Largest Deserts in the World

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Deserts are often understood as vast expanses of sand which are completely devoid of life. But, it must be noted that some deserts do not contain sand at all , while several others are home to unique plants and animal species. 

There are varieties of deserts across the globe. Deserts encompass one third of earth’s landmass. Here is a list of 5 largest deserts in the world which are ranked by their surface area. 

Largest deserts (Rank wise)

5) Gobi Desert


Gobi desert is the fifth largest single desert in the world and second largest desert in Asia. It is situated along the border of China and Mongolia. It has great deal of historical significance, several important cities along the ancient Silk Road are located on this particular desert.

As a nearby mountain range blocks rain systems from reaching the region, it is classified as a rain shadow desert. The Tibetan plateau which is located in the southwest direction blocks precipitation which would otherwise reach the Gobi Desert. Atacama desert is another prominent rain shadow desert in northern Chile. 

The desert is not totally inhospitable. It is home to diverse species including Gobi Ibex, Gobi Bear, Mongolian Camel, Black-Tailed Gazelle, and also the evasive Snow Leopard. Plant life is generally sparse, yet there are some plant species which have become proficient in surviving the harsh desert conditions. The Saxual tree is the most commonly found plant in the desert. It has the ability to retain moisture within its bark and is found throughout the ecoregions of the Gobi desert. 


  • Its surface area is 1,295,000 sq kms.
  • It is spread across Mongolia and China.
  • It is a rain shadow desert.

4) Arabian Desert


It is the largest in Asia and the fourth largest desert in the world. It is spread across the nine individual countries of the Arabian peninsula.

The Arabian desert is a subtropical desert. It is consistently hot and there is hardly any rain. The largest uninterrupted bodies of sand in the entire world is present in its southern end. It is called the Rub’ al Khali.

The desert has a hostile environment which makes it difficult for mammals to live in it. The small number of species which inhabit the region includes the Arabian Camel, Nubian Ibex, Striped Hyena, Arabian Wolf, Sand Gazelle, Caracal, and Red Fox. Interestingly, the desert provides an ideal environment for reptiles such as lizards, snakes and geckos. 


  • Its surface area is 1,855,470 sq kms.
  • It is spread across countries like Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iraq, Qatar, Jordan, Oman, Israel, United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait.
  • It is a subtropical desert.

3) Sahara Desert


The famous desert is the largest hot desert and the third largest desert parallel in the planet. The Sahara desert is spread across Northern Africa (12 countries).

‘Sahara’ receives very little rainfall and is classified as a subtropical desert. It alternates between a Savanna grassland and a desert every 20,000 years. It was considered to be fertile as recently as 5000 years ago. To add on to it, during that period the region received ten times the rainfall it receives at present. The reason behind this phenomenon is a wobble in the earth’s axis, it alters the location of the North African monsoon. The Sahara desert is expected to be green again in approximately 15,000 years.

Camels are domesticated across the Saharan region. Camels have the ability to survive for long periods with very little water. There are several wild animals which are native to the region. This includes the likes of Saharan Cheetah, Fennec Fox, Red-Necked Ostrich, Addax Antelope, and African Wild Dog.


  • Surface area is 9,200,000 sq kms.
  • It is spread across countries like Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Mali, and Tunisia.
  • It is a subtropical desert.


2) Arctic Polar Desert


Not all deserts are made of fine grains and have scorching hot temperatures. The Arctic Polar desert located in the very northern edge of our planet is one such example.

Abundance of ice sheets, cold temperatures, and lack of rainfall are characteristics of polar deserts. It is a hostile environment for plants and animals, the majority of the terrain is trapped underneath the ice sheets. It is home to a diverse number of animals including the Arctic Fox, Arctic Wolf, Polar Bear, Snowy Owl and Moose. While most of the animals are permanent residents of the desert, some of them migrate between the Arctic Tundra (contains more vegetation) and the Arctic Desert.

Until the late 19th century, many explorers were misguided by the claims that an Open Polar Sea existed in the region. The ‘false’ theory was backed by the idea that people could push through these northern barriers of ice to reach an open and navigable ocean surrounding the North pole.

This theory was disproved at the cost of several lost Arctic expeditions. But in the future, as a result of Arctic shrinkage, it is quite likely that there will finally be an ice-free route between Europe and the Pacific ocean by way of the Arctic.


  • It has a surface area of 13, 985, 935 sq kms.
  • It is spread across countries like Canada, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland.
  • It is a polar desert. 

1) Antarctic Polar Desert


Comprising the vast majority of Antarctica, it is the largest desert in the world. It has a size which is larger than the combined size of the Gobi desert, the Arabian desert, and the Sahara desert.

A few microorganisms were discovered in the desert in the 1970s. High speed winds in the southern desert combine with its arid environment to form hypersaline lakes. Lake Vanda and the Don Juan Pond are a few examples of hypersaline water bodies in the desert. These water bodies have salt content which is ten times higher than the seawater.

Over the years, Antarctica has witnessed several daring expeditions. In 1911, Norwegian explorer Ronald Amundsen and his team became the first humans to reach the South pole.

In the Shackleton expedition which took place between 1914 and 1917, a team of 28 tried to cross the entirety of Antarctica by land. However, the crew had to drift on a pack of ice for several months before they finally reached the land. 

For its remarkable feat, the Shackleton’s ship was named ‘Endurance’.


  • Its surface area is 14,244,934 sq kms.
  • It is located in Antarctica.
  • It is a polar type desert.

In this article, we have discussed the largest deserts in detail.


Read more:Nifty

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