Arabian Desert
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Arabian Desert

The Arabian Desert (Arabic: ?‎) 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 receive as little as 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 realm.

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 Arabian 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.


A satellite image of the Arabian Desert by NASA World Wind

The desert lies mostly in Saudi Arabia, and covers most of the country. It extends into neighboring portions of southern Iraq, southern Jordan, central Qatar, most of the Abu Dhabi emirate in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), western Oman, and northeastern Yemen. The ecoregion also includes most of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt and the adjacent Negev desert in southern Israel.[1]


  • The Rub' al-Khali desert is a sedimentary basin elongated on a south-west to north-east axis across the Arabian Shelf.[3] 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 center 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.
  • 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, including the quicksands of Umm al Samim.[2]
  • The Wahiba Sands of Oman are an isolated sand sea bordering the east coast.[4][5]


The Arabian Desert has a subtropical, hot desert climate, similar to the climate of the Sahara Desert; the world's largest hot desert. The Arabian Desert is actually 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 (3.9 in), and the driest areas can receive between 30 and 40 mm (1.6 in) of annual rain. Such dryness remains rare throughout the desert, however. There are few hyper arid areas in the Arabian Desert, in contrast with the Sahara Desert, where more than half of the area is hyper arid (annual rainfall below 50 mm (2.0 in)). The sunshine duration in the Arabian Desert is very high by global standards, between 2,900 hours (66.2% of daylight hours) and 3,600 hours (82.1% of daylight hours), but it is typically around 3,400 hours (77.6% of daylight hours), thus clear-sky conditions prevail over the region and cloudy periods are intermittent. Even though the sun and moon are bright, dust and humidity cause lower visibility at ground level. 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 (118 °F) at extremely low elevations, especially along the Persian Gulf near sea level. Average low temperatures in summer remain high, over 20 °C (68 °F) and sometimes over 30 °C (86 °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.[]


The Arabian Desert ecoregion has about 900 species of plants.[6]

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. Of these 37 species, one or two are endemic. Vegetation is very diffuse but fairly evenly distributed, with some interruptions of near sterile dunes.[2] Some typical plants are Calligonum crinitum on dune slopes, Cornulaca arabica (saltbush), Salsola stocksii (saltbush), and Cyperus conglomeratus. Other widespread species are Dipterygium glaucum, Limeum arabicum, and Zygophyllum mandavillei. Very few trees are 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.[2]


The Arabian Desert has 102 native species of mammals.[6] Native mammals include the Arabian oryx (Oryx leucoryx), sand gazelle (Gazella marica), mountain gazelle (G. gazella), Nubian ibex (Capra nubiana), Arabian wolf (Canis lupus arabs), striped hyaena (Hyaena hyaena), caracal (Caracal caracal), sand cat (Felis margarita), red fox (Vulpes vulpes), and Cape hare (Lepus capensis).[2]

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

The ecoregion is home to 310 bird species.[6]

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.


In the center of the desert lies Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, with more than 7 million inhabitants.[9] Other large cities, such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi, or Kuwait City, lie on the coast of the Persian Gulf.

Natural resources

Natural resources available in the Arabian Desert include oil, natural gas, phosphates, and sulfur.[]

Conservation and threats

Threats to the ecoregion include overgrazing by livestock and feral camels and goats, wildlife poaching, and damage to vegetation by off-road driving.[2]

The conservation status of the desert is critical/endangered. In the UAE, the sand gazelle and Arabian oryx are threatened, and honey badgers, jackals, and striped hyaenas already extirpated.[2]

Protected areas

4.23% of the ecoregion is in protected areas.[1]

Saudi Arabia has established a system of reserves overseen by the National Commission for Wildlife Conservation and Development (NCWCD).[2]

  • Harrat al-Harrah Reserve (12,150 km2), established in 1987, is on the border Jordan and Iraq, and protects a portion of the stony basaltic Harrat al-Sham desert. The reserve includes rough terrain of black basaltic boulders and extinct volcanic cones from the middle Miocene. It provides habitat to over 250 species of plants, 50 species of birds, and 22 mammal species.[2]
  • 'Uruq Bani Ma'arid Reserve (12,000 km2) is on the western edge of the Rub' al-Khali. Arabian oryx and sand gazelle were reintroduced to the reserve in 1995.
  • Ibex Reserve (200 km2) is south of Riyadh. It protects Nubian ibex and a reintroduced population of mountain gazelle.[2]
  • Al-Tabayq Special Nature Reserve is in northern Saudi Arabia, and protects a population of Nubian ibex.[2]

Protected areas in the United Arab Emirates include Al Houbara Protected Area (2492.0 km2), Al Ghadha Protected Area (1087.51 km2), Arabian Oryx Protected Area (5974.47 km2), Ramlah Protected Area (544.44 km2), and Al Beda'a Protected Area (417.0 km2).[10]

See also


  1. ^ a b c "Arabian Desert and East Sahero-Arabian xeric shrublands". Digital Observatory of Protected Areas. Accessed 22 November 2020. [1]
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Arabian Desert". Terrestrial Ecoregions. World Wildlife Fund.
  3. ^ "Rub Al-Khali, a photo and short description". A Lovely World.
  4. ^ "The Wahiba Sands". Rough Guides. Retrieved .
  5. ^ "Sharqiya (Wahiba) Sands, Oman - Travel Guide, Info & Bookings - Lonely Planet". Lonely Planet. Retrieved .
  6. ^ a b c Hoekstra JM, Molnar JL, Jennings M, Revenga C, Spalding MD, Boucher TM, Robertson JC, Heibel TJ, Ellison K (2010) The Atlas of Global Conservation: Changes, Challenges, and Opportunities to Make a Difference (ed. Molnar JL). Berkeley: University of California Press.
  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". Mlekopitajuie Sovetskogo Soiuza. Moskva: Vys?aia ?kola [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. ^ "? 4 " (in Arabic). April 4, 2019. Retrieved 2019.
  10. ^ UNEP-WCMC (2020). Protected Area Profile for United Arab Emirates from the World Database of Protected Areas, November 2020. Available at:

External links

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