The idea of my app is that the user can virtually “travel” through different deserts, learning about the types and what wildlife live there. To gain more of an understanding on the topic of ‘Deserts’, I wanted to do some in-depth research.
What are deserts?
A desert is a vast, arid area of land that receives less than 25cm of precipitation a year. This causes hostile living conditions for plants and animals. They experience extreme temperatures both hot and cold depending on, the type of desert or the time of day/time of year.
Types of deserts
Arid (hot and dry)
When anyone is asked to think of a desert, Arid is most likely to come to mind. They are barren with little sign of life. Temperatures can reach as high as 39 degrees Celsius and at night that can fall, on average, to -3.9.
The most well-known arid desert is the Sahara as it is the second largest desert in the world. Covering the majority of northern Africa, it has an area of over 3,300,000 square miles. The high winds often scoop sand from the ground creating sandstorms. It is very rare for it to rain here, in fact, the total rainfall is less than 3 inches per year. This makes it an unlikely place for animals and plants to habituate. Despite this, there are over 500 species of plant that live here and around 70 species of animals. They are very well-adapted to these conditions in order to survive. Although most of the desert consists of barren land, sand sheets and dunes (covering 25%), there are some water sources. For example, the famous river Nile.
These deserts have slightly cooler temperatures. They still have long, hot summers but it is followed by a winter with some rain. These deserts are found in North America, Greenland, Europe, and Asia. The conditions of these types of desert are less harsh, making it easier for animals and plants to live. The desert floor ranges from loose rock fragments, gravel or sand.
A good example of this is the Atacama Desert in North America, stretching from Peru to Chile. It is known as the driest place on earth, receiving very little to no rain, making animal and plant life almost non-existent here. However, closer to the coast, there is some rainfall and therefore, some life. One of the reasons it is so dry is because of the rain shadow effect. This is when mountains block “rain producing weather systems” from a region. In this case, Atacama is blocked by the Andes mountain range.
The temperatures for this coastal desert reach around 35 degrees during the day and drop to around 5 degrees at night.
Polar, also known as cold deserts are still dry but have extremely low temperatures compared to others. Their small amounts of precipitation is usually in the form of snow due to the lack of moisture in the air. In fact, Antarctica is drier than the Sahara as it experiences less precipitation per year. This is because the extremely low temperatures prevent evaporation.
It is covered in sheets of ice and has roughly only 166mm of rain per year. It is the largest desert on earth being 5.5 million square miles. When looking at the landscape, it looks devoid of life, however, it is underneath the ice where a lot of wildlife habitate.
To live in these harsh conditions, animals have had to adapt to the environment.
Golden Jackal: Their fur changes colour with the seasons, in summer it is lighter and in winter it becomes darker. This means they can stabilize their body temperature from one extreme to the other. They also have great night vision, strong hearing, and smell, enabling them to find pray, even in harsh conditions.
Camels: They have humps to store fat which can be broken down into water and energy. This is essential as they can travel miles when nourishment isn’t available. When they do come across food, they have tough lips, allowing them to pick through thorny plants. They also have 2 sets of eyelashes to protect their eyes from sandstorms which are common.
Fennec Fox: These are the smallest fox species. They are nocturnal which helps them deal with the heat as it is usually cooler at night. Their thick hair keeps them warm during the cold nights and protects them from the sun during the day. Their large ears also help keep them cool as they radiate body heat.
Emperor penguin: This is a good example of an animal which has adapted to a cold desert environment. As Antarctica doesn’t have many feeding opportunities on its surface, penguins of course have to swim in the cold water for food. Therefore, they have adapted to be able to dive up to 550 metres and hold their breath for up to 22 minutes. Their short stiff tail helps them keep balanced on land and prevents heat loss.
These are just some examples of the wildlife I could include in my app. If I want to include more or focus on a certain type of desert, I will of course research further.