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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Location of deserts in Australia
There is another desert called "Great Sandy Desert" in Oregon, US.

The Great Sandy Desert is a 360,000 km2 (140,000 sq mi) expanse in northwestern Australia. Roughly the same size as Japan, it forms part of a larger desert area known as the Western Desert. The vast region of Western Australia is sparsely populated, without significant settlements. The Great Sandy Desert is a flat area between the rocky ranges of the Pilbara and the Kimberley. To the southeast is the Gibson Desert and to the east is the Tanami Desert. The Rudall River National Park and Lake Dora are located in the southwest while Lake Mackay is located in the southeast.



Great Sandy Desert, Landsat 7

The Great Sandy Desert contains large Ergs, often consisting of longitudinal dunes. The Wolfe Creek meteorite impact crater is located in the northeast.


On the coast, there are isolated sheep stations; the remainder of the region is sparsely populated. The main populations consist of Indigenous Australian communities and