Deserts—What and Where

The Sahara is the world's largest hot desert. A desert is an area that is very dry. Any region that usually gets less than ten inches of precipitation (rain or snow) a year is a desert. Ten inches a year is not much: New York City gets about 42 inches a year; Orlando, Florida, gets 51 inches. Some deserts get no rain at all for years at a time.

Many people think that deserts are always hot and sandy, but they are not. Antarctica is a polar desert. Even larger than the Sahara, it is cold and has no sand at all—only ice and snow. Some deserts are hot in the day and cold at night. In the Sahara, the temperature can be 120°F during the day and 20°F at night. Some deserts have seasons with cold winter days and nights.

About one third of the land on Earth is desert, and there are deserts all over the world. Earth isn't the only planet with deserts. All of Mars is a desert, and Venus may have deserts, too.

Desert Extremes

there is a drawing of the Earth and its major deserts
  1. World's driest desert: The Atacama
  2. World's oldest desert: The Namib
  3. World's largest hot desert: The Sahara
  4. World's largest sand dune area: The Empty Quarter
  5. World's largest polar desert: Antarctica
  6. World's lowest spot: In the Negev Desert
  7. World's highest temperature: In the eastern Sahara


Of, relating to, or near the North Pole or the South Pole.

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  1. Think about pictures you have seen of deserts or desert areas you may have visited. What kinds of landforms might you find in a desert?
    [anno: You could find all different kinds of landforms in a desert, including mountains, plains, valleys, canyons, and plateaus.]
  2. How much of Earth's land surface is covered by deserts?
    [anno: About one third of Earth's land surface is covered by deserts.]
  3. What other kind of feature covers a large part of Earth's surface?
    [anno: Oceans and seas cover a large part of Earth's surface.]
  4. Think about the amount of land that is desert and the amount of the Earth's surface that is covered by other features. In comparison, there is not a lot of land for people to live on, grow crops, and raise animals. What kinds of land problems might people face in the future? What might people do to make sure that the land is used wisely? Write a sentence or two to explain your answer.
    [anno: Answers will vary but could include that we might face land shortages in the future if the number of people living on Earth increases. Wise land use might include having more people live in high-rise buildings in the cities or having people move to areas where there are not a lot of people living now. Answers could include that new farming techniques might help people to use the land better to grow crops.]