Deserts! Ice, Sand and Beauty

When thinking of deserts most people tend to think of hot, sandy expanses with dunes as far as the eye can see. This image is of course true for some deserts but only a very small percentage. To put into perspective, approximately one third of all land on earth is covered in desert and of that less than 20% is actually sand.

What is a desert? – A true arid desert is an area that receives less than 25 cm (10 in) of rainfall per year, an area that the evaporation of water is faster than it falls. Find below some extreme and great examples:

The Largest and Driest Desert – Antarctica

How much further from the sand dune image can you get? Yes, Antarctica is one huge, very dry desert. The snow that does manage to fall is equivalent to only 5 cm of annual rainfall.  The phenomenon of the Antarctic blizzard is actually surface snow already on the ground being blown by colossal winds. In the McMurdo dry valleys it has been found that there has been no precipitation for 2 million years.

Dry! Very Dry! – Atacama Desert

The Atacama Desert, Chile, is known in some ways to also be the driest place on earth. The average rainfall for parts is just 1 millimetre, less than a raindrop. Compare that with the Sahara’s 10 – 20 centimetres. Mountains in the region standing above 6,500 m (22,500 ft) uniquely have no glaciers at all.

Deserts! Ice, Sand and Beauty

The Largest Hot Desert – Sahara

The Sahara is the second largest desert in the world and covers an area of 9,400,000 sq km (3,630,000 sq miles). It is what a lot of people see as the traditional looking desert with it’s large sand dunes. The word Sahara actually means ‘desert’ in Arabic.

Deserts! Ice, Sand and Beauty

Hottest Place on Earth – Danakil Desert

A region of Ethiopia, known for the Afar Depression, a volcanic explosion crater making the area up to 100 m below sea level. The average daily temperature (includes day and night) was recorded as 34.4 ºC (93.9 ºF), which includes an average maximum temperature over the period of 41.1 ºC (106 ºF).

Deserts! Ice, Sand and Beauty

The Unstoppable Desert – Gobi

Covering parts of China and Mongolia the Gobi Desert (A rain shadow desert) is caused mostly by the Himalayas blocking any rain clouds from getting to the area. As with much of earth, human activities, ruining of the soil and winds have caused an ever increasing desertification.  The Gobi desert is growing at an astounding 2,500 sq miles per year.  It is now less than 50 miles from the ancient capital of Bejing. The Chinese government a few years ago took evasive action and planted a ‘Green Wall’ of trees (2000 miles long) to help keep it at bay. Problem? Trees need water. Air pollution in the area from industry creates a bad haze and blocks any precipitation.

Deserts! Ice, Sand and Beauty

The Oldest Desert – Namib

Stretching along Africa’s Southwestern coast, the Namib Desert is regarded as the oldest in the world. Having had desert conditions for over 55 million years. Known also for it’s red sand it is the biggest source of diamonds in the world.

Deserts! Ice, Sand and Beauty

Written by Paul Steele

Paul is the founder and Editor of the site. An avid hiker and trekker. Travel, adventure and photography are passions that he combines to make his articles here. Likes to see the positive in everything.


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  1. Hey!

    These pictures are amazing 🙂 I specially love “The Unstoppable Desert – Gobi”! I wish pollution wasn’t such a big problem!

  2. Hi paul – great post! I grew up on a little 'desert' island and as such I love the desert, it is so much more varied and beautiful than people think – and you're post showed just how varied the worlds deserts are 🙂

  3. Wow, I honestly did not know Antarctica is considered a desert. I learned something new today!

    Those pictures are grogeous

  4. I've been to the Namib and Atacama deserts – and loved them both. I think I'll pass on the Danakil Desert – I don't do that kind of heat very well.

    Lovely, inspiring set of photos.

  5. Hi Paul, again a great article about nature. I love them. Gives us another perspective of things. Never realized that Antartica was a big desert too.

  6. Thanks for the lovely comments. It's always nice to see the beauty behind all the stereotypical barren world. I enjoy learning and writing about this stuff and want to thank you all for reading.

  7. Interesting stuff Paul and some lovely images too! There is a magic and wonder about the barreness of desert landscapes.

  8. How true! We are used to think that desert = sand and dunes but it's much more than that!
    I couldn't say why, but since I was a teenager I've been attracted by the desert, in all its forms. And I still am. It's one of the contexts that gives me the strongest emotions…

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