Desert climate

Desert climate

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A desert climate also known as an arid climate, is a climate that does not meet the criteria to be classified as a polar climate
Polar climate
Regions with a polar climate are characterized by a lack of warm summers . Regions with polar climate cover over 20% of the Earth. The sun shines 24 hours in the summer, and barely ever shines at all in the winter...

, and in which precipitation
Precipitation (meteorology)
In meteorology, precipitation In meteorology, precipitation In meteorology, precipitation (also known as one of the classes of hydrometeors, which are atmospheric water phenomena is any product of the condensation of atmospheric water vapor that falls under gravity. The main forms of precipitation...

 is too low to sustain any vegetation at all, or at most a very scanty scrub.

An area that features this climate usually experiences less than 250 mm (10 inches) per year of precipitation and in some years may experience no precipitation at all. In some instances, an area may experience more than 250 mm of precipitation annually, but is considered a desert climate because the region loses more water via evapotranspiration
Evapotranspiration is a term used to describe the sum of evaporation and plant transpiration from the Earth's land surface to atmosphere. Evaporation accounts for the movement of water to the air from sources such as the soil, canopy interception, and waterbodies...

 than falls as precipitation (Tucson, Arizona
Tucson, Arizona
Tucson is a city in and the county seat of Pima County, Arizona, United States. The city is located 118 miles southeast of Phoenix and 60 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border. The 2010 United States Census puts the city's population at 520,116 with a metropolitan area population at 1,020,200...

 and Alice Springs, Northern Territory
Alice Springs, Northern Territory
Alice Springs is the second largest town in the Northern Territory of Australia. Popularly known as "the Alice" or simply "Alice", Alice Springs is situated in the geographic centre of Australia near the southern border of the Northern Territory...

 are examples of this).

There are usually two or three variations of a desert
A desert is a landscape or region that receives an extremely low amount of precipitation, less than enough to support growth of most plants. Most deserts have an average annual precipitation of less than...

 climate: a hot desert climate (BWh), a cold desert climate (BWk) and, sometimes, a mild desert climate (BWn). Furthermore, to delineate "hot desert climates" from "cold desert climates", there are three widely used isotherms: either a mean annual temperature of 18°C, or a mean temperature of 0°C or -3°C in the coldest month, so that a location with a "BS" type climate with the appropriate temperature above whichever isotherm is being used is classified as "hot semi-arid" (BWh), and a location with the appropriate temperature below the given isotherm is classified as "cold semi-arid" (BWk).

To determine whether a location has an arid climate, the precipitation threshold must first be determined. Finding the precipitation threshold (in millimeters) involves first multiplying the average annual temperature in °C by 20, then adding 280 if 70% or more of the total precipitation is in the high-sun half of the year (April through September in the Northern Hemisphere
Hemisphere may refer to:*Half of a sphereAs half of the Earth:*Any half of the Earth, see Hemispheres of the Earth, see:...

, or October through March in the Southern), or 140 if 30%–70% of the total precipitation is received during the applicable period, or 0 if less than 30% of the total precipitation is so received. If the area's annual precipitation is less than half the threshold, it is classified as a BW (desert climate).

Hot desert climates

Hot desert climates are typically found under the subtropical ridge
Subtropical ridge
The subtropical ridge is a significant belt of high pressure situated around the latitudes of 30°N in the Northern Hemisphere and 30°S in the Southern Hemisphere. It is characterized by mostly calm winds, which acts to reduce air quality under its axis by causing fog overnight, and haze during...

 where there is largely unbroken sunshine for the whole year due to the stable descending air and high pressure. Such areas include the Sahara
The Sahara is the world's second largest desert, after Antarctica. At over , it covers most of Northern Africa, making it almost as large as Europe or the United States. The Sahara stretches from the Red Sea, including parts of the Mediterranean coasts, to the outskirts of the Atlantic Ocean...

, the Arabian
Arabian Desert
The Arabian Desert is a vast desert wilderness stretching from Yemen to the Persian Gulf and Oman to Jordan and Iraq. It occupies most of the Arabian Peninsula, with an area of...

, Syrian
Syrian Desert
The Syrian Desert , also known as the Syro-Arabian desert is a combination of steppe and true desert that is located in the northern Arabian Peninsula covering 200,000 square miles . also the desert is very rocky and flat...

 and Kalahari Desert
Kalahari Desert
The Kalahari Desert is a large semi-arid sandy savannah in Southern Africa extending , covering much of Botswana and parts of Namibia and South Africa, as semi-desert, with huge tracts of excellent grazing after good rains. The Kalahari supports more animals and plants than a true desert...

s, large parts of Iran
Iran , officially the Islamic Republic of Iran , is a country in Southern and Western Asia. The name "Iran" has been in use natively since the Sassanian era and came into use internationally in 1935, before which the country was known to the Western world as Persia...

, southern and central Pakistan
Pakistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a sovereign state in South Asia. It has a coastline along the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman in the south and is bordered by Afghanistan and Iran in the west, India in the east and China in the far northeast. In the north, Tajikistan...

, northwest India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, the southwestern United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, Northern Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

, and much of Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...


