Where Is The Arabian Desert?

By Alisa Mala on October 13 2020 in Geography

A camel caravan on sand dunes in the Arabian Desert. Image credit: Eviart/Shutterstock
A camel caravan on sand dunes in the Arabian Desert. Image credit: Eviart/Shutterstock
  • The Arabian Desert sprawls over nine countries, including all of Qatar and Kuwait, most of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, half of Jordan, Iraq, Oman, and Yemen, and <5% of Iran.
  • The desert is subject to a constant breeze from the Mediterranean Sea in the north, as well as to semi-annual Shamals (seasonal dry winds) that reach 30 miles an hour.
  • The center of the Arabian Desert, Rub’al-Khali, is the Earth's largest continuous sands, spreading across the Arabian shelf in a south-west to north-east axis.
  • Northwestern regions and the south are the driest, while the north-east and the center are the flattest; most mountain ranges and precipitation can be found in the southeast.

The second-largest desert in the world, The Arabian Dessert, covers most of the Arabian Peninsula in the extreme south-western corner of Asia. Stretching roughly 900,000 square miles (2,300,000 square km), 1,305 miles long by 684 miles wide, the desert is situated in the subtropical region of the world.

The Arabian Desert occupies nine countries, including all of Qatar and Kuwait, most of the United Arab Emirates to the west, as well as the grandest landmass on the peninsula, Saudi Arabia. It also covers half of Jordan and Iraq in the north, of Oman and Yemen in the south, and even a tiny portion of Iran.

Surrounding the Desert

Since the Arabian desert occupies most of the Arabian Peninsula, it is almost entirely surrounded by water. With the Red Sea to the west, the Persian Gulf to the east, the Arabian Sea in the southeast, and occasional mountainous regions, there is always wind zigzagging through the desert. This constant breeze comes from the Mediterranean Sea north of Israel and enters the desert through Jordan. The northern portion of the Arabian Desert transitions into the Syrian Desert, which sprawls Iraq and Syria. By some books, the Arabian Desert is also considered to be the extension of the Saharan Desert in Africa.  

The Arabian Peninsula, the majority of which is composed of the Arabian Desert. Image credit: NASA images/Shutterstock


Five to six million years ago, the Arabian Peninsula was part of the African continent, having separated when the drift occurred in the Earth's tectonic plates. Following the separation of the landmasses, mountain ranges appeared from the oceanic debris and cliffs from faulting. The highest point of the desert is the al-Nabi Shu’ayb mountain, standing in Yemen at 12,336 feet (3,660 m). Another high point is Mount Al-Lawz at 8,464 feet (1,622 m) in north-western Saudi Arabia.

A breathtaking cliff, formed from faulting and erosion, extends for 600 miles (966 km) from Yemen to Saudi Arabia, where the elevation drops suddenly from 3,300 to 300 feet 1006 to 91.5 m). The majority of the desert, including the entire north-eastern portion of the Peninsula, is relatively level, featuring broad plains, and covered by sand in at least a third of the total area.


Summer temperatures can reach 130 degrees F (54 degrees C) of dry heat in the interior and high humidity near the coasts and highlands. The driest environment is northwest of the center and deep south, capable of producing mirages through air distortion. Highlands and the north regions are also subject to cold winters, having dipped to 10 degrees F (-12 degrees C) in 1950 near the Ṭurayf on the Trans-Arabian Pipeline.

Sand dunes. Image credit: Anton Petrus/Shutterstock

The Arabian Desert is well-known for Shamals: the windy seasons that occur twice a year and last for about 40 days during the first two months of the winter season, and on the cusp of spring transitioning into summer. Shamals can be as powerful as 30 miles (50 km) per hour, transporting millions tons of sand and dust. Blowing from all directions, the desert winds constantly alter the patterns of the sand dunes. 

Aerial View

The center of the Arabian Desert, Rub’al-Khali, spreads across the Arabian shelf in a south-west to the north-east axis to form the largest continuous sand area on Earth. Ad-Dahna Desert is a sandy corridor that connects the An-Nafud Desert in the north of Saudi Arabia to the Rub’ Al-Khali Desert in the south-east of Saudi Arabia. From the air, the Arabian Desert appears as a vast piece of light sand-coloured land with Umm al Samim quicksands, lava flows, and red desert dunes, wandered by camels in search of the few and far between watering spots.

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