largest deserts in the world

Top 10 Largest Deserts in the World

Of the many wonders mother nature offers us, deserts are certainly among our planet’s most fascinating phenomena. Desert landscapes are defined by areas that experience an extremely low amount of precipitation all year round. This extreme lack of rain makes life almost impossible, both for animals and plants, but also very hard for humans (albeit modern-day technology helps us somewhat in that regard). There are only a handful of plants and species that are naturally able to survive in these extreme conditions.

If you think these extremely arid land surfaces are rare occurrences on our planet, think again. Around 33% or roughly 1/3 of Earth’s landmass are classified as desert land. Indeed, every single continent includes a certain amount of desert areas. The largest deserts in the world can be found all over the globe.

When most people think of deserts, they tend to think of hot regions with nothing but sand as far as the eye can see. It is true that most deserts are indeed hot deserts. However, additionally, there are cold deserts or “polar deserts” as they are also known.

These deserts are located around the two polar circles in the Arctic and Antarctica. Cold deserts are in fact even less life-friendly and more uninhabitable than hot deserts. The entire surface can be covered with nothing but ice and snow (which forms from the rare few times it snows in these areas and then stays on the ground with a very slow melting process). However, cold deserts (non-polar ones) can also consist of sand dunes and optically resemble hot deserts.

Whether hot deserts or cold deserts, desert areas can be quite huge as you may imagine by now. The ten largest deserts in the world are, in fact, bigger than most countries on this planet. The following ranking presents you with the ten largest deserts in the world and hence, will give you an idea of how powerful and big these extreme areas of our planet are. Just a heads-up: The four largest deserts in the world are also generally recognized as the most extreme deserts in the world…

The 10 Largest Deserts in the World

top 10 largest deserts in the world


1. Antarctica

biggest deserts in the world - biggest desert in the world

Area size: ~ 14.2 million square kilometers / ~ 5.5 million square miles

Location: Antarctica
Desert type: Polar cold desert

Covering an astonishing 14.2 million square kilometers / 5.5 million square miles, the Antarctic Desert is the largest desert in the world, covering the entirety of the Antarctic continent, the fifth-largest continent. Annually, the desert/continent receives less than two centimeters (less than one inch) of precipitation, primarily in the form of snow. While the Antarctic desert is among the most extreme areas anywhere on our planet, Antarctica does host a variety of life forms. From primitive organisms like moss and lichen to larger ones such as penguins and even mammals like seals, this icy polar cold desert is home to a unique ecosystem, which managed to adapt to its extreme environment.


2. The Arctic

arctic desert - second of the biggest deserts in the world

Area size: ~ 13.9 million square kilometers / ~ 5.4 million square miles

Location: Arctic Circle (parts of Greenland/Denmark, Russia, Canada, Alaska/USA, Finland, Sweden, Norway & Iceland)
Desert type: Polar cold desert

The Arctic Desert is the second largest desert in the world. Covering an area of approximately 13.9 million square kilometers / 5.4 million square miles, it is only a little bit smaller than Antarctica. The desert sprawls in the Arctic Circle across the northern parts of Greenland (Denmark), Russia, Canada, Alaska (USA), Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Iceland. Like its southern Antarctic counterpart, the Arctic Desert is characterized by extremely cold temperatures and meager precipitation. Snow does fall, but it rarely melts due to the frigid temperatures, hence making the vast area a polar cold desert. Despite the harsh conditions, the Arctic Desert supports a remarkable array of wildlife, from polar bears and walruses to a variety of bird species.


3. Sahara

largest deserts in the world - sahara - largest hot desert in the world

Area size: ~ 9.1 million square kilometers / ~ 3.5 million square miles

Location: Northern Africa (parts of Algeria, Libya, Chad, Egypt, Mauritania, Mali, Western Sahara/Morocco, Sudan & Tunisia)
Desert type: Arid hot desert

The Sahara comes third among the largest deserts in the world and the world’s largest hot desert. Spanning a massive 9.1 million square kilometers / 3.5 million square miles, it stretches across numerous North African countries, covering almost a third of the African continent. The Sahara is perhaps what most people envision when they think of deserts: an expansive, arid hot desert landscape dominated by sand in the form of rolling dunes and extreme temperatures. However, it’s not just a sandy wasteland. It’s a dynamic environment that changes with the seasons and supports a variety of wildlife, from camels and scorpions to numerous bird species.


4. Arabian Desert

arabian desert - deserts in the world

Area size: ~ 2.3 million square kilometers / ~ 890,000 square miles

Location: Middle East / Western Asia (parts of Saudi Arabia, Oman, Yemen, Iraq, UAE, Jordan, Bahrain & Qatar)
Desert type: Arid hot desert

The Arabian Desert is the fourth-largest desert in the world. It stretches across most of the Arabian Peninsula in Western Asia, covering territories in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, the Persian Gulf, and small parts of Jordan and Iraq. Spanning a vast area of 2.3 million square kilometers / 890,000 square miles, it features a mix of sandy and stony terrain. The Arabian Desert’s central part houses the ‘Empty Quarter,’ one of the largest uninterrupted sand bodies globally. Despite its harsh conditions, this desert is home to a rich diversity of flora and fauna, including numerous endemic species. It has historically also been the home to many human tribes, called the Bedouins.


