The desert climate (in the Köppen climate classification BWh and BWk), is a climate in which there is an excess of evaporation over precipitation. The typically bald, rocky, or sandy surfaces in desert climates hold little moisture and evaporate the little rainfall they receive. Covering 14.2% of earth's land area, hot deserts may be the most common type of climate on earth, after polar climate.
Although no part of Earth is known for certain to be absolutely rainless, in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, the average annual rainfall over a period of 17 years was only 5 millimetres (0.20 in). Some locations in the Sahara Desert such as Kufra, Libya record only 0.86 mm (0.034 in) of rainfall annually. The official weather station in Death Valley, United States reports 60 mm (2.4 in) annually, but in a 40-month period between 1931 and 1934 a total of 16 mm (0.63 in) of rainfall was measured.
There are two variations of a desert climate: a hot desert climate (BWh), and a cold desert climate (BWk). To delineate "hot desert climates" from "cold desert climates", there are three widely used isotherms: most commonly a mean annual temperature of 18 °C (64.4 °F), or sometimes a mean temperature of 0 or −3 °C (32.0 or 26.6 °F) in the coldest month, so that a location with a BW type climate with the appropriate temperature above whichever isotherm is being used is classified as "hot arid" (BWh), and a location with the appropriate temperature below the given isotherm is classified as "cold arid" (BWk).
Most desert and arid climates receive between 25 and 200 mm (1 and 8 in) of rainfall annually. In the Köppen classification system, a climate will be classed as arid if its mean annual precipitation in millimeters is less than ten times its defined precipitation threshold, and it will be classed as a desert if its mean annual precipitation is less than five times this threshold. The precipitation threshold is twice its mean annual temperature in degrees Celsius, plus a constant to represent the distribution of its rainfall throughout the year. This constant is 0 for regions that receive 70% or more of their rainfall during the six winter (colder) months, 28 for regions that receive such a share of rainfall during the six summer months, and 14 for those in-between.
Hot desert climates
|Climate chart (explanation)|
Hot desert climates (BWh) are typically found under the subtropical ridge in the lower middle latitudes, often between 20° and 33° north and south latitude. In these locations, stable descending air and high pressure aloft create hot, arid, conditions with intense sunshine. Hot desert climates are generally hot, sunny and dry year-round. They are found across vast areas of North Africa, the Middle East, northwestern parts of the Indian Subcontinent, interior Australia, and smaller areas of the Southwestern United States, and Chile. This makes hot deserts present in every continent except Europe and Antarctica.
At the time of high sun (summer), scorching, desiccating heat prevails. Hot-month average temperatures are normally between 29 and 35 °C (84 and 95 °F), and midday readings of 43–46 °C (109–115 °F) are common. The world absolute heat records, over 50 °C (122 °F), are generally in the hot deserts, where the heat potential is the highest on the planet. This includes the record of 56.7 °C (134.1 °F), which is currently considered the highest temperature recorded on Earth. Some desert locations consistently experience very high temperatures all year long, even during wintertime. These locations feature some of the highest annual average temperatures recorded on Earth, exceeding 30 °C (86 °F). This last feature is seen in sections of Africa and Arabia. During colder periods of the year, night-time temperatures can drop to freezing or below due to the exceptional radiation loss under the clear skies. However, very rarely do temperatures drop far below freezing.
Hot desert climates can be found in the deserts of North Africa such as the wide Sahara Desert, the Libyan Desert or the Nubian Desert; deserts of the Horn of Africa such as the Danakil Desert or the Grand Bara Desert; deserts of Southern Africa such as the Namib Desert or the Kalahari Desert; deserts of the Middle East such as the Arabian Desert, the Syrian Desert or the Lut Desert; deserts of South Asia such as Dasht-e Kavir or the Thar Desert of India and Pakistan; deserts of the United States and Mexico such as the Mojave Desert, the Sonoran Desert or the Chihuahuan Desert; deserts of Australia such as the Simpson Desert or the Great Victoria Desert and many other regions.
Hot deserts are lands of extremes: most of them are among the hottest, the driest and the sunniest places on Earth because of nearly constant high pressure; the nearly permanent removal of low pressure systems, dynamic fronts and atmospheric disturbances; sinking air motion; dry atmosphere near the surface and aloft; the exacerbated exposure to the sun where solar angles are always high.
Cold desert climates
|Climate chart (explanation)|
Cold desert climates (BWk) usually feature hot (or warm in a few instances), dry summers, though summers are not typically as hot as hot desert climates. Unlike hot desert climates, cold desert climates tend to feature cold, dry winters. Snow tends to be rare in regions with this climate. The Gobi Desert in Mongolia is a classic example for cold deserts. Though hot in the summer, it shares the very cold winters of the rest of Central Asia. Cold desert climates are typically found at higher altitudes than hot desert climates and are usually drier than hot desert climates.
Cold desert climates are typically located in temperate zones, usually in the rain shadow of high mountains, which restrict precipitation from the westerly winds. An example of this is the Patagonian Desert in Argentina bounded by the Andes to its west. In the case of Central Asia, mountains restrict precipitation from the monsoon. The Kyzyl Kum, Taklamakan and Katpana Desert deserts of Central Asia and the drier portions of the Great Basin Desert of the western United States are other major examples of BWk climates. The Ladakh region, and the city of Leh in the Great Himalayas in India, also has a cold desert climate. The Hautes Plaines is another major example of cold desert climates, located in the northeastern section of Morocco and in Algeria. This is also found in Europe, primarily in Bardenas Reales near Tudela, Navarre and high altitude parts of the Tabernas Desert in Almería, Spain.
Arctic and Antarctic regions also receive very little precipitation during the year, owing to the exceptionally cold dry air; however, both of them are generally classified as having polar climates because they have average summer temperatures below 10 °C (50 °F).
Mild desert climates
Mild desert climates (BWh or BWn) are usually found along the west coasts of continents at tropical or near tropical locations, or at high altitudes in areas that would otherwise feature hot desert climates. In South America, this climate is found adjacent to the Pacific Ocean in sections of the Atacama Desert, especially along the central and southern coast of Peru; Lima, its capital, has a mild desert climate that makes it one of the driest capital cities in the world. In North America, this type of climate can be found along the Pacific coast of the Baja California Peninsula. In Africa, this climate is found along sections of coastal Namibia (Swakopmund). On the Arabian Peninsula, this type of climate is found in sections of Yemen.
Mild desert climates are characterised by more moderate temperatures than encountered elsewhere at comparable latitudes (usually due to the nearby presence of cold ocean currents) and, in the case of coastal mild deserts, frequent fog and low clouds, despite the fact that these places can rank among the driest on Earth in terms of actual precipitation received. Temperatures are mild throughout the year, usually not subject to any of the temperature extremes typically found in desert climates.
- Peel, M. C.; B. L. Finlayson; T. A. McMahon (2007). "Updated world map of the Köppen-Geiger climate classification" (PDF). Hydrology and Earth System Sciences. 11 (5): 1633–1644. Bibcode:2007HESS...11.1633P. doi:10.5194/hess-11-1633-2007.
- Laity, Julie J. (2009). Deserts and Desert Environments. John Wiley & Sons. p. 7. ISBN 978-1444300741.
- "Atlas.pdf" (PDF). Retrieved 2018-09-01.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2018-02-25. Retrieved 2017-08-16.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
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