Desert Facts

Michael Bryan

Michael Bryan

Published: 16 Sep 2021

Modified: 15 Oct 2021

Arizona Desert, desert facts

A desert is an area where there is almost no rainfall. Some deserts are big areas of sand or flat, stony ground, while others have rocky hills and mountains. During the day, the desert’s temperature can be waxing hot while at the night, it can be freezing cold. Although are four major types of deserts, they can all have something in common — strong winds, little rainfall, and only a few animals and plants can survive. Read about these 50 adventurous desert facts and learn how this type of environment works, what’s inside it, and how to survive if you ever get stranded on it!

  1. A desert is a barren and dry area of landscape.
  2. Deserts have little precipitation.
  3. Experts acknowledge that a desert is a land that receives less than 25 cm (10 inches) of precipitation a year.
  4. Living conditions in the desert are hostile to plant and animal life.
  5. The volume of evaporation in a desert often exceeds its annual rainfall.
  1. The availability of water in the desert is very low for plants and other organisms to survive.
  2. Its lack of vegetation displays the unprotected surface of the land to the exposure of underlying strata and rock units.
  3. Roughly 33% of the land surface on Earth is arid or semi-arid.
  4. Several polar regions also have little precipitation or much known as polar deserts or “cold deserts.”
  5. Deserts are made by weathering processes as large disparities in temperature between day and night put strains on the rocks.
  6. The biggest desert in the world is the Antarctic desert. It occupies the continent of Antarctica with a size of around 5.5 million square miles.
  7. Even though rain seldom or can be rare in deserts, there are occasional downpours that can result in flash floods.
  8. The particles from the sand and dust can remain airborne for extended periods, forming sand storms.
  9. Wind-blown sand grains can scrape or wear the surface of any solid object in their path.
  10. The sand grains in the desert typically end up piled high in billowing sand dunes.
  1. Hot rocks in the desert can shatter if the rain hits them.
  2. Some deserts are flat, stony plains where all the fine material has been blown away, making its surface look like mosaic stones.
  3. Temporary lakes can form in the desert where interior drainage basins are sufficient. They are generally shallow and salty.
  4. There are 23 deserts in the world.
  5. The Sahara, Antarctic, Arctic, Gobi, and Namib desert are some of the most famous deserts in the world.
Table of Contents

The Sahara desert can drop below freezing temperature during the night

According to NASA, temperatures in the Sahara desert can plunge once the sun sets. From an average temperature of 100°F (38°C) during the day, it can drop to an average low of 25°F (-4°C) at night.

sahara desert, sun, desert facts
Image from: Wikimedia Commons

Animals and plants that live in the desert have special adaptations

Animals and plants that live in the desert have special adaptations which help them survive in harsh environments. Plants here are usually tough and wiry with small or no leaves, have water-resistant cuticles, and often with spines to withstand herbivory. Some of the indigenous desert plants are the elephant tree, saguaro cactus, barrel cactus, organ pipe cactus, brittlebush, turpentine broom, and desert palm.

Some annual plants can survive in the desert

Several annual plants (a plant that completes its life cycle in a single growing season) germinate, bloom, and die with a life cycle of a few weeks after rainfall, while other long-lived plants can endure for years and have deep root systems able to penetrate underground moisture.

Animals in the desert understand water conservation

Animals in the desert need to keep their temperature in check, stay cool, and find sufficient food and water to last. These animals have become efficient in water conservation, obtaining most of their needs from their food, and concentrating their urine. The nocturnal animals in the desert hide in the shade or underground during the scourging heat of the day.

camel, animal, desert facts
Image from: Piqsels

Some animals in the desert survive in a state of dormancy

Some animals in the desert survive in a state of dormancy or hibernation for long periods, waiting to become active again when the rainfall comes. Moreover, these animals can reproduce rapidly while conditions are pleasant before returning to dormancy.

The Sidewinder rattlesnake can be found in the deserts of North America, Africa, and the Middle East

The Sidewinder rattlesnake is one of the creatures that can survive in the scorching heat of the desert. They normally inhabit the desert regions of northwestern Mexico, the southwestern United States, Africa, and the Middle East. Their movement pattern helps them to avoid or lessen the contact of their body in the heat of the sand by flexing their body and curving it into an S-shape. They lie under the desert sand to camouflage and to hide from predators as well as to ambush their prey.

You can find sand dune cats in sandy and stony deserts

Sand cats or sand dune cats normally dwell in the sandy and stony deserts. They are small wild felines with light brown and light grey colored coats. The soles of their paws are covered with fur which protects them from extreme temperatures. They feed on small rodents, reptiles, and birds which provide them with moisture needed in their body, however, they still drink water when given an opportunity. These felines normally sleep during the day in an underground burrow and become active at night to hunt prey.

