Arabian Desert

The Arabian Desert is a vast desert wilderness in Western Asia. It stretches from Yemen to the Persian Gulf and Oman to Jordan and Iraq. It occupies most of the Arabian Peninsula, with an area of 2,330,000 square kilometers (900,000 sq mi). It is the fifth largest desert in the world, and the largest in Asia. At its center is Ar-Rub'al-Khali (The Empty Quarter), one of the largest continuous bodies of sand in the world.

Gazelles, oryx, sand cats, and spiny-tailed lizards are just some of the desert-adapted species that survive in this extreme environment, which features everything from red dunes to deadly quicksand. The climate is mostly dry (the major part receives around 100 mm (3.9 in) of rain per year but some very rare places receives down to 50 mm), and temperatures oscillate between very high heat and seasonal night time freezes. It is part of the deserts and xeric shrublands biome and the Palearctic ecozone.

The Arabian desert ecoregion holds little biodiversity, although a few endemic plants grow here. Many species, such as the striped hyena, jackal and honey badger have become extirpated due to hunting, human encroachment and habitat destruction. Other species have been successfully re-introduced, such as the sand gazelle, and are protected at a number of reserves. Overgrazing by livestock, off-road driving, and human destruction of habitat are the main threats to this desert ecoregion.

Arabian Desert
Arabian Desert
A satellite image of the Arabian Desert by NASA World Wind
Length2,100 km (1,300 mi)
Width1,100 km (680 mi)
Area2,330,000 km2 (900,000 sq mi)
Native nameٱلصَّحْرَاء ٱلْعَرَبِيَّة (in Arabic)
Coordinates18°16′02″N 42°22′05″E / 18.2672°N 42.3681°E

Geology and geography

Arabian Desert
Map of the Arabian Desert. Ecoregions as delineated by the WWF. The yellow line encloses the ecoregion called "Arabian Desert and East Sahero-Arabian xeric shrublands",[1] and two smaller, closely related ecoregions called "Persian Gulf desert and semi-desert"[2] and "Red Sea Nubo-Sindian tropical desert and semi-desert".[3] National boundaries are shown in black. Satellite image from NASA.

Detailed geological features:

  • A corridor of sandy terrain known as the Ad-Dahna desert connects the large An-Nafud desert (65,000 km2 or 40,389 square miles) in the north of Saudi Arabia to the Rub' Al-Khali in the south-east.
  • The Tuwaiq escarpment is a region of 800 km (500 mi) arc of limestone cliffs, plateaux, and canyons.
  • Brackish salt flats: the quicksands of Umm al Samim
  • The Wahiba Sands of Oman: an isolated sand sea bordering the east coast[4][5]
  • The Rub' Al-Khali[6] desert is a sedimentary basin elongated on a south-west to north-east axis across the Arabian Shelf. At an altitude of 1,000 metres (3,300 ft), the rock landscapes yield the place to the Rub' al-Khali, vast wide of sand of the Arabian desert, whose extreme southern point crosses the centre of Yemen. The sand overlies gravel or Gypsum Plains and the dunes reach maximum heights of up to 250 m (820 ft). The sands are predominantly silicates, composed of 80 to 90% of quartz and the remainder feldspar, whose iron oxide-coated grains color the sands in orange, purple, and red.

Ecology and natural resources

Some of natural resources available in the Arabian Desert are oil, natural gas, phosphates, and sulfur.

The Rub'al-Khali has very limited floristic diversity. There are only 37 plant species, 20 recorded in the main body of the sands and 17 around the outer margins. Among these 37 species, only one or two are endemic. Vegetation is very diffuse but fairly evenly distributed, with some interruptions of near sterile dunes. Some typical plants are:

  • Calligonum crinitum on dune slopes
  • Cornulaca arabica (saltbush)
  • Cyperus conglomeratus

Other widespread species are:

  • Dipterygium glaucum
  • Limeum arabicum
  • Zygophyllum mandavillei (Mandaville 1986).

Very little trees may be found except at the outer margin (typically Acacia ehrenbergiana and Prosopis cineraria). Other species are a woody perennial Calligonum comosum, and annual herbs such as Danthonia forskallii.

The Asiatic cheetah[7] and lion[8] used to be here.


