5 of the World's Largest Deserts

December 6, 2019

The Earth has some large deserts, but they might not all match up with your expectations of what a desert is.

They're all dry, but they're not all hot. In fact, some are extremely cold. In this article, we'll look at the world's five largest deserts. Let's get started!

5. Gobi Desert

The world's fifth-largest desert is the Gobi Desert in Asia. Covering portions of Northern and Northeastern China and of Southern Mongolia, it spans 500,000 sq mi. The Gobi Desert is bordered by the Altai Mountains and the Mongolian steppes, the Tibetan Plateau, the North China Plain, and the smaller Taklamakan Desert.

It's generally very cold in the Gobi Desert. It has a northern latitude and high elevation, sitting on a plateau that's around 4,000 ft above sea level. A mere seven and a half inches of rain falls annually there, and high wind speeds cause extreme temperatures like -40 °F in winter and 113 °F in summer.

4. Arabian Desert

The fourth-largest desert in the world, the Arabian desert, occupies 900,000 sq mi and comprises most of the Arabian Peninsula. It's the largest desert in Asia and contains one of the largest continuous bodies of sand in the world.

This place has a subtropical, hot climate—exactly what comes to mind when you think of a desert. It has high temperatures and bright sunshine throughout the year, with very little rainfall. Summers in the Arabian desert see average high temperatures around 104 °F and the mercury can rise as high as 114 °F at very low elevations. Winter rarely brings the temperature down lower than 68 °F.

3. Sahara Desert

Every 20,000 years, the currently arid Sahara Desert becomes a vast sea of fertile savanna grassland. It happens because of the way the Earth turns around the sun, changing the location of the North African Monsoon. If you keep track of that sort of thing, mark your calendar—the next time the Sahara will be green is in about 15,000 years.

Spanning over 3,300,000 sq mi, the Sahara Desert is the third-largest desert in the world. It's approximately the size of the United States, taking up a huge part of North Africa, and it is the largest hot desert in the world.

2. The Arctic

The second-largest desert is the Arctic, a polar region in the northernmost part of our planet. Covering 5,400,000 sq mi, it's made up of the Arctic Ocean and adjacent seas, plus parts of Alaska, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Northern Canada, Norway, Russia, and Sweden.

What is the Arctic like? A frozen tundra of snow and ice. Endless permafrost, that is treeless land with permanently frozen underground ice. Frigid arctic seas full of floating ice. That sounds inviting…if you're a polar bear!

Nevertheless, people have lived in the Arctic for centuries, learning to adapt to its cold and extreme conditions. There's also plenty of plants and animals that can live there, even though average winter temperatures are around -40 °F!

1. Antarctica

We've come to the end of our look at the world's largest deserts. The one that takes the grand prize is Antarctica, Earth's southernmost continent.

Spanning 5,500,000 sq mi, Antarctica is the fifth-largest continent and the world's largest desert.

Fewer people live there than on any other continent, by a large margin. It has 0.00008 people per sq mi! Maybe that's because 98% of the continent is covered by ice that's over a mile thick.

Among all continents (and most deserts), Antarctica reigns supreme in many categories—driest, coldest, windiest, etc.

It has the highest average elevation.

The temperature has reached -135.8 °F there and averages -81 °F during the coldest season.

It has not rained in parts of Antarctica for almost 2 million years.

If you look into it, all five of the deserts we've discussed have interesting facts just like those bits of Antarctica trivia. We hope you enjoyed this brief look at the world's five largest deserts and continue to explore details about these fascinating places.