Top 10 Sandy Facts About The Arabian Desert

The largest and most intriguing desert in Asia is situated on the largest peninsula in the world. It’s the type of desert that flashes through your mind when you hear the word, mainly due to the vast body of sand that it features.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most interesting facts about the Arabian Desert, one of the most extreme regions on the planet.

1. It covers most of the Arabian Peninsula and 11 countries

The Arabian Desert is one of the largest deserts in the world and is for the most part situated on the Arabian Peninsula. This peninsula in the Middle East is the largest of its kind in the world as it covers an area of 3,237,500 square kilometers (1,250,000 square miles).

Apart from covering most parts of Saudi Arabian, it covers areas in 11 different countries:

  • Saudi Arabia
  • Iraq
  • State of Palestine
  • Israel
  • Egypt
  • Jordan
  • Kuwait
  • Oman
  • Qatar
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Yemen

As you can see on the map of the Arabian Desert below, it also extends into the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt, the only part of the country that is located within Asia.

Arabian Desert Map
Map of the desert / Terpsichores /

2. It’s huge and the 5th-largest desert in the world

The Arabian Desert covers an area of 2,330,000 square kilometers (899,618 square miles), an enormous area that makes it the 5th-largest desert in the world.

Ony these deserts are larger in terms of size:

  • Antarctic Desert: 14,200,000 square kilometers (5,482,651 square miles).
  • Arctic Desert: 13,900,000 square kilometers (5,366,820 square miles).
  • Sahara Desert: 9,200,000 square kilometers (3,552,140 square miles).
  • Australian Desert: 2,700,000 square kilometers (1,042,476 square miles).

As you can see, this also means that it’s the largest desert in Asia, larger than the Gobi Desert (which is the 6th-largest in this list) that covers an area of 1,295,000 square kilometers (500,002 square miles).

3. It features one of the largest bodies of sand in the world

The southern part of the Arabian Peninsula is covered by an enormous body of sand called the “Rub’ al Khali,” which translates to “The Empty Quarter.”

This name mostly describes the situation in this area because it’s one of the largest bodies of sand in the world, an area that isn’t very hospitable to support many forms of life.

This part of the desert covers an area of 650,000 square kilometers (250,000 square miles) and is covered in enormous dunes, some extending to a height of up to 250 meters (820 feet).

This section of the Arabian Desert is pretty much what you expect a desert to look like.

Arabian Desert sand dunes
Sand dunes in the desert / Wiki Commons

4. The climate is very similar to that of its bigger neighbor to the west

If you look closely at the map then you can see that the eastern part of the Sahara Desert in Egypt isn’t too far away. This pretty much means that the Arabian Desert is considered to be an extension of the 3rd-largest desert in the world that is located in Africa.

This also means that the climate in the Arabian Desert is very similar to that of its bigger counterpart to the west. Because it covers such a vast area, it features both a subtropical and a hot desert climate.

The temperatures during the daytime are extremely hot, especially in the lower parts of the desert near the Persian Gulf. In areas near sea level, the average high temperature can rise to up to 48 °C (118 °F).

In most parts of the desert, though, the high average temperature is around 40 °C (104 °F) and up, while the low average temperature ranges between 20 °C (68 °F) and 30 °C (86 °F).

5. Very few animals and plants can survive in this part of the world

It’s always amazing to find out that some animals and plants can survive in these extremely hot and dry conditions. Granted, their numbers are pretty limited as this is one of the harshest environments imaginable.

There are only about 900 species of plants that can grow in these conditions, and the body of sand known as the Rub’al-Khali only features 37 different types of plant species.

It’s still fascinating that 20 plant species can grow within the body of sand itself, while the other 17 grow on the outskirts.

One of the most interesting facts about the Arabian Desert is that there are also 102 species of mammals and 310 species of birds living here. Some of the most fascinating animals living here 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)
  • Cape hare (Lepus capensis)
Arabian Oryx in the desert
The Arabian oryx / Charles J. Sharp /

More interesting facts about the Arabian Desert

6. Even though the desert is extremely dry in most parts, it’s not as dry as its bigger brother the Sahara Desert. About half of the Sahara Desert is considered to be hyper-arid while there are very few areas in the Arabian Desert that can be classified as such.

Still, the yearly rainfall in most parts of the desert is limited with on average about 100 millimeters (3.9 inches). Some of the driest areas only receive between 30 and 40 millimeters (1.6 inches).

Arabian Desert facts
Plants in the desert / Wiki Commons

7. Another remarkable fact about the Arabian Desert is that it receives an incredible amount of sunshine throughout the day.

The average yearly sunshine duration is anywhere between 2,900 (66.2% of daylight hours) and 3,600 hours (82.1% of daylight hours), with the average being around 3,400 hours (77.6% of daylight hours) of sunshine.

8. Even though the southern part of the desert mostly consists of dunes, the desert features a varied landscape in the northern section.

Some of the fascinating features within the desert are red dunes, extremely dangerous quicksand, majestic rock formations, cliffs, and amazing canyons that are part of the Tuwaiq escarpment.

Arabian Desert Canyon
A canyon inside the desert / Peter Dowley /

9. The ecoregion that makes up the desert is considered to be critically endangered, mainly because of threats such as overgrazing by livestock, wildlife poaching, and habitat destruction. This also means that the few animals that survive here are classified as endangered as well.

Some of the animals that are endangered are the sand gazelle, Arabian oryx, jackals, and striped hyaenas. The area also used to be home to the Asiatic cheetah and lion, but these animals have disappeared here a long time ago.

10. Even though the desert conditions aren’t very hospitable for most forms of life to survive, the desert is still home to an astounding number of people. Multiple huge cities are located within its borders, including the capital of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh, which is situated right within its center.

Other large cities are located near the coast of the Persian Gulf such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Kuwait City. Yes, if you intend to visit Dubai, you enter the outskirts of the Arabian Desert!

Riyad Skyline Arabian Desert
Riyad in the middle of the desert / B. Alotaby /