Where Deserts Form

Searles Lake, California
Searles Lake, California. (Photograph courtesy of Kerr-McGee, Inc.)

Dry areas created by global circulation patterns contain most of the deserts on the Earth. The deserts of our world are not restricted by latitude, longitude, or elevation. They occur from areas close to the poles down to areas near the Equator. The People's Republic of China has both the highest desert, the Qaidam Depression that is 2,600 meters above sea level, and one of the lowest deserts, the Turpan Depression that is 150 meters below sea level. Deserts are not confined to Earth. The atmospheric circulation patterns of other terrestrial planets with gaseous envelopes also depend on the rotation of those planets, the tilts of their axes, their distances from the Sun, and the composition and density of their atmospheres. Except for the poles, the entire surface of Mars is a desert. Venus also may support deserts.

Landsat image showing the Garlock fault
The Garlock fault, near the bottom of this Landsat image, is generally considered to be the geologic border between the Mojave Desert in the south and the Great Basin Desert in the north. The Great Basin contains more than 150 discrete desert basins separated by more than 160 mountain ranges.

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