Deserts of Australia

Named deserts of Australia cover 1,371,000 square kilometres (529,000 sq mi), or 18% of the Australian mainland. However, approximately 35% of the Australian continent receives so little rain it is effectively desert. The deserts in Australia are primarily distributed throughout the western plateau and interior lowlands of the country.[1]

By international standards, Australian deserts receive relatively high rates of rainfall.[2] No weather station situated in an arid region records less than 100 mm of average annual rainfall.[3] The deserts of Australia, particularly in the interior, lack any significant summer rains.[2]

Deserts are not necessarily completely devoid of vegetation, but have large areas where vegetation is very limited in height or extent.

Deserts in Australia en
Deserts in Australia.
Please note the lakes shown are not permanent water sources, they only fill with water intermittently.
IBRA 6 Deserts legend
Deserts of Australia (in red), overlaid with internal boundaries and Interim Biogeographic Regionalisation for Australia (IBRA) biogeographic regions.
Australia-climate-map MJC01
Climate zones in Australia
Rain days in Australia
Rain days in Australia


Desert State/Territory Area (km2) Area (miles2) Area Rank % of Australia
Great Victoria Desert Western Australia, South Australia 348,750 km2 134,650 sq mi 1 4.5%
Great Sandy Desert Western Australia 267,250 km2 103,190 sq mi 2 3.5%
Tanami Desert Western Australia, Northern Territory 184,500 km2 71,200 sq mi 3 2.4%
Simpson Desert Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia 176,500 km2 68,100 sq mi 4 2.3%
Gibson Desert Western Australia 156,000 km2 60,000 sq mi 5 2.0%
Little Sandy Desert Western Australia 111,500 km2 43,100 sq mi 6 1.5%
Strzelecki Desert South Australia, Queensland, New South Wales 80,250 km2 30,980 sq mi 7 1.0%
Sturt Stony Desert South Australia, Queensland, New South Wales 29,750 km2 11,490 sq mi 8 0.3%
Tirari Desert South Australia 15,250 km2 5,890 sq mi 9 0.2%
Pedirka Desert South Australia 1,250 km2 480 sq mi 10 0.016%

Great Victoria Desert

The Great Victoria Desert lies in Western Australia and South Australia. It is over 800 kilometres (500 mi) wide and covers an area of 348,750 square kilometres (134,650 sq mi).

Gibson Desert

A Toyota Land Cruiser in the Gibson Desert

The Gibson Desert lies in central Western Australia. The desert is about 156,000 square kilometres (60,000 sq mi) in size. Most of the inhabitants of the area are Indigenous Australians.

Desert group

  • Western Desert – a grouping of the Gibson Desert, the Great Sandy Desert, and the Little Sandy Desert.

Climate issues

Australia's climate is mostly determined by the hot, sinking air of the subtropical high pressure belt.[4] Dry conditions are associated with an El Niño–Southern Oscillation in Australia. Vegetation in arid areas is primarily dependent upon soil type.[4]

Extensive areas are covered by longitudinal dunes. Forty percent of Australia is covered by dunes.[4] Central Australia is very dry, averaging 150 mm of rainfall each year.[4]

Ecological issues

Many introduced species have affected the fauna and flora of Australia's desert regions. The Australian feral camel affects native vegetation. This is partly because Australian desert vegetation evolved without any major herbivores present.[4] Uncontrolled access to more sensitive areas by four-wheel-drive vehicles is also an issue.

See also


  1. ^ Geosciences Australia –Deserts
  2. ^ a b Aleshire, Peter; Geoffrey H. Nash (2007). Deserts: The Extreme Earth. Infobase Publishing. p. 137. ISBN 1438106661. Retrieved 27 September 2015.
  3. ^ Mabbutt, J. A. (2012). "Landforms of the Australian Desert". In El-Baz, F. (ed.). Deserts and arid lands: Volume 1 of Remote Sensing of Earth Resources and Environment. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 78. ISBN 9400960808. Retrieved 27 September 2015.
  4. ^ a b c d e Laity, Julie J. (2009). Deserts and Desert Environments. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 43, 45. ISBN 1444300741. Retrieved 8 November 2012.