Hot desert climates feature hot, typically exceptionally hot, periods of the year. In many locations featuring a hot desert climate, maximum temperatures of 40°C to 45°C are not uncommon in summer. 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.

Cold desert climates

This variant of the desert climate is somewhat rare outside of Asia. A cold desert climate is typically found in temperate
In geography, temperate or tepid latitudes of the globe lie between the tropics and the polar circles. The changes in these regions between summer and winter are generally relatively moderate, rather than extreme hot or cold...

 zones, almost always in the rain shadow
Rain shadow
A rain shadow is a dry area on the lee side of a mountainous area. The mountains block the passage of rain-producing weather systems, casting a "shadow" of dryness behind them. As shown by the diagram to the right, the warm moist air is "pulled" by the prevailing winds over a mountain...

 of high mountains which restrict precipitation from the westerly winds, or in the case of Central Asia, from the monsoon
Monsoon is traditionally defined as a seasonal reversing wind accompanied by corresponding changes in precipitation, but is now used to describe seasonal changes in atmospheric circulation and precipitation associated with the asymmetric heating of land and sea...

. The Gobi desert
Gobi Desert
The Gobi is a large desert region in Asia. It covers parts of northern and northwestern China, and of southern Mongolia. The desert basins of the Gobi are bounded by the Altai Mountains and the grasslands and steppes of Mongolia on the north, by the Hexi Corridor and Tibetan Plateau to the...

 in Mongolia is a classic example of a region with a cold desert climate. Though hot in summer, it shares the very cold winters of the rest of Central Asia. The Kyzyl Kum
Kyzyl Kum
The Kyzyl Kum , also called Qyzylqum, is the 11th largest desert in the world. Its name means Red Sand in Turkic languages. It is located in Central Asia in the doab between the rivers Amu Darya and Syr Darya, and is divided between Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan...

 and Taklamakan deserts of Central Asia
Central Asia
Central Asia is a core region of the Asian continent from the Caspian Sea in the west, China in the east, Afghanistan in the south, and Russia in the north...

 and the drier portions of the Great Basin Desert
Great Basin Desert
The Great Basin Desert is an area of nearctic high deserts across parts of Nevada, California, and Utah that extends into the Colorado River watershed , but which is mostly a portion of the central Nevada desert basins of the Great Basin.It along with the Escalante Desert, Mohave Desert, the...

 of the western United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 are other major examples of BWk climates.

Cold desert climates can feature hot (sometimes exceptionally hot) and dry summers, though summers typically are not quite as hot as summers in hot desert climates. Unlike hot desert climates, cold desert climates usually feature cold, sometimes brutally cold, dry winters with temperatures far below the freezing point. Cold deserts are typically found at higher altitudes than hot desert climates, and are usually drier than hot desert climates.

Arctic and Antarctic regions also receive very little precipitation during the year, owing to the exceptionally cold dry air, but they are generally classified as having polar climate
Polar climate
Regions with a polar climate are characterized by a lack of warm summers . Regions with polar climate cover over 20% of the Earth. The sun shines 24 hours in the summer, and barely ever shines at all in the winter...


Mild desert climates

This variant of a desert climate is extremely rare. Mild desert climates 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
Pacific Ocean
The Pacific Ocean is the largest of the Earth's oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic in the north to the Southern Ocean in the south, bounded by Asia and Australia in the west, and the Americas in the east.At 165.2 million square kilometres in area, this largest division of the World...

 in sections of the Atacama Desert
Atacama Desert
The Atacama Desert is a plateau in South America, covering a strip of land on the Pacific coast, west of the Andes mountains. It is, according to NASA, National Geographic and many other publications, the driest desert in the world...

. In North America, this type of climate can be found along the Pacific coast of the Baja California
Baja California
Baja California officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Baja California is one of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It is both the northernmost and westernmost state of Mexico. Before becoming a state in 1953, the area was known as the North...

 peninsula. In Africa, this climate is found along sections of coastal Namibia
Namibia, officially the Republic of Namibia , is a country in southern Africa whose western border is the Atlantic Ocean. It shares land borders with Angola and Zambia to the north, Botswana to the east and South Africa to the south and east. It gained independence from South Africa on 21 March...

. On the Arabian Peninsula
Arabian Peninsula
The Arabian Peninsula is a land mass situated north-east of Africa. Also known as Arabia or the Arabian subcontinent, it is the world's largest peninsula and covers 3,237,500 km2...

, this type of climate is found in sections of Yemen
The Republic of Yemen , commonly known as Yemen , is a country located in the Middle East, occupying the southwestern to southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. It is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the north, the Red Sea to the west, and Oman to the east....


Mild desert climates are characterized 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
Fog desert
A fog desert is a type of desert where fog supplies the majority of moisture needed by animal and plant life.Examples of fog deserts include the Atacama Desert of coastal Chile and Peru, the Baja California Desert of Mexico, the Namib Desert in Namibia, the Arabian Peninsula coastal fog desert,and...

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. Some publications do not have a "mild desert" category; in these documents mild desert climates are sorted into either the hot desert or cold desert classifications.

Regions of varying classification

As stated previously, there are three isotherms used to delineate between hot and cold desert climates. As a result of this, some areas can have climates that are classified as hot or cold depending on the isotherm used.

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