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Cold Desert Facts

What comes to mind when you hear the word desert? The first thing you probably think of is scorching hot temperatures, along with sand, camels, and cactus. Deserts aren’t always hot, dry, and sandy.

An ideal definition of a desert is a place with little precipitation. Deserts that have extremely cold winters and hot summers can be called cold deserts.

Usually hot and dry in the summer but cold and dry in the winter, cold desert climates are found at higher altitudes than hot desert climates.

Cold desert climates are typically found in temperate zones, usually in the rain shadow of high mountains. Examples of these climates are the Patagonian Desert in Argentina, the Kyzyl Kum, Taklamakan and Katpana Desert deserts of Central Asia, and the Hautes Plaines in Morocco.

Arctic and Antarctic regions both receive very little precipitation owing to the cold, dry air and have desert-like features such as intermittent streams and hypersaline lakes.

Cold Desert Facts for Kids

  • They have hot summers but extremely cold winters
  • These deserts get around 15-26 cm of rain per year
  • They are also known as polar deserts
  • Antarctica is the world’s largest cold desert
  • In winter, animals in these areas grow thick fur coats
  • Cold Deserts are found on high plateaus or mountains in temperate regions. 

Cold Desert Climate

Summers in cold desert climates are usually hot (or warm, in a few cases), but they aren’t usually as hot as in hot desert climates. Cold desert climates tend to have cold, dry winters, unlike hot desert climates.

Most of the plants in these climates are grass. It grows in clumps known as bunchgrass. The Great Basin is also covered in shrubs and brush plants, such as sagebrush.

Cold deserts receive average annual precipitation of 15 to 26 centimeters (6 to 10 inches). As much as 46 centimeters (18 inches) of rain has been recorded in cold deserts, however.

Facts for Kids
Facts for Kids

List of Cold Deserts

Atacama Cold Desert

The Atacama Desert covers 1,600 km (990 mi) of land in South America, is the driest nonpolar desert in the world, and is the largest fog desert in the world. It is the most used location for Mars expedition simulations.

A constant temperature inversion due to the Humboldt ocean current and a strong Pacific anticyclone results in the aridest region of the Atacama Desert is situated between two mountain chains.

The Atacama Desert is the driest place in the world because of its low rainfall (about 15 millimeters per year) and the lack of rain from 1570 to 1971.

There are few animals living permanently in the Atacama Desert, and they are mainly sand-colored grasshoppers, beetles, and butterflies.

Gobi Cold Desert

The Gobi Desert is a large desert that covers parts of Northern and Northeastern China and of Southern Mongolia and is bounded by the Altai Mountains, the Taklamakan Desert, and the Tibetan Plateau. It is the sixth-largest desert in the world.

The east side of the Greater Khingan Range is called the Gobi Desert; some geographers and ecologists prefer to regard the Tarim basin as forming a separate desert, the Taklamakan Desert.

The climate of the Gobi desert can reach temperatures of -40 °C (-40 °F) in winter to 45 °C (113 °F) in summer. It also experiences rapid temperature changes of as much as 35 °C (63 °F) within 24 hours.

Great Basin Cold Desert

The Great Basin Desert is part of the Great Basin between the Sierra Nevada and the Wasatch Range. It has hot, dry summers and snowy winters and is one of the four biologically defined deserts in North America.

The Great Basin Desert is a wide valley bordered by parallel mountain ranges generally oriented north-south. There are 33 peaks higher than 9,800 feet (3,000 m) within the region, but valleys in the region are also high, most with elevations above 3,900 feet (1,200 m).

The ecology of the desert is influenced by the location between mountain ranges, the strength of rain shadows created by the Sierra Nevada, the Rocky Mountains, and Pleistocene lakes that dried after the ice age.

Iranian Cold Desert

The desert soil in the Dasht-e Kavir is covered with sand and pebbles, and there are marshes, seasonal lakes, and seasonal river beds.

The Kavir was once a vast lake 3,000 years ago, as the Asian monsoon brought heavy summer rain to the central Iranian Plateau, where the Kavir and other deserts today exist.

Namib Cold Desert

Namib is a coastal desert in Southern Africa. It stretches along the Atlantic coasts of Angola, Namibia, and South Africa, containing some of the driest regions in the world.

The Skeleton Coast has sand seas along the coast, gravel plains, and scattered mountain outcrops inland. The region is prone to fog due to the collision of the cold Benguela Current and the warm Hadley Cell.

Namib is mostly uninhabited except for small settlements, indigenous pastoral groups, and a few desert arthropods and wildlife that live on little water. The desert is home to African bush elephants, mountain zebras, and other large mammals.

TaklaMakan Cold Desert

The Taklamakan Desert has an area of 337,000 km2, is slightly smaller than Germany, is part of the Tarim Basin, is crossed by the two branches of the Silk Road, and is the world’s second-largest shifting sand desert.

China has constructed two cross-desert highways, the Tarim Desert Highway and the Bayingol to Ruoqiang highway.

The Taklamakan has a cold desert climate, and during the 2008 Chinese winter storms episode, it was covered with a thin layer of snow of 4 centimeters (1.6 in).

Turkestan Cold Desert

The Turkestan Desert, also known as the Karakorum Desert.

Turkmenistan has a long east-west swath of the Aral Desert. It sits east of the Caspian Sea with a steep east bank and adjoins the North Aral Sea to the north.

Wildlife in the Karakum Desert includes insects, spiders, lizards, turtles, and snakes, while birds include Alauda, desert sparrows, and gophers.