Types of Desert and their Characteristics

len Alfred Ajibola - Fri, 10th January, 2020 @ 15:25: PM

Topics in Biology

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Types of Deserts:

Deserts can be generally classified into 2 types. These are:

  1. Hot Deserts
  2. Cold Deserts

Note: With regards to the hotness or coldness of a desert, we can further classify them into 4 types. These are:

  1. Subtropical Deserts
  2. Coastal Deserts
  3. Cold Winter or Semi-Arid Deserts
  4. Polar Deserts

Please read on the Introduction to Deserts here.

Below are some explanations on the aformentioned types of desert.

  • Hot Deserts

The hot deserts are located on the western coast of continents within latitudes 15o North and 30o South of the Equator.

The subtropical deserts are categorized as hot deserts. In short, they are the hottest deserts in the world. (Subtropical deserts will be explained in the latter part of this article).

Note: Xerophytes are defined as drought resistant plants. They are found in hot deserts are able to survive through special adaptive features found on them. Examples of xerophytes are cactus, wiring grasses, thorn bushes and acacia.

You can read on the Savanna | Grasslands here.

Characteristics of Hot Deserts

Hot deserts show the following characteristics or features:

  1. They have a very low annual rainfall of about 250mm.
  2. The vegetation found in hot desert is sparse and scanty.
  3. The land is dry or arid.
    Please read on Tropical and Temperate Savanna with their Characteristics here.
  4. Cold currents are very common here; especially during the winter periods.
  5. The few vegetations that may be present will include grasses, herbaceous plants and shrubs.
    Please read on the Differences between Plants and Crops here.
  6. Its relative humidity is very low.
  7. The plants found here have special adaptive features and are generally referred to as xerophytes.

You can read on Ecology and Branches of Ecology here.


  • Cold Desert

Cold deserts are found in the interior of continents around 45o North and 60o South of the Equator.

The cold winter deserts and polar deserts are classified as Cold deserts. (Both will be explained in the latter part of this article).

Note: A cold desert may not remain cold throughout the year; but during the winter periods, they show extreme coldness in their temperatures. They can also act as a functioning ecosystem for organisms like the polar bear and fishes.

Please read more on Ecosystem here.

Characteristics of Cold Deserts

  1. They can have hot summers of over 35oC and cold winters with a temperature below 8oC.
  2. The annual rainfall is very little.
  3. The grasses found in cold deserts are short and scanty.
  4. Xerophytes are present in cold deserts. They have a characteristic needle like leaves which functions to reduce the rate of transpiration.

    Transpiration in plants is defined as a process through which water is lost from the aerial parts of a plant; especially through the stomata present in the plant's leaf.

    Water may also be lost from the plant's stem and flowers during transpiration.

    Please read on the Differences between Gymnosperms and Angiosperms here.

  5. The regions where cold deserts are found include the Patagonia in South America, the interiors of Eurasia and in North America.

Please read on the Concept of a Biome here.


  • Subtropical Desert

They are the hottest deserts in our world. They are very hot and dry in the summer but can be a little cooler in the winter. Their soils are typically sandy in nature but can also be rocky in some instances.

You can read on the Types and Characteristics of Rocks here.

Note: The subtropical desert have been reported to be so hot to an extent that rainfall evaporates from the atmosphere before they hit the ground.

Examples of subtropical deserts include the Sahara Desert in North Africa, Kalahari Desert in South Africa, Chihuahua Desert in USA, Mojave Desert in USA, Great Sandy Desert in Australia and Sonoran Desert in USA.

The plants (xerophytes) and animals found here include cactus plants, snakes and a variety of insects. They are usually more active at night.


  • Coastal Desert

Coastal deserts are present around the earth's coastal regions (between 20o to 30o Latitude of the Equator). They will typically have a long warm summer and a short cool winter.

Examples of coastal deserts are the Atacama Desert in Chile and Namib Desert in Namibia.

You can read on the Swamp Forest Biome here.


  • Cold Winter Desert

As the name implies, the cold winter deserts (also called a Semi-Arid deserts are characterized with a cold winter and dry summers. They also have a very low annual rainfall and snowfall. This lack of rainfall in cold winter deserts is caused by a phenomenon termed the rainshadow effect.

Think of a rainshadow effect as a process whereby moisture is prevented from reaching an area as a result of high mountains present around such area.

Please read on the Components of an Ecosystem here.

Examples of Cold Winter Deserts include the Gobi Desert in Mongolia and Red Desert in USA.


  • Polar Desert

Polar deserts are found in the Arctic and Antarctica regions of earth. They have a characteristic cold temperature throughout the year.

An example of the polar desert is the Antarctica.

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Alfred Ajibola is a Medical Biochemist, a passionate Academician with over 7 years of experience, a Versatile Writer, a Web Developer, a Cisco Certified Network Associate and a Cisco CyberOps Associate.

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