The Top 5 Largest Deserts on Earth

  Desert Location Approximate Area
(square km)
Sahara desert Northern Africa 9.10 million km2
Arabian desert South-west Asia 2.33 million km2
Gobi desert Central Asia 1.29 million km2
Patagonian desert Argentina / Chile 673,000 km2
Great Basin desert United States 492,000 km2
Sources:  Top 5 of Anything research 2010.
List Notes: This list excludes desert complexes (deserts made up of other deserts) such as the Australian and the Arabian. Data is in square kilometres. Please note: many of the world's largest are broken down by geographers into smaller desert regions
  1. Deserts cover more than one fifth of the Earth's land or about 35 million square kilometres of the earth's surface and they are found on every continent. A place that receives less than 25 centimetres (10 inches) of rain per year is considered a desert. Deserts are part of a wider classification of regions called "drylands." These areas exist under a moisture deficit, which means they can frequently lose more moisture through evaporation than they receive from annual precipitation. Drylands are characterized by low rainfall and high rates of evaporation. They occupy 41 per cent of Earth's land area and are home to more than 2 billion people. Half of all people living in poverty live in drylands. They depend heavily on environmental services for their basic needs. People living in drylands, 90 per cent of whom live in developing countries, lag far behind the rest of the world in human well-being and development indicators. In developing countries, infant mortality in drylands averages about 54 children per 1,000 live births, twice as high as in non-dryland areas, and 10 times the infant mortality rate in developed countries. (a.), (b.)
  2. Despite the common conceptions of deserts as dry and hot, there are cold deserts as well. The largest hot desert in the world, northern Africa's Sahara, reaches temperatures of up to 50 degrees Celsius (122 F) during the day. But some deserts are always cold, like the Gobi desert in Asia and the desert on the continent of Antarctica. Others are mountainous. Only about 10 percent of deserts are covered by sand dunes. The driest deserts get less than one centimetre (half an inch) of precipitation each year, and that is from condensed fog not rain. (a.)
  3. The Sahara Desert, by far the largest desert in the world, has an overall area as large as the continental United States and is also one of the hottest deserts on earth. The Sahara desert stretches over areas of Northern Africa, from the Red Sea to the areas close to the outskirts of the Atlantic Ocean. This desert shares it boundaries with the Atlas Mountains, the Mediterranean Sea, Egypt, Sudan and valley of the Niger River and extends into 10 countries. Dust from the Sahara has occasionally been carried as far afield as the UK and Germany. The Sahara Desert accounts for around 8 per cent of the world's land area. There are an estimated 1,200 species of plant to be found in the Sahara. In the last 50 years the Sahara has spread south to cover an extra 65 million hectares.
  4. Because of their highly specialized nature, desert species are particularly vulnerable to habitat disturbance. Surprisingly little is known and documented about deserts in terms of biological, ecological and cultural characteristics. The different deserts of the world are unique in terms of origin, evolutionary history and climatic patterns. (b.)
  5. 13 per cent of the world's population live in deserts and continuously high solar radiation makes deserts ideal locations for solar cell installations thus improving these economies. Solar energy from desert regions is predicted to become a strong new market and may fill the gap of fade out of nuclear power plants particularly in Europe.
Top 5 facts sources:
  1. National Geographic. (2010). "Deserts: Arid, But Full of Life" Retrieved Dec 8, 20120.
  2. United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). (2006). "Don't Desert Drylands: Facts About Deserts and Desertification." Retrieved Dec 8, 2010.
  3. Global Deserts Outlook. (2006).
  4. The Arabian Desert Solar Energy Consortium. (2010). Desert Energy Project: "Global Sustainable Energy Initiative" Retrieved Dec 8, 2010.
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