Breathtaking Deserts

dssrtDeserts have a reputation for being hot, dry and sandy but this commonly held belief is not exactly correct. It is true that the best known deserts are, in fact, hot, dry and sandy or pebbly, but the world’s largest desert has none of those attributes.

Technically, a desert is simply a landscape or region which receives very little precipitation, or falling water. To be a desert, a region cannot receive enough water to make vegetation flourish. Heat and sand are good indicators of this condition, but the largest desert on Earth, and by far the driest continent, is Antarctica. Although covered in ice, it is too cold in Antarctica for rain to fall and even the regular blizzards carry ice and snow that is already present not freshly fallen.

The largest of the traditional deserts is the Sahara which covers an area of North Africa of 9,400,000 square kilometres (3,600,000 sq miles), which is as big as the continental United States. The extent of the Sahara reaches from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to the Red Sea in the east and it is divided into eight eco regions. Within this desert are mountain ranges, dunes, plateaus, rocky terrains, salt flats and oases.

The Arabian Desert is the largest in Asia and it occupies the Arabian Peninsula and beyond. It is the largest sandy desert which contains very little vegetation and few animal species. One of the most spectacular regions of this desert is the Jebel Tuwaiq which is a stunning 800 kilometre-long escarpment in central Arabia.

The Gobi is a cold desert in Central Asia which covers much of Mongolia and a great deal of China. It is a desert primarily because it exists in a rain shadow caused by the Himalaya Mountains to its south. Its high elevation and northerly aspect make the climate of the Gobi very challenging.

After Antarctica, Australia is the world’s driest continent and the majority of its interior is comprised of deserts. The largest of the Australian deserts is the Great Victoria Desert which extends through much of Western Australia and South Australia. This desert also has many features, one of which is the gibber plain, which has a great swathe of area covered entirely by pebbles.

All continents, including Europe have deserts. In Europe, the largest desert is in the deep north, inside the Arctic Circle where ice-covered seas and treeless permafrosts exist, creating an environment that, although not obvious, is a true desert in every sense.

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