What is a desert?

  • Deserts are areas of very dry land. They receive low levels of rainfall and, due to the harsh conditions, they can only support very highly-adapted species of plants and animals.
  • In deserts more water is lost through the processes of evaporation and transpiration than is gained from rainfall or snowfall.
  • In general, desert regions receive less than 250 mm (10 inches) of rainfall every year.
  • Although the word desert makes us think of hot and arid regions, not all deserts are fit this image. Cold polar deserts cover large areas of the Arctic and Antarctic, and areas in Alaska and the Himalayas also receive less than 250 mm of rainfall in a year.
  • Due to lack of vegetation cover in desert areas, dust storms and sand storms are common.
  • Only one fifth of the world’s deserts are made up of sand. The Mojave Desert, for example, has a surface made from tightly packed stones.
  • Desert regions have been identified on the planet Mars and on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons.

The Largest Deserts in the World

  1. Antarctic Desert (Antarctica)
  2. Arctic Desert (Arctic)
  3. Sahara Desert (Africa)
  4. Arabian Desert (Middle East)
  5. Gobi Desert (Asia)
  6. Patagonian Desert (South America)
  7. Great Victoria Desert (Australia)
  8. Kalahari Desert (Africa)
  9. Great Basin Desert (North America)
  10. Syrian Desert (Middle East)

What next? Discover more desert facts by visiting our desert resources page.

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