External links

Further reading

  • Johnson, John & Catherine de Courcy.(1998) Desert Tracks Port Melbourne, Vic. Lothian Books. ISBN 0-85091-811-1
Ctenophorus clayi

Ctenophorus clayi, commonly known as the black-collared dragon or black-shouldered ground-dragon is a species of agamid lizard occurring in red sand-ridges with spinifex in the central and western deserts of Australia, with an isolated population existing in North West Cape in Western Australia.

Desert climate

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.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), 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 28 for regions that receive 70% or more of their rainfall during the six winter (colder) months, 0 for regions that receive such a share of rainfall during the six summer months, and 14 for those in-between.

Gibson Desert

The Gibson Desert, an interim Australian bioregion, is a large desert that covers a large dry area in the state of Western Australia and is still largely in an almost "pristine" state. It is about 155,000 square kilometres (60,000 sq mi) in size, making it the fifth largest desert in Australia, after the Great Victoria, Great Sandy, Tanami and Simpson deserts.

Great Sandy-Tanami desert

The Great Sandy-Tanami desert is a World Wildlife Fund ecoregion of Western Australia extending into the Northern Territory.

Great Victoria Desert

The Great Victoria Desert, an interim Australian bioregion, is a sparsely populated desert area in Western Australia and South Australia.

Index of Australia-related articles

The following is an alphabetical list of articles related to Australia.

Lake Mackay hare-wallaby

The Lake Mackay hare-wallaby (Lagorchestes asomatus), also known as the central hare-wallaby or kuluwarri, is an extinct species of macropod formerly found in central Australia. Very little is known about it.

Little Sandy Desert

The Little Sandy Desert, an interim Australian bioregion, is a desert located in Western Australia south of the Great Sandy Desert and west of the Gibson Desert.

The bioregion is located to the east of Great Northern Highway south of Newman and approximately 200 kilometres (120 mi) north of Wiluna. To the north the nearest large area identifiable is the Karlamilyi National Park.

It is named because it is relatively close and similar to the Great Sandy Desert, but is much smaller. Its landforms, fauna and flora are all similar to the Great Sandy Desert. Both deserts are crossed by the Canning Stock Route.

Indigenous groups that have identified with the region include the Mandilara.

Nature's Microworlds

Nature's Microworlds is a 2012 British nature documentary series. Produced by the BBC, the series is narrated by Steve Backshall and produced by Doug Mackay-Hope. There are thirteen thirty-minute episodes in the series, which was first broadcast on BBC Four. Each episode focuses on its eponymous region, exploring the wildlife of the microclimate found there: The featured ecosystems include the archipelago of volcanic islands known as the Galapagos, the grasslands of the Serengeti in Africa, the Amazon rainforest covering most of South America, the kelp forest located in California's Monterey Bay, the Okavango Delta where the Okavango River empties into a wetland surrounded by the Kalahari Desert, and the Arctic wilderness of the Svalbard archipelago.