Deserts are arguably the most difficult places to live

Humans have tried and struggled to live in deserts and the surrounding semi-arid lands for thousands of years now. Deserts are arguably the most difficult places to live because we need a lot of water. Not only is it difficult for us to survive in this place, but it is also hard for our livestock, crops, and other forms of life to live.

There are many beautiful cities located in the desert

Although it’s difficult to live in a desert, there are some amazing cities near or located in a desert. Cities with a hot desert climate include Abu Dhabi, UAE, Cairo, Egypt, Karachi, Pakistan, Baghdad, Iraq, Doha, Qatar, Dubai, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain, and Lima, Peru.

Dubai, city, desert facts
Image from: Pixabay

Desert farming can be traced as far as 5,000 BC

Desert farming is the method or system of developing agriculture in desert lands. Since agriculture is highly dependent on irrigation, farming in arid regions where water is scarce will always be a challenge. According to studies, desert farming dates back as far as 5,000 BC in the Negev Desert.

Yes, efficient desert farming is possible

Currently, Australia, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, and the Imperial Valley in southern California, have some of the best and modern desert farming or agriculture on earth. Water efficiency has been the key to success in the growth of desert agriculture. Despite being in an arid climate, desalination technology, water reuse, and drip irrigation have lifted their desert farming.

Simcha Blass was the catalyst of Israel’s expansion to arid regions in agriculture

Israel is one of the first in the world that pioneered modern-day desert agriculture. Simcha Blass (a Polish-Israeli engineer and inventor who developed the modern drip irrigation system) led the country to a massive expansion of agriculture in arid regions and in various places to utilize the technique. According to studies, the technique helped decrease water consumption by 80% while a substantial increase in crop yields occurred making the agricultural output of Israel increase more than fivefold since the country’s independence in 1948.

There are four main types of desert

The four main types of desert include hot and dry deserts, cold deserts, semi-arid deserts, and coastal deserts. Also known as arid deserts, the hot and dry desert temperatures are warm and dry all year round. Some of the most popular arid deserts apart from the Sahara Desert, are the Namib Desert (Africa), Sonoran Desert (Mexico and United States), Sechura Desert (Peru), and Tanami (Australia).

Semi-arid deserts are found in Asia, Europe, North America, and Greenland

Semi-arid deserts typically have long dry summers and it’s followed by winters with some rain. In general, summer temperatures in semi-arid deserts are between 21-27°C and normally not going above 38° C. At night, temperatures are cool, around 10°C. Cool nights nourish plants and animals by reducing moisture loss from transpiration, breathing, and sweating. Just in most hot deserts, rainfall in a semiarid desert is very low, 2-4 cm yearly.

Coastal deserts are a bit more humid

Compared to other types of deserts, coastal deserts are a bit more humid. Even though heavy fogs blow in from the coast, rainfall is still occasional or rare. The Atacama Desert of Chile in South America is the best example of a coastal desert and it’s popular with all-terrain sports enthusiasts. Various championships have taken place in this desert, including the Lower Atacama Rally, Patagonia-Atacama Rally, Lower Chile Rally, and the latter Dakar Rally’s editions.

The Antarctic is an example of a cold desert

Cold deserts are still dry but they can have extremely low temperatures in contrast to the other types of deserts. Cold deserts have short, moist, and moderately warm summers (temperature is between 21-26° C) with relatively long, cold winters. Experts agree that Antarctica is a type of cold desert because it gets very little rain or snow.

snow, Antarctica, Princess Elisabeth station
Image from: Imaggeo

The United States has four deserts

The Mojave Desert is the smallest and driest desert of the four American deserts (Great Basin, Chihuahuan, Sonoran, and Mojave desert). The Mojave Desert is bordered to the west by the Sierra Nevada mountain range and the California Montane Scrub, and the South and East by the Sonoran Desert.

Mojave desert’s flora and fauna are affected by human advancement

Currently, human advancement in the Mojave desert has become increasingly alarming. These developments at the major urban and suburban centers of Las Vegas and Los Angeles have an increasingly damaging impact on the wildlife of the Mojave Desert as a whole. Moreover, the increasing demand for landfill space, as a result of these large metropolitan centers, can highly affect the flora and fauna of the Mojave Desert.

The Gobi desert was already popular since the 2nd century

The Gobi desert is a huge desert in East Asia (1.295 million km²). Its land area spans Northern and Northeastern China and of Southern Mongolia. The Gobi desert is well-known in our history due to its connection to important cities along the Silk Road. The Gobi desert is part of the world’s top 10 biggest deserts.

