The movies might depict the deserts to be wide expanses of sand, with the occasional tumbleweed to add a sense of drama, but in reality, they’re much more exciting than that! While the general norm is to associate heat, dryness, and isolation with deserts, there’s more to deserts than meets the eye, like for instance the fact that only 20% of the world’s deserts are covered in sand!
Let’s demystify these common myths and discover some lesser-known facts about deserts!
- The word desert means to leave a place causing it to appear empty, which is exactly how many believe deserts to be. Because a desert hardly gets any rain at all, less than 400ml, harsh conditions persist making it tricky to survive.
- Deserts are hot in the day and freezing cold at night, mainly due to the low humidity. There is no blanket to help insulate the ground which is why it can get very hot during the day. The ground is unable to hold this heat overnight causing some deserts to reach the temperature of over 100 degrees F during the day and below 32 degrees F during the night.
- Deserts don’t seem like the best places to live in as they seem quite bare and desolate. However, one billion of the seven billion people in the world live in desert areas! People, as well as animals, have adapted to the harsh climatic conditions that prevail.
- The desert has a vibrant animal life, most of which are nocturnal. They hide out in burrows during the day and come out at night when the temperature is lower. In the Sonoran desert alone, over 200 rattlesnakes can live in a single square mile!
- Not all deserts follow the pattern of being hot during the day and cold at night. The world’s largest cold desert is Antarctica, located in the South Pole, and covers roughly 5 million square miles!
- There is no rainfall in Antarctica, only snow. What makes it stand out is the fact that the snow never evaporates resulting in the formation of gigantic ice sheets!
- It is said that 20% of the world’s land surface is desert, with Europe being the only continent with no large deserts.
- The plants in the desert have adapted to the harsh climate and some of them can survive without water for years! Certain plants grow long roots, allowing them to get water from deep down in the ground.
- Cacti store water, and in some instances, this allows them to survive for more than a hundred years!
- Deserts don’t always form naturally, sometimes they form because of the way humans treat the land. Animals that graze in the same spots cause the plant life to disappear completely and at times, their hooves can damage the soil.
- In the desert, the wind grinds pebbles and sand into dust. A windstorm can gather up this dust, creating a huge dust storm. It is said that dust storms can be over one mile high, and so thick with dust that you cannot breathe!
- Rains do occur in the desert, but they are a rarity. Some parts of the Atacama Desert, have witnessed the absence of rain for 401 years!
- When it rains in a desert a lot of water reaches the ground in a short span of time. Some rain passes into the dry sand though some of it might form a temporary river.
- Hot deserts are susceptible to mirages or fata morgana. A mirage is essentially a trick of light which makes you think there is a pool of water in the desert, when in reality, there isn’t!
- There are areas in the Arctic and Antarctica that have no ice at all- these are called polar deserts.
- The Gobi desert in the north of China and the south of Mongolia is growing at a rapid rate, mainly because of desertification. Desertification occurs when fertile lands where crops can grow are turned into desert areas. This is caused by the cutting down of forests, droughts, climate changes and other environmental causes.
- The primary inhabitants of the desert are animals such as lizards, rattlesnakes, and coyotes. These animals are nocturnal, meaning that they come out only at night.
- The camel is known as the ship of the desert, mainly because it has body fat which is stored in their hump that locks heat in, keeping them warm during the cold nights.
- The overall size of the deserts is increasing every year. Around 46,000 square miles of land is turned into desert every single year!
- The largest hot desert in the world is the Sahara, which covers an area of 9.4 square kilometres and spans over 12 North African countries.