Ornithodoros savignyi

Ornithodoros savignyi, known as sand tampan, African eyed tampan or Kalahari sand tampan, is one of some 37 species in the genus Ornithodoros and is a soft tick with a leathery, mammillated integument, causing paralysis and tampan toxicosis, two unrelated conditions. The sand tampan is an ectoparasite on humans, their livestock and wild animals, including birds and bats. Occurring in semi-desert areas of Africa, Saudi Arabia and other parts of the Persian Gulf, India, Sri Lanka and into Asia, it is able to survive for lengthy periods without feeding, spending most of its life burrowed under sand or loose soil, often in wait for animals that rest or sleep under trees or in the lee of rocks, but also in places where people or their animals congregate such as marketplaces, places of worship, cattle kraals and village squares. The timing of its activity is geared to coincide with that of potential hosts, but hot sunny conditions are usually avoided. Because of its habit of feeding and dropping from its host, adult dispersal is limited, whereas larvae may remain attached to their hosts for several days. During its life cycle it will feed on multiple hosts between moults.This species is of interest because of the pathogens it carries, and its salivary apyrases which prevent platelet activation and aggregation, that is, blood-clotting. In humans the tick may cause dermatitis, fever and lymphadenitis. It is also a carrier of Borrelia, a spirochaete bacterium, and is a carrier of a flavivirus causing Alkhurma hemorrhagic fever (AHFV). The closely related Kyasanur Forest disease virus (KFDV) is endemic to certain regions of India. That AHFV and KFDV diverged some 700 years ago would suggest that unknown tick-borne hemorrhagic/encephalitic viruses may exist between Saudi Arabia and India.Soft ticks of the family Argasidae lack the hard scutum or shield present in hard ticks of the family Ixodidae. Their gnathosoma or mouth structure is located on the underside of the body and is not readily visible. Their feeding method differs from that of the hard ticks in that they do not embed a capitulum in the host, but make an incision through the skin and sip the oozing blood. The feeding lasts up to 30 minutes during which time their body weight may increase as much as tenfold. Sand tampans by their concerted attack in large numbers are able to paralyse and kill sizeable mammals, especially penned livestock, by introducing toxins during feeding, mainly through coxal gland secretions, leading to symptoms similar to those of anaphylactic shock in older animals. These toxins affect the cardiac system, causing Mobitz type atrial-ventricular blocks and ventricular tachycardia. The defensins employed by O. savignyi are being studied for developing multifunctional peptides - shorter peptides derived from the defensin isoform 2 (OsDef2) have useful antibacterial, antioxidant, and cytotoxic properties.Ornithodoros spp are found worldwide in semi-arid regions, living in burrows, caves, dens, cliffsides, and bird colonies. O. savignyi and O. coriaceus are exceptional in having eyes. O. coriaceus occurs under hillside scrub oak from northern California and Nevada to Mexico, in deer beds under trees and in the lee of large rocks. O. gurneyi favours tree-shaded sand in the deserts of Australia, resting places of kangaroos and people. O. porcinus is found on warthogs, bushpigs and other pig species and occurs throughout Africa in suitable habitats - it plays a role in transmitting the virus causing African swine fever which in 2013 was found 35 km north of Pretoria. A salticid spider, Phidippus rimator, has been recorded from northern California as predating Ornithodoros coriaceus and is only the second predator recorded for this species.O. savignyi was named after the zoologist Marie Jules César Lelorgne de Savigny, a contemporary of Jean Victoire Audouin's.

Since they are attracted by carbon dioxide, dry ice may be used for their collection, or they may be sifted from the soil. Ornithodoros tampans also fluoresce under ultraviolet light.

Pedirka Desert

The Pedirka Desert is a small Australian desert, about 100 kilometres (62 mi) north-west of Oodnadatta and 250 kilometres (160 mi) north-east of Coober Pedy in South Australia. Mount Deane and Witjira National Park are just to the north.

The desert is relatively small, occupying about 1,250 square kilometres (480 sq mi).Pedirka Desert belongs to the Finke bioregion. The sands are deep-red and it is vegetated by dense mulga woodlands. Dunes in the desert are low, eroded, widely spaced and positioned parallel to each other.

Although the land is not over-appealing to pastoralists, it is progressively being developed.

Podaxis pistillaris

Podaxis pistillaris is a very distinctive relative of the puffballs. It grows to 15 cm high and has a hard, woody stem. The large cap, which protects the blackish spore-bearing tissue, splits, and usually falls away at maturity, allowing the spores to be dispersed by wind. Large numbers may appear after soaking rains. It thrives in deserts and semi-deserts of Australia and other countries, often found on termite mounds in South Africa. In the Hawaiian Islands, it is frequently encountered along roadsides and in disturbed areas on the dry sides of the islands, especially in the Kona area of Hawaii and the Kihei area of Maui.

Older synonyms for this species include Lycoperdon pistillare L. (1771) and Scleroderma pistillare (L.) Pers. (1801).


The Recurvirostridae are a family of birds in the wader suborder Charadrii. It contains two distinct groups of birds, the avocets (one genus) and the stilts (two genera).

