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.

The Gobi Desert: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about the Gobi Desert.

  • The Gobi Desert is the largest desert region located in Asia, spanning the north / northwestern part of China and the south of Mongolia. The desert is surrounded by the Altai Mountains and the grasslands of Mongolia. It is the fifth largest desert in the world.

  • The temperatures in the Gobi Desert fluctuate rapidly. It can go from being 25 degrees F to -30 degrees F within a few days. The temperatures can go as high as 122 degrees F and as low as -40 degrees F.
  • Although snowfall in the Gobi Desert is rare, the dunes do get covered in snow from time to time.
  • Over 45 different species of animals and birds live in the Gobi desert, including: golden eagles, snow leopards, camels, bears and gazelles.
  • The Gobi desert covers an area of approximately 500,000 square miles.
  • Wind speeds in the desert can get up to 85 miles an hour.
  • There are 400 different species of plants in the Gobi Desert.
  • The Gobi Desert is made up of five separate eco-systems. They are: the Eastern Gobi Desert Steppe, the Gobi Lakes Valley Desert Steppe, the Junngar Basin Semi-Desert, the Alashan Plateau Semi-Desert, and the Tian Shan Range.
  • The Gobi desert is expanding approximately 1390 square miles over the southern grasslands of China every year.
  • The first dinosuar eggs to be discovered were found in the Gobi Desert.
  •  The Gobi desert is growing by more than 1300 square miles every year, expanding into the southern grasslands of China. This process of desertification has worried the Chinese government and they are planting new forests to try and halt the spread of the Gobi. The forest barrier is sometimes called the Green Wall of China.

What next? Discover some facts about the Sahara Desert.

The Sahara: Facts About the Largest Hot Desert in the World

Here are some facts about the Sahara Desert:

  • The Sahara Desert, located in the north of Africa, covers an area of about 3,600,000 square miles, making it the third largest desert in the world after the Arctic and Antarctica (and the world’s largest hot desert).

  • Temperatures in the Sahara can often reach 136 F, or about 57 C. The total rainfall is less than three inches per year.
  • Despite being one of the driest and hottest places on earth, the Sahara Desert is home to an estimated 500 species of plants and about 70 species of animals.
  • 40 species of rodent live in the Sahara Desert, including the jerboa, which keeps cool by burrowing deep into the sand.
  • The most famous desert animal is the dromedary camel, which can drink up to 30 gallons of water in several minutes, and uses its heavy eyelashes to protect its eyes from sandstorms.
  • Some of the largest sand dunes in the Sahara actually move several metres every year, as they are constantly blown by the strong winds.
  • Despite its huge size, the population of the Sahara Desert is estimated to be only two million people, including those who are nomadic (move from place to place).
  • People have lived in the Sahara Desert since about 6000 BC.
  • Strong winds can blow fine dust from the surface of the desert, and the dust can be blown hundreds of miles. It is not uncommon for the dust to be seen in the United States.
  • The most widely spoken language in the Sahara is Arabic, which is spoken from the Atlantic to the Red Sea.
  • The Sahara has gone through cycles in the Earth’s history (caused by slight changes in the angle of the tilt of the Earth) and it has alternated between being a dry place and a wet place. It is expected that the desert will be lush and green again in about 15,000 years time.