- Great Basin desert, North America
Deserts are much more than just vast, sandy places with little water. The deserts on our planet are incredibly diverse, and each is unique in its way. Hereafter we give some examples to illustrate the desert variety and the significant differences between deserts.
The largest and coldest desert
The largest desert on earth is the cold desert of Antarctic. Technically speaking, it is the wettest place on earth as the ice covers 98% of Antarctica. Still, the annual rainfall is less than 250 mm per year, which makes this big, brutally cold, icy tundra a desert area. Another well-known cold desert is the Gobi desert in Asia.
The largest hot desert
The largest and one of the hottest desert is the Sahara. It is as big as the United States, and the day temperatures can be well over 50 degrees Celsius. This desert is known for its beautiful wind-shaped dunes. Did you know that dunes cover less than 10% of all desert areas? And did you know that the highest temperature ever measured is 70.7 in the Lut desert in Iran?
The driest non-polar desert
The driest hot desert on earth is the Atacama desert. It gets less than half a centimeter of precipitation per year. It comes from condensed fog rather than rain. This desert borders the Pacific coastline of Chili. At the end of last October (2015), large parts of the desert bloomed pink after historic rainfall.
The oldest desert
The Namib desert has the world’s highest dunes. Some of the dunes in the Sossusvlei are around 300 meters high. The Namib desert is considered the oldest desert in the world. It has a wide variety of species of plants and animals endemic to this desert. And maybe most unique, it is home to elephants.
The biggest salt desert
Salar de Uyuni is a salt desert. It is located in the southwest of Bolivia at an altitude of 3656 meters above sea level. This desert contains 50-70% of the world’s lithium reserves. The endless consistent white landscape and lack of reference points amazes and baffles visitors.
Deserts also come in a variety of colors. Egypt’s Black Desert is an uninhabited area of volcano-shaped mountains. Large quantities of small black stones lay scattered across the desert sand. Egypt also has a White desert. The desert has colors varying from white to cream. Unique are its massive chalk rock formations, formed by the occasional sandstorms in the area. Australia is home to the red sand desert called the Simpson desert, which is also known by the name The Big Red. It has the world’s longest parallel dunes. The high of the dunes vary from 3 meters up to 40 meters.
Wadi Rum desert
Wadi Rum desert is part of the Syrian desert. It is located on the southeast edge of this desert in the southeast of Jordan. In the east, it borders Saudi Arabia with its Arabian desert, and in the South, it borders the Red Sea. Wadi Rum is a mountainous desert. Towering cliffs and beautifully shaped mountains and rock formations mark the valleys and canyons. The mountains consist of sandstone with granite bases. Wind and water shaped the sandstone into its unique forms. And eventually, the formations fall apart. First, in rocks, then smaller rocks, and finally into loss pieces of sand that feed the dunes. Just like any other desert, our colorful, red and yellow desert is unique in the world. Curious to see our Mars-like landscape? Come and visit us!