5. Gobi Desert

gobi desert - large deserts

Area size: ~ 1.3 million square kilometers / ~ 500,000 square miles

Location: Eastern Asia (parts of China & Mongolia)
Desert type: Cold desert

The Gobi Desert ranks fifth among the largest deserts globally. With an area of about 1.3 million square kilometers / 500,000 square miles, it marks its presence as the second-largest desert in Asia and the third-largest cold desert on the planet, the largest non-polar one. The desert covers significant parts of northern China and southern Mongolia. The Gobi’s landscape is diverse, featuring rocky terrains, dry valleys, and sparse vegetation. Despite being a desert, it is home to unique wildlife, including Snow leopards and Bactrian camels.


6. Kalahari Desert

Area size: ~ 930,000 square kilometers / ~ 360,000 square miles

Location: Southern Africa (parts of Botswana, Namibia & South Africa)
Desert type: Semi-arid hot desert

The Kalahari Desert stands as the sixth largest among the largest deserts in the world. Covering an area of around 930,000 square kilometers / 360,000 square miles, the Kalahari Desert, located in the southern portion of the African continent, sprawls across parts of Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa. It is classified as a semi-arid hot desert, experiencing significantly more precipitation than arid hot deserts, but still little enough to be desert land. Known for its red dunes and vast savannahs, the Kalahari supports a wide range of wildlife, including lions, zebras, and cheetahs, the world’s fastest animals.


7. Patagonian Desert

Area size: ~ 670,000 square kilometers / ~ 260,000 square miles

Location: South America (parts of Argentina & Chile)
Desert type: Cold desert

The Patagonian Desert, also known as the Patagonian Steppe, is the seventh-largest desert on Earth. Located in southern South America, primarily in southern Argentina and partially in southern Chile, it is the largest desert in the Americas. Characterized by frost-covered grounds and constant strong winds, this desert is a cold, arid region with a unique biodiversity. Many species are exclusively found here, such as the Patagonian weasel, the Patagonian gray fox, the mara, or the Lesser rhea.


8. Syrian Desert

Area size: ~ 520,000 square kilometers / ~ 200,000 square miles

Location: Middle East / Western Asia (parts of Syria, Jordan & Iraq)
Desert type: Semi-arid hot desert

The Syrian Desert takes the eighth spot among the largest deserts in the world. Located in West Asia, also known as the Middle East, it spans about 520,000 square kilometers / 200,000 square miles and covers most of Syria, almost all of Jordan, and parts of Iraq and northern Saudi Arabia. While the Syrian Desert represents a harsh and inhospitable environment, it is less extreme than its southern counterpart, the Arabian Desert. It is a semi-arid hot desert. Despite the challenging conditions, it hosts a range of resilient wildlife, including jackals, wolves, foxes, scorpions, hamsters and snakes. It has also been home to several Bedouin tribes for centuries.


9. Chihuahuan Desert

Area size: ~ 500,000 square kilometers / ~ 195,000 square miles

Location: North America (parts of Mexico & USA)
Desert type: Semi-arid hot desert

The Chihuahuan Desert is the ninth-largest desert in the world and the largest desert in North America. The size of the desert measures around 500,000 square kilometers / 195,000 square miles. It stretches across parts of Northern Mexico and southwestern USA. The desert formed only around 8,000 years ago, making it the by far youngest among the largest deserts in the world. The desert is characterized by several mountain ranges, which contribute to the wetter-than-average desert climate, making the desert a semi-arid hot desert. The Chihuahuan desert is also known as the most biologically diverse desert in the world, with a relatively high number of species living there.


10. Great Basin Desert

Area size: ~ 490,000 square kilometers / ~ 190,000 square miles

Location: USA (part of the U.S. states of Nevada & Utah)
Desert type: Cold desert

The Great Basin Desert completes the ranking of the largest deserts as the tenth-largest desert in the world. It stretches over around 490,000 square kilometers / 190,000 square miles across the Western U.S. states of Nevada, which is mostly covered by the desert, and parts of western Utah. Characterized by its wide valleys and parallel mountain ranges, making it the fourth-highest desert in the world by elevation. It is a cold desert with very dry summers, though with relatively snowy winters, making the Great Basin Desert also the wettest among the largest deserts in the world. The desert features a rich, diverse ecosystem and a habitat for several plant and animal species.



The 10 Largest Deserts in the World:

Location:Size:
1. ANTARCTICAAntarctica~ 14.2 million sq km
~ 5.5 million sq mi
2. THE ARCTIC Arctic Circle~ 13.9 million sq km
~ 5.4 million sq mi
3. SAHARA Northern Africa~ 9.2 million sq km
~ 3.6 million sq mi
4. ARABIAN DESERTMiddle East / West Asia~ 2.3 million sq km
~ 890,000 sq mi
5. GOBI DESERTCentral & East Asia~ 1.3 million sq km
~ 500,000 sq mi
6. KALAHARI DESERTSouthern Africa~ 900,000 sq km
~ 350,000 sq mi
7. PATAGONIAN DESERTSouthern South America~ 670,000 sq km
~ 260,000 sq mi
8. SYRIAN DESERTMiddle East / West Asia~ 520,000 sq km
~ 200,000 sq mi
9. CHIHUAHUAN DESERTNorth America~ 500,000 sq km
~ 195,000 sq mi
10. GREAT BASIN DESERTNorth America~ 490,000 sq km
~ 190,000 sq mi

Ranking of the ten largest deserts on Earth based on the desert sizes by area in square km and miles. Only earthly deserts are counted here, the Martian desert, therefore, does not classify for this ranking. Several deserts that are sometimes put together as one, such as the Great Australian Desert, are measured separately.


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