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


  1. What are the characteristics of a desert habitat?
    [anno: A desert is an area that is very dry and gets less than ten inches of rain per year.]
  2. What kind of adaptations might an animal need to survive in the Sahara desert?
    [anno: Answers may vary but could include that an animal would need to be able to stay cool during the day and warm at night.]
  3. If Antarctica is covered with ice and snow, why do you think it is considered a desert? Write a sentence or two to explain your answer.
    [anno: It is a desert because it probably does not get very much precipitation each year. The snow and ice that are there have accumulated over time.]