The Arabian Desert has a subtropical, hot desert climate, close to the climate of the Sahara Desert ; the world's largest hot desert. In fact, the Arabian Desert is an extension of the Sahara Desert over the Arabian peninsula. The climate is mainly hot and dry with plenty of sunshine throughout the year. The rainfall amount is generally around 100 mm, and the driest areas can receive between 30 and 40 mm of annual rain. Such dryness remains very rare throughout the desert, however. There are hardly any hyperarid areas in the Arabian Desert, in contrast with the Sahara Desert, where more than half of the area is hyperarid (annual rainfall below 50 mm). The sunshine duration is very high by global standards in the Arabian Desert, between 2,900 hours (66.2% of the daylight hours) and 3,600 hours (82.1% of the daylight hours) but is typically around 3,400 hours (77.6% of the daylight hours), which clearly indicates clear-sky conditions prevails over the region and cloudy periods are just intermittent. Even though the sun and moon is bright, the dust and humidity has a lower visibility for the traveler. The temperatures remain high all year round. Average high temperatures in summer are generally over 40 °C (104 °F) at low elevations, and can even soar to 48 °C (114.8 °F) at extremely low elevations, especially along the Persian Gulf near the sea level. Average low temperatures in summer remain high, over 20 °C (68 °F) and sometimes over 30 °C (77 °F) in the southernmost regions. Record high temperatures are above 50 °C (122 °F) in much of the desert, due in part to very low elevation.

Political borders

The desert lies mostly in Saudi Arabia, extending into the surrounding countries of Egypt (Sinai), southern Iraq and southern Jordan. The Arabian desert is bordered by 5 countries. Bordering the Persian Gulf, there is an extension into Qatar and, further east, the region covers almost all of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Rub'al-Khali crosses over from Saudi Arabia into western Oman and eastern Yemen.

People, language and cultures

The area is home to several different cultures, languages, and peoples, with Islam as the predominant faith. The major ethnic group in the region is the Arabs, whose primary language is Arabic.

Ecological threats

Military activity

Weaponry used by the United States during the Gulf War also poses a huge risk to the environmental stability of the area. Tank columns in the desert plains may disrupt the fragile stability that exists in the desert currently. In 1991, the movement of US tanks over the desert damaged the top protective layer of the desert soil. As a result, a sand dune was released and has started slowly moving downhill.[9] Some people fear this dune could ultimately reach Kuwait City.[9]


The conservation status of the desert is critical/endangered, with species including the sand gazelle and white oryx threatened, and honey badgers, jackals, and striped hyaenas already extirpated.

No formal protected areas exist, but a number of protected areas are planned for Abu Dhabi.

Oil spills

In January 1991 during the Gulf War, Iraqi forces released about 1.7 million m³ (11 million barrels) of oil from storage tanks and tankers directly into the Persian Gulf. In February, they also destroyed 1,164 Kuwaiti oil wells. It took nine months to extinguish these oil fires. These oil spills contaminated 1,000 km (620 mi) of Persian Gulf coast.

The result of the pollution was the death of thousands of water birds and serious damage to the Persian Gulf's aquatic ecosystem, particularly shrimp, sea turtles, dugongs, whales, dolphins and fish.

The damaged wells also released 10 million m³ (60 million barrels) of oil into the desert and formed lakes (total surface of 49 square kilometers).

See also


  1. ^ "Arabian Desert and East Sahero-Arabian xeric shrublands". Terrestrial Ecoregions. World Wildlife Fund.
  2. ^ "Persian Gulf desert and semi-desert". Terrestrial Ecoregions. World Wildlife Fund.
  3. ^ "Red Sea Nubo-Sindian tropical desert and semi-desert". Terrestrial Ecoregions. World Wildlife Fund.
  4. ^ "The Wahiba Sands". Rough Guides. Retrieved 2014-08-16.
  5. ^ "Sharqiya (Wahiba) Sands, Oman - Travel Guide, Info & Bookings – Lonely Planet". Lonely Planet. Retrieved 2013-06-09.
  6. ^ "Rub Al-Khali, a photo and short description". A Lovely World.
  7. ^ Harrison, D. L. (1968). "Genus Acinonyx Brookes, 1828" (PDF). The mammals of Arabia. Volume II: Carnivora, Artiodactyla, Hyracoidea. London: Ernest Benn Limited. pp. 308–313.
  8. ^ Heptner, V. G.; Sludskii, A. A. (1992) [1972]. "Lion". Mlekopitajuščie Sovetskogo Soiuza. Moskva: Vysšaia Škola [Mammals of the Soviet Union, Volume II, Part 2]. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution and the National Science Foundation. pp. 83–95. ISBN 978-90-04-08876-4.
  9. ^ a b "Environment hit the worst in Iraq - Science".
2016 Saudi Arabian snowstorm

The 2016 Saudi Arabian snowstorm was an extreme weather event in late November 2016, in which parts of the Arabian desert in Saudi Arabia experienced subzero temperatures, snowfall and flooding.