Simpson Desert

The Simpson Desert is a large area of dry, red sandy plain and dunes in Northern Territory, South Australia and Queensland in central Australia. It is the fourth-largest Australian desert, with an area of 176,500 km2 (68,100 sq mi) and is the world's largest sand dune desert.The desert is underlain by the Great Artesian Basin, one of the largest inland drainage areas in the world. Water from the basin rises to the surface at numerous natural springs, including Dalhousie Springs, and at bores drilled along stock routes, or during petroleum exploration. As a result of exploitation by such bores, the flow of water to springs has been steadily decreasing in recent years. It is also part of the Lake Eyre basin.

The Simpson Desert is an erg that contains the world's longest parallel sand dunes. These north-south oriented dunes are static, held in position by vegetation. They vary in height from 3 metres (9.8 ft) in the west to around 30 metres (98 ft) on the eastern side. The largest dune, Nappanerica or Big Red, is 40 metres (130 ft) in height.

Southern marsupial mole

The southern marsupial mole (Notoryctes typhlops), also known as the itjaritjari or itjari-itjari, is a mole-like marsupial found in the western central deserts of Australia. It is extremely adapted to a burrowing way of life. It has large, shovel-like forepaws and silky fur, which helps it move easily. It also lacks complete eyes as it has little need for them. It feeds on earthworms and larvae.

Strzelecki Desert

The Strzelecki Desert is located in the Far North Region of South Australia, South West Queensland and western New South Wales. It is positioned in the northeast of the Lake Eyre Basin, and north of the Flinders Ranges. Two other deserts occupy the Lake Eyre Basin—the Tirari Desert and the Simpson Desert.

The desert covers 80,250 km2 making it the seventh largest desert in Australia. The Dingo Fence, Birdsville Track, the Strzelecki Track, the Diamantina River, Cooper Creek and the Strzelecki Creek all pass through the Desert.

The desert is characterised by extensive dune fields and is home to three wilderness areas. It was named after the Polish explorer Paweł Edmund Strzelecki by Charles Sturt. He was the first non-indigenous explorer in the area, followed closely by the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition.

Much of the desert is preserved within the Strzelecki Regional Reserve in South Australia. Parts of the eastern sections of the desert are protected by the Sturt National Park in New South Wales. A population of the endangered Dusky Hopping Mouse lives in the desert.

The Cobbler Sandhills near Lake Blanche is a section of the Strzelecki Desert where the dunes are replaced by small eroded knolls, mostly with vegetation on the top. This area provided great difficulty for early attempts to cross the desert by car, and the name relates to the sheep which were the most difficult to shear, known as the "cobblers".

Sturt Stony Desert

Sturt Stony Desert (previously Sturt's Stony Desert) is an area in the north-east of South Australia, far south western border area of Queensland and the far west of New South Wales.

It was named by Charles Sturt in 1844, while he was trying to find the inland sea which he believed lay at the centre of Australia. The stones caused his horses to limp and wore down the hooves of the cattle and sheep which Sturt had taken on the expedition.

The larger Simpson Desert is located to the west and the Strzelecki Desert is to the south east. Between these two dunefields is the Gason Dome, upon which the Sturt Stony Desert is located. To the south west of Sturt Stony Desert is the Tirari Desert. The Birdsville Track is a route between Marree in South Australia and Birdsville in Queensland.

Tanami Desert

The Tanami Desert is a desert in northern Australia situated in the Northern Territory and Western Australia.

It has a rocky terrain with small hills. The Tanami was the Northern Territory's final frontier and was not fully explored by Australians of European descent until well into the twentieth century. It is traversed by the Tanami Track.

The name Tanami is thought to be a corruption of the Walpiri name for the area, "Chanamee", meaning "never die". This referred to certain rock holes in the desert which were said never to run dry.

Under the name Tanami, the desert is classified as an interim Australian bioregion, comprising 25,997,277 hectares (64,240,670 acres).

Tirari Desert

The Tirari Desert is a 15,250 square kilometres (5,888 sq mi) desert in the eastern part of the Far North region of South Australia. It stretches 212 km from north to south and 153 km from east to west .

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