Last Updated on June 15, 2021

Are usually considered deserts those geographical areas consisting of vast expanses of sand and characterized by very high temperatures and low rainfall. However, the term desert is also used to indicate areas that have different characteristics than these, as deserts are more generally characterized by the following features:

  • very little precipitation
  • almost total absence of inhabitants
  • almost completely non-existent vegetation.

There is a growing number of deserts in every continent across the globe. Hot deserts may contain sand dunes of different types, resulting from the shifting of sand granules by the constructive force of the wind or sea. Cold-weather deserts are the result of the lack of vegetation due to unsuitable environmental conditions. The Antarctica desert is the largest desert in the world, with the Sahara being the largest hot desert.

Types of Desert

Sahara Desert Tours Morocco, Marrakech, Morocco

Hot desert

Hot deserts are those typical of tropical areas. They are characterized by considerable diurnal thermal excursions (for example the temperature during the day exceeds 50° C while during the night it goes down to few centigrade degrees above zero).

Inner Mongolia, China

Semi-arid desert

Semi-arid deserts are found in Europe, North America, Russia and northern Asia. They are similar to arid deserts but have more defined seasons, with long, hot summers and minimal precipitation during the winter. Summer temperatures are not as intense as arid deserts and nighttime temperatures tend to be cooler. In the United States, semi-arid deserts are found in Utah, Montana, and throughout the Great Basin, which extends from California and Nevada to Mexico.

Simpson Desert, Australia

Coastal desert

Coastal deserts have moderately short winter seasons. Despite being close to water sources, these deserts remain remarkably dry because most of the precipitation occurs in the oceans, leaving negligible amounts of rain to spill onto the land.


Cold desert

Cold deserts are characterized by significant annual temperature changes (for example, the temperature in summer exceeds 40 ° C while in winter it drops to -30 ° C) while the daily temperature changes are much more modest. The Gobi Desert, in Mongolia, is an example of a cold desert.

Polar deserts are found in the polar regions, i.e. the arctics and Antarctica. They are characterized by intense cold and huge expanses of perennial ice for this reason they are also called white deserts.

World Desert List

List of deserts from all continents in the world. Sorted alphabetically or by geographical area, size, and morphology.

NameTypeArea (km²)Area (mi²)Location
AntarcticaPolar Ice and Tundra14,000,0005,405,000Antarctica
Arabian DesertSubtropical2,330,000900,000Western Asia (Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen)
Atacama DesertMild Coastal140,00054,000South America (Chile and Peru)
Australian DesertSubtropical2,700,0001,000,000Australia
Chihuahuan DesertSubtropical450,000175,000Central America (Mexico)
Northern America (United States)
Colorado PlateauCold Winter337,000130,000United States
Columbia BasinCold Winter83,10032,100United States
Dasht-e KavirSubtropical77,00030,000Iran
Dasht-e LutSubtropical52,00020,100Iran
Dasht-e MargoSubtropical150,00058,000Afghanistan
Gobi DesertCold Winter1,295,000500,000Eastern Asia (China and Mongolia)
Great BasinCold Winter492,000190,000United States
Kalahari DesertSubtropical900,000360,000Southern Africa (Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa)
Karakum DesertCold Winter350,000135,000Turkmenistan
Kyzylkum DesertCold Winter300,000115,000Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan)
Mojave DesertSubtropical124,00048,000United States
Namib DesertCool Coastal81,00031,000Middle Africa (Angola)
Southern Africa (Namibia and South Africa)
Patagonian DesertCold Winter620,000200,000South America (Argentina and Chile)
Registan DesertSubtropical146,00056,400Afghanistan
Sahara DesertSubtropical9,000,000+3,300,000+Eastern Africa (Eritrea)
Middle Africa (Chad)
Northern Africa (Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, the Sudan, Tunisia, and Western Sahara)
Western Africa (Mali, Mauritania, and Niger)
Sonoran DesertSubtropical310,000120,000Central America (Mexico)
Northern America (United States)
Syrian DesertSubtropical520,000200,000Western Asia (Iraq, Jordan, and Syria)
Taklamakan DesertCold Winter270,000105,000China
Thar DesertSubtropical200,00077,000Southern Asia (India and Pakistan)

List of Pseudo-Deserts

  • Desert of Maine
  • Joaquina Beach
  • Lençóis Maranhenses National Park
  • Accona Desert
  • Tottori Sand Dunes
  • Sleeping Bear Dunes
  • Red Desert (South Africa)
  • Słowiński National Park
  • Carcross Desert
  • Chara Sands
  • Osoyoos Desert
  • Dunas dos Ingleses
World Deserts

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