Snow was first reported in northern parts of Saudi Arabia on 23 November. By 25 November, temperatures as low as −4 °C (25 °F) were reported in Turaif, in Northern Borders Region, and there was snow cover in central and northeastern regions. Normal seasonal temperatures do not fall below 20 °C (68 °F). Many Saudis enjoyed unusual outdoor activities such as building snowmen and sliding; however, the snow was followed by rain and lightning that caused flooding and led to the deaths of at least 7 people.As of 22 December 2016, snow had also fallen in Israel, Syria and other parts of the Middle East.Snow has occasionally occurred in Saudi Arabia in previous winters. In 2013 a video of a man somersaulting in snow there circulated on social media. In January 2015 a cleric issued a fatwa against building snowmen. In January 2016, snow fell between Mecca and Medina for the first time in 85 years.

Ad-Dahna Desert

The ad-Dahna Desert is the central division of the Arabian Desert. It is a corridor of sandy terrain forming a bow-like shape that connects an-Nafud desert in the north to Rub' al-Khali desert in the south. Its length is more than 1,000 km siding Twaik Mountains from the east and does not exceed 80 km in width. It is also considered the geographical margin separating Al-Ahsa Province from Najd. Al-Dahna Desert is therefore the string that connects the great deserts of Saudi Arabia.

The desert is a series of seven successive deserts, separated from one another by plains. Roads pass through Al-Dahnā, linking Kuwait with Al-Zilfī and Riyadh and connecting Riyadh with Hasa.Al-Dahna desert is formed of high sand dunes spreading horizontally which are called veins (ar: عروق), mostly red in color since it contains Iron Oxides.

Anumeta atrosignata

Anumeta atrosignata is a moth of the family Erebidae. It is found in the Arabian Desert, the Sinai, Israel, east to north-western India.

There are probably two generations per year. Adults are on wing from March to July.

The larvae feed on the Calligonum species.


The Awassi (Arabic: عواسي‎) is a local sheep breed in South-West Asia originated in the Syro-Arabian desert. Other local names can also be Ivesi, Baladi, Deiri, Syrian, Ausi, Ducktales, Nuami or Gezirieh. It is a fat-tailed type and is multi coloured: white with brown head and legs (sometimes also black or brown). The ears are long and drooping.

Banu Yam

Banu Yam (Arabic: بنو يام‎, Banū Yām) are a large tribe native to Najran Province in Saudi Arabia and the principal tribe of that area. They belong to the Qahtanite branch of Arabian tribes, specifically the group known as Banu Hamdan, and are, therefore, native to southwestern Arabia.

Their traditional way of life was well suited to life in the Arabian Desert and East Sahero-Arabian xeric shrublands they once lived in. Most have moved into small villages and given up their previous nomadic way of life. The tribe of Yam was also the progenitor of two other important tribes: the Al Murrah and the 'Ujman of eastern Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf coast.

The Yam are notable among the tribes of Saudi Arabia for the majority of its members who follow the small Sulaymani Isma'ili branch of Shi'ite Islam. Religious leadership is currently in the hands of the al-Makrami clan, who joined Yam through alliance some time in the 17th century. Members of the tribe can be found throughout Saudi Arabia due to migration, particularly the areas around Jeddah and Dammam. Unlike some other tribes of southwestern Saudi Arabia, Yam have traditionally had a large bedouin section, due to the proximity of their territories to the formidable desert known as the Empty Quarter.

They are also different from some of their neighboring tribes in that they are recorded to have repeatedly raided the neighboring region of Najd, reaching as far north as Dhruma near Riyadh during the time of the First Saudi State in 1775, and causing much panic.

Bunopus tuberculatus

Bunopus tuberculatus, also known as the Baluch rock gecko, Arabian desert gecko, or southern tuberculated gecko is a species of gecko found in the Middle East.

Eastern Desert

The Eastern Desert is the part of the Sahara desert that is located east of the Nile river, between the river and the Red Sea. It extends from Egypt in the north to Eritrea in the south, and also comprises parts of Sudan and Ethiopia. The Eastern Desert is also known as the Red Sea Hills and the Arabian Desert because to the east it is bordered by the Red Sea and the Arabian Peninsula, respectively.

Emirate of Dubai

The Emirate of Dubai (Arabic: إمارة دبيّ‎; pr. Imārat Dubayy) is one of the seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates.

