The Truth About The Largest Desert In The World

You won't find any camels in the largest desert in the world. No road runners or coyotes either. Nope, in the 5.5-million square miles of the biggest desert on Earth, you'd be more likely to find penguins, seals, and birds. That's because the largest desert in the world is the Antarctic, a polar desert. 

Though people tend to associate the idea of deserts as sandy, barren places, deserts are actually defined as areas that get less than 10 inches of rain a year, according to National Geographic, making the continent of Antarctica one big icy desert. World Atlas reports the area only averages 10 mm of rain per year. 

Ironically, though the continent is 98% covered in an ice sheet, which seems like it should count as being water, according to West Texas A&M University it's so cold there that the ice stays frozen even in summer and the frigid temperatures freeze the water vapor out of the air, meaning, water is "not available as liquid to sustain life," WTAMU wrote.

Only a handful of marine animals can survive in the Antarctic

The reason for Antarctica's constant cold is due in part to its location on the Earth where it gets less direct sunlight than most other places. Another factor is the sheet of ice that sits on the continent. According to Scientific American, that thick sheet of ice is 9,000 feet above sea level, and Antarctica is the highest continent on earth. In a way, the cold conditions beget the cold conditions.

Due to the Antarctic's stinginess with all that frozen water, Antarctica is the only continent in the world that doesn't have terrestrial mammals, or animals that live on the land, according to the website, Antarctic Glaciers. The animals that do find the frozen desert to be a suitable habitat are marine animals who source their food in the water surrounding the continent's coastlines, like the aforementioned penguins, seals, and birds.

The rest of all of those millions of miles of icy desert are, in fact, barren and isolated, making subtropical deserts like the Sahara that can support hundreds of mammals, reptiles, and birds, according to World Atlas,  seem downright hospitable.