Major Deserts of Asia

The Taklamakan desert is Asia's largest shifting-sand desert.
The Taklamakan desert is Asia's largest shifting-sand desert. (Image: dune dans le desert de gobi image by Clément Billet from

Much of Asia is occupied by deserts, from the hot and arid Arabian desert to the cold intercontinental deserts of central Asia. Home to three of the world's largest cold deserts, Asia has been shaped by these vast, impenetrable landforms for a millennium. The deserts of Asia continue to fascinate and challenge travelers with their stark beauty.

Gobi Desert

The Gobi is one of the world's largest deserts, encompassing southern Mongolia and northern China. Although there are sandy areas in the Gobi where dunes have formed, vast plains and rocky outcroppings comprise most of the desert. The environment in the Gobi is extreme and harsh with seasonal temperatures reaching over 100 degrees in the summer and -40 degrees in the winter with scant rainfall. Strong winds in the spring and fall make travel in the Gobi dangerous, when large dust storms reduce visibility. The Great Gobi National Park is one of the largest biospheres in the world, covering an area larger than Switzerland. Like most deserts, the Gobi has several oases that offer vital water resources for wildlife, such as rare Bactrian camels, the Asiatic wild ass, and Gobi bears, which are the only desert-dwelling bears in the world.

Taklamakan Desert

Located in the middle of the Tarim Basin, the Taklamakan is China's largest desert and the second largest shifting-sand desert in the world. Covering 13,000 square miles, the Taklamakan is the 17th largest desert in the world. The continental environment of the Taklamakan creates frigid temperatures, even in the summer when evening temperatures dip below freezing. The defining characteristic of the Taklamakan are the large sand dunes, which can reach heights of 300 meters. Due to the high winds in the Taklamakan, the shift in sand has been measured at 150 meters per year, which poses a huge threat to people in the region by encroaching on farmland and into oases.

Karakum Desert

The Karakum desert is located in central Asia and occupies over 70 percent of the country of Turkmenistan. The name "Karakum" means "black sand" in reference to the color of the sand, which is high in evaporates and minerals. Moisture in the Karakum is scant, with rainfall coming once a decade. Despite the harsh environment, the Karakum is a diverse and complex biosphere with a wide variety of topography, ranging from sandy desert to vast tracts of saxaul forests. The country of Turkmenistan has designated 14 wildlife preservation areas and cultural monuments in the desert, as well as including 245 sites within the Karakum in the National Environmental Action Plan. UNESCO is currently evaluating areas of the Karakum for inclusion on their World Heritage List, given the universal value of the desert and its fragility.

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