The animals in the Gobi desert are well-adapted to endure the extreme desert climate

The Gobi Desert is one of the foundations of our ancient history as it’s the source of many significant fossil discoveries such as the first dinosaur eggs (averaging 9 inches in length), which were revealed in the early 1920s. Despite the severe environmental conditions, this desert is home to many animals, including the Mongolian wild ass, black-tailed gazelles, wild Bactrian camels, sand plovers, and marbled polecats along with the occasional visits by snow leopards and Gobi bears.

Deserts can be a great source of clean energy

The world’s most hostile deserts can be the best places on our planet for harvesting solar power. Solar power is one of the most abundant and clean sources of energy we can have. Since deserts are vast, relatively flat, rich in silicon, and never short of sunlight, various projects have already started. In California, for instance, the Mojave Solar Project’s power generation (a solar thermal power facility in the Mojave Desert, about 32 km northwest of Barstow) is 100% from the sun or without help from fossil-based energy sources.

The Kalahari Desert is a huge semi-arid sandy savannah in Southern Africa

The Kalahari Desert is a huge semi-arid sandy savannah in Southern Africa with a land area of 930,000 km², covering much of Botswana, and parts of Namibia and South Africa. If you’re familiar with the video game Mario Kart 64 (a 1996 kart racing video game developed and published by Nintendo), it features a track called ‘Kalimari Desert’, a reference to the Kalahari Desert found in Southern Africa.

Africa, Kalahari Desert, hot
Image from: Maxpixel

The ancient San people know how to survive in the desert.

The San people (indigenous hunter-gatherer groups of Southern Africa) have lived in the Kalahari for 20,000 years as hunter-gatherers. Eventually, they learn to hunt with bows and poison arrows and collect edible plants, like berries, nuts, and melons, including insects. The San people usually get most of their water from plant roots and desert melons located on or under the desert floor and would frequently store water in the blown-out shells of ostrich eggs.

The Sonoran desert is the wettest desert in the world.

Also known as the “wettest desert in the world”, the Sonoran is the only place on earth where the saguaro cactus (a tree-like cactus species in the monotypic genus Carnegiea that can grow to be over 12m tall) grows in the wild. The unique characteristic of the Sonoran Desert is the volume and seasonality of rainfall. Annual precipitation in the Sonoran Desert averages from 3–20 in (exceeding the usual 10 in of precipitation of a normal desert) depending on the location, with substantial inter-and intra-annual variability in quantity and timing.

Desert means “barren, without inhabitants, and to abandon”

The term desert (meaning “a dry place”) comes from a Middle English word meaning “barren” or “dried up,” and from the Old French desert, pertaining to “without inhabitants,” as well as from the Latin verb dēserere, which means “to abandon or forsake.”

Roughly 20% of the desert on earth is sand

It’s common for people to think that deserts are made of extensive areas of billowing dunes, but deserts do not always look like that. Nonetheless, approximately 20% of the desert on earth is sand, ranging from only 2% in North America to 30% in Australia and over 40% in Central Asia.

Muslim Arab forces utilized the deserts to their advantage.

The Arabs were among the first organized army to perform successful battles in the desert. Because they are familiar with the back routes and the sections of oases and by utilizing camels, Muslim Arab forces were able to successfully defeat both Roman and Persian forces during 600 to 700 AD throughout the expansion of the Islamic caliphate.

The surface of Mars is a dry desert

Mars is currently the only planet in our Solar System, apart from Earth, on which deserts have been recognized. The Red Planet’s deserts mainly consist of dunes in the form of half-moons in flat areas close to the permanent polar ice caps in the north of the planet. Moreover, based on the tests made by the Mars Exploration Rover, the rocks have shown a surface film that resembles the desert varnish found on our planet even though it might just be surface dust.

exploration rover, mars, red planet
Image from: Pixabay

The Judean desert is home to numerous historic sites

Since the 7th century BC, people have been farming in the Judean desert to supply food for desert forts. The Judean Desert is a desert in Israel and the West Bank that occupies east of Jerusalem and descends to the Dead Sea. Although considered a relatively small desert (1,500km2), it holds numerous historic sites, mindblowing nature reserves, monasteries, and primeval panoramas, making it a unique and amusing place to visit.

There are about 8.42 deaths per 1,000 inhabitants in Sub-Saharan Africa

There are five to seven basic desert survival tips such as “preserve sweat — not water, make a fire, don’t drink cactus, stay off the ground, stay high, stop hunting for food, and keep your clothes on”. Although these tips may extend your life when you get stranded in a desert, obviously there’s no guarantee in making it out alive by doing them. If you want to see how to get out alive in the desert actively, watch how British adventurer Bear Grylls did it. He documented his adventure in the Sahara in this video.