The capital of the emirate is the eponymous city, Dubai. It is located in the Arabian Desert on the coast of the Persian Gulf. It is bordered to the south by the emirate of Abu Dhabi, to the northeast by the emirate of Sharjah, to the southeast by the country of Oman, to the west by the emirate of Ajman, and to the north by the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah. In December 1971, the emirates united to form the United Arab Emirates, thus ending their status as British Protectorates.

The ruler of the emirate is Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and the emirate is governed by the Government of Dubai.

The emirate is made up of various other municipalities and villages. The inland exclave of Hatta is located about 134 km east of Dubai City. It is bordered by Oman to the east and south, the villages of Sayh Mudayrah and Masfout in Ajman to the west, and Ras Al Khaimah to the north.

History of the ancient Levant

The Levant is the large area in Southwest Asia, south of the Taurus Mountains, bounded by the Mediterranean Sea in the west, the Arabian Desert in the south, and Mesopotamia in the east. It stretches 400 miles north to south from the Taurus Mountains to the Sinai desert, and 70 to 100 miles east to west between the sea and the Arabian desert. The term is also sometimes used to refer to modern events or states in the region immediately bordering the eastern Mediterranean Sea: Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria.

The term normally does not include Anatolia (although at times Cilicia may be included), the Caucasus Mountains, Mesopotamia or any part of the Arabian Peninsula proper. The Sinai Peninsula is sometimes included, though it is more considered an intermediate, peripheral or marginal area forming a land bridge between the Levant and northern Egypt.

Limes Arabicus

The Limes Arabicus was a desert frontier of the Roman Empire, mostly in the province of Arabia Petraea. It ran northeast from the Gulf of Aqaba for about 1,500 kilometers (930 mi) at its greatest extent, reaching northern Syria and forming part of the wider Roman limes system. It had several forts and watchtowers.

The reason of this defensive limes was to protect the Roman province of Arabia from attacks of the barbarian tribes of the Arabian desert. The main purpose of the Limes Arabicus is disputed; it may have been used both to defend from Arab raids and to protect the commercial lines from robbers.

Next to the Limes Arabicus Emperor Trajan built a major road, the Via Nova Traiana, from Bosra to Aila on the Red Sea, a distance of 430 km (270 mi). Built between 111 and 114 AD, its primary purpose may have been to provide efficient transportation for troop movements and government officials as well as facilitating and protecting trade caravans emerging from the Arabian Peninsula. It was completed under Emperor Hadrian.

List of deserts by area

This is the list of the largest deserts in the world by area. It includes all deserts above 50,000 square kilometres (19,300 sq mi).

Ottoman Syria

Ottoman Syria refers to divisions of the Ottoman Empire within the Levant, usually defined as the region east of the Mediterranean Sea, west of the Euphrates River, north of the Arabian Desert and south of the Taurus Mountains.Ottoman Syria became organized by the Ottomans upon conquest from the Mamluks in the early 16th century as a single eyalets (province) of Damascus Eyalet. In 1534, the Aleppo Eyalet was split into a separate administration. The Tripoli Eyalet was formed out of Damascus province in 1579 and later the Adana Eyalet was split from Aleppo. In 1660, the Eyalet of Safed was established and shortly afterwards renamed Sidon Eyalet; in 1667, the Mount Lebanon Emirate was given special autonomous status within the Sidon province, but was abolished in 1841 and reconfigured in 1861 as the Mount Lebanon Mutasarrifate. The Syrian eyalets were later transformed into the Syria Vilayet, the Aleppo Vilayet and the Beirut Vilayet, following the 1864 Tanzimat reforms. Finally, in 1872, the Mutasarrifate of Jerusalem was split from the Syria Vilayet into an autonomous administration with special status.


Pharpar (or Pharphar in the Douay-Rheims Bible) is a biblical river in Syria. It is the less important of the two rivers of Damascus mentioned in the Book of Kings (2 Kings 5:12), now generally identified with the A‘waj (i.e. crooked), though if the reference to Damascus be limited to the city, as in the Arabic version of the Old Testament, Pharpar would be the modern Taura. In the early Baedeker Guides it was identified as the Al-Sabirani, a fairly downstream tributary of the A`waj. The stream runs from west to east, flowing from Hermon south of Damascus, and like its companion Abana River travels across the plain of Damascus, which owes to them much of its fertility. The river loses itself in marshes, or Lakes of the Marj, as they are called, on the borders of the great Arabian desert.John MacGregor, who gives an interesting description of it in his book "Rob Roy on the Jordan", affirmed that as a work of hydraulic engineering, the system and construction of the canals, by which the Pharpar and Abana were used for irrigation, might be considered as one of the most complete and extensive in the world. In the Bible, Naaman exclaims that the Abana and Pharpar are greater than all the waters of Israel (2 Kings 5:12).

Rub' al Khali

The Rub' al Khali desert (; Arabic: ٱلرُّبْع ٱلْخَالِي‎, i.e., "the Empty Quarter") is the largest contiguous sand desert (erg) in the world, encompassing most of the southern third of the Arabian Peninsula. The desert covers some 650,000 km2 (250,000 sq mi) (the area of long. 44°30′−56°30′E, and lat. 16°30′−23°00′N) including parts of Saudi Arabia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. It is part of the larger Arabian Desert.


Sawad was the name used in early Islamic times (7th–12th centuries) for southern Iraq. It means "black land" and refers to the stark contrast between the alluvial plain of Mesopotamia and the Arabian desert. Under the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates, it was an official political term for a province encompassing most of modern Iraq (except for the western desert and al-Jazira in the north).

As a generic term, it was used to denote the irrigated and cultivated areas in any district, in Arabic and Persian.

Shur (Bible)

Shur is a location mentioned several times in the Hebrew Bible.

James K. Hoffmeier believes that the 'way of Shur' was located along the Wadi Tumilat — an arable strip of land to the east of the Nile delta, serving as the ancient transit route between Egypt and Canaan across the Sinai.When Hagar ran away from Sarah (Abram's wife, her owner), "the Angel of the Lord found her ... by the fountain in the way to Shur" (Genesis 16:7, KJV).

Shur is also mentioned in 1 Samuel 15:7 — "Then Saul slaughtered the Amalekites from Havilah all the way to Shur, east of Egypt." According to Exodus 15:22–23, Marah is located in the "wilderness of Shur".

Easton's Bible Dictionary (1893) says that Shur is "a part, probably, of the Arabian desert, on the north-eastern border of Egypt, giving its name to a wilderness extending from Egypt toward Philistia (Gen. 16:7; 20:1; 25:18; Ex. 15:22). The name was probably given to it from the wall which the Egyptians built to defend their frontier on the north-east from the desert tribes. This wall or line of fortifications extended from Pelusium to Heliopolis."

Syrian Desert

The Syrian Desert (Arabic: بادية الشام‎, Bādiyat al-Shām), also known as the Syrian steppe, the Jordanian steppe, or the Badia, is a region of desert, semi-desert and steppe covering 500,000 square kilometers (200,000 square miles) of the Middle East, including parts of south-eastern Syria, northeastern Jordan, northern Saudi Arabia, and western Iraq. It accounts for 85% of the land area of Jordan and 55% of Syria. To the south it borders and merges into the Arabian Desert. The land is open, rocky or gravelly desert pavement, cut with occasional wadis.

The Lebanese Mission

The Lebanese Mission (also known as Châtelaine du Liban, La) is a 1956 French thriller film directed by Richard Pottier and starring Jean-Claude Pascal, Gianna Maria Canale, Jean Servais and Luciana Paluzzi. Omar Sharif also appeared in one of his earlier film roles. The film starts with two scientists launching an expedition exploring for uranium out in the Arabian desert, but they soon find themselves entangled in a web of espionage.

Tree of Life (Bahrain)

The Tree of Life (Shajarat-al-Hayat) in Bahrain is a 9.75 meters (32 feet) high Prosopis cineraria tree that is over 400 years old. It is on a hill in a barren area of the Arabian Desert, 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from Jebel Dukhan, the highest point in Bahrain, and 40 kilometers from Manama, the nearest city.The tree is abundantly covered in green leaves. Due to its age and the fact that it is the only major tree growing in the area, the tree is a local tourist attraction and is visited by approximately 65,000 people every year. The yellow resin is used to make candles, aromatics and gum; the beans are processed into meal, jam, and wine.It is not certain how the tree survives. Bahrain has little to no rain throughout the year. Its roots are 50 meters deep, which may be enough to reach the water source. Others say the tree has learned to extract moisture from grains of sand. Some assert that the tree is protected by Enki, a god of water in Babylonian and Sumerian religion. Others claim that the tree is standing in what was once the Garden of Eden, and so has a more mystical source of water.In 2009, the tree was nominated to be on the New7Wonders of Nature list, but it did not finish on the list.In October 2010, archaeologists unearthed 500-year-old pottery and other artefacts in the vicinity of the tree. A soil and dendrochronology analysis conducted in the 1990s concluded that the tree was an Acacia planted in 1582.The tree was mentioned in the 1991 film L.A. Story, where Steve Martin calls it one of the most mystical places on earth.

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