What is a Desert? Types, Formation & Habitat

A third of all the land on Earth is desert. But do you know what exactly a desert is, its types, and how it’s formed? Read on to find out.
What is a Desert? Types, Formation & Habitat
What is a Desert? Types, Formation & Habitat

Nearly one-third of all land on Earth is classified as a desert. There are several types of deserts, and even though many believe that nothing grows or survives in a desert, that’s not entirely true. Many civilizations, including some of the oldest and largest ones, originated in deserts.

There is a desert on every continent. They may not offer the most appealing habitat or the most picturesque landscape, but deserts play an important environmental role and harbour various unique plants and animals. So, it becomes essential to know about deserts, their types, formation, and habitat.

What is a Desert?

A desert is any place that receives extremely low precipitation and is dry and inhospitable. The stereotypical picture of endless sand dunes, camels, and palm trees is what comes to mind when most people think of deserts. But these are only the features of hot deserts like the Sahara and Kalahari.

Deserts aren’t just scorching hot; they can be cold too. In fact, many deserts have subzero temperatures and are covered in ice, like the Antarctic and Arctic deserts. Low precipitation is the primary characteristic of a desert.

How are Deserts Formed?

The formation of deserts is a long process that takes place over centuries. It begins with low rainfall and erosion, which over time, cause desertification. The weathering of rocks due to drastic changes in night and daytime temperatures breaks them down.

The Sahara used to be lush green farmland thousands of years ago. But due to the Earth’s orbital shift, the monsoons dwindled, and temperatures began fluctuating. The progressive decrease in favourable environmental conditions led to the loss of vegetation and desert formation in the Sahara.

Similarly, other deserts like the Ladakh desert were formed due to the nearby mountain ranges, the Himalayas blocking the moisture-carrying air.

Types of Deserts

There are 5 main types of deserts, each with unique characteristics and origins.

1. Tropical Desert

At the equator, the air is hot, so it moves towards the poles on both sides, pushing clouds away. The hot, moist air cools down as it moves up and drops the moisture as rain. After that, the air descends and warms up again. This usually happens near the tropic of cancer and gives rise to subtropical deserts like the Sahara, Kalahari, and Tanami.

2. Coastal Desert

Coastal deserts like Chile’s Atacama are formed when cold sea air loses all moisture before reaching the coast, and the region receives little to no rainfall, turning into a desert.

3. Rain Shadow Desert

Then there are rain shadow deserts like Death Valley in the US, which are formed when air ascends towards a mountain range but is unable to cross it; the air loses its moisture and descends towards the leeward slopes. But it again turns warm and doesn’t allow clouds to form or rain to appear.

4. Interior Desert

Interior deserts like the Gobi Desert are formed in deep, unreachable places that are far from the coast and surrounded by mountains or other hindrances that result in low precipitation. Winds lose all their moisture by the time they reach such places, and over time, it results in desert formation.

5. Polar Desert

Polar deserts, as the name suggests, are found on the poles of the Earth. The Arctic and the Antarctic are also classified as deserts because they are arid and don’t receive much precipitation. Even though they consist of nearly all the fresh water on the planet, most of it is frozen and unavailable to plants and animals.

Also Read: What is Gaslighting? Definition, Warning Signs & How to Deal with it

Also Read: Fact or Fiction: Sahara Is The Largest Desert In The World

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