What Are The 4 Types Of Deserts?

By Antonia Čirjak on June 16 2020 in Environment

Beautiful sand dunes in the Sahara desert.
Beautiful sand dunes in the Sahara desert.
  • The four different types of deserts are the subtropical desert, the cold winter desert, the coastal desert, and the polar desert.
  • Subtropical deserts are what most of us imagine when someone mentions the word desert. They are also called the hot-and-dry deserts and are generally considered to be the ones with the highest temperatures.
  • Cold winter deserts are often referred to as the semiarid deserts, these areas are characterized by extremely long and dry summers and short but cold winters.
  • Coastal deserts can most often be found on western edges of continents, along the coastlines. These are mostly areas where the currents are cold and manage to get closer to the land, which causes cold water to rise from the ocean.
  • Polar deserts are often simply called cold deserts and are found in the Arctic and Antarctic regions. The air in these deserts is extremely cold, and almost no moisture is carried through it.

Although all deserts look incredibly similar at first glance, you will be surprised to learn that we often divide them into four different types. Deserts cover about a fifth of our entire planet, so it is no wonder that there are some differences, as subtle as they might be. A desert is most often defined as a barren area of land where an extremely small amount of rainfall or any other form of precipitation happens.

This means that the living conditions are harsh for any plant or animal species living there, and there are normally no human beings that live deep within them. Despite all that, deserts are crucial for our planet’s ecosystem, and we will explore the four different types in this article to try and better understand their role as a part of our planet.

The four different types of deserts are the subtropical desert, the cold winter desert, the coastal desert, and the polar desert.

The Subtropical Desert

he Chihuahuan Desert, Big Bend National Park, Texas
The Chihuahuan Desert, Big Bend National Park, Texas.

Subtropical deserts are what most of us imagine when someone mentions the word desert. They are also called the hot-and-dry deserts and are generally considered to be the ones with the highest temperatures. These deserts can be found on most continents, but mostly in Africa, Asia, Australia, and North and South America. These deserts are known to be extremely dry both in the summer and in the winter. While the temperature drops during the winter, it is still not enough to create acceptable living conditions, mostly because of the dryness. 

A few examples of subtropical deserts in the United States are the Mojave and Chihuahuan desert. Naturally, everyone is aware of the Sahara, and for a good reason, it is the biggest subtropical desert on our planet. Short bursts of rainfall are known to occur in these deserts occasionally, but the air is so dry and so extremely hot that the raindrops evaporate before hitting the ground. These deserts are also mostly covered in sand and occasional rocky areas.

For plants and animals to be able to survive in these deserts, they need to be able to endure the high heats and the lack of humidity. Most of the animals living in these desserts are active at night when the temperatures drop by a little bit.

The Cold Winter Desert

Standing Camel in Gobi Desert, Mongolia.
A camel in Gobi Desert, Mongolia.

Often referred to as the semiarid deserts, these areas are characterized by extremely long and dry summers and short but cold winters. At times there is even snowfall during the winter, with the occasional rain. Several deserts fall under this category in the United States, and some of them are the Colorado Plateau, the Great Basin, and the Red Desert. There are several notable cold winter deserts in the rest of the world, the Gobi desert in China and the Patagonian desert in Argentina being the most prominent of the bunch.

An exciting thing that occurs in these deserts is the rainshadow effect. This happens when a mountain range manages to stop the rainfall from reaching the ground. For example, the Himalayan Mountains are blocking the rainfall from falling into the Gobi Desert. This is a big reason why the living conditions in this area are so harsh.

Coastal Deserts

Atacama Desert. Pan de Azucar National Park
The Atacama Desert. Pan de Azucar National Park, Chile.

Coastal deserts can most often be found on western edges of continents, along the coastlines. These are mostly areas where the currents are cold and manage to get closer to the land, which causes cold water to rise from the ocean. However, the winds stop the moisture from the water of reaching too far into the continent, and this creates these deserts.

Very little moisture is picked up by these winds, and this is why these regions do not have much rainfall, but also have lower temperatures than the previously mentioned types of deserts. Fog and dew are the most common forms of precipitation in these deserts. Coastal deserts all share similar shapes; they are long and narrow and can be found in Chile, California, Namibia, and Australia.

Polar Deserts

Antarctic landscape, ice and snow desert
Antarctic landscape - a polar desert.

Polar deserts are often simply called cold deserts and are found in the Arctic and Antarctic regions. The air in these deserts is extremely cold, and almost no moisture is carried through it. This means that there is almost no precipitation in polar deserts aside from the occasional snow. However, this snow is often carried by strong winds and forms into blizzards.

The blizzards create dunes and drifts similar to those that can be found in the warmer deserts, but unlike those, these are not made from sand. Antarctica is the largest polar desert in the world, but not only that, and it is the largest desert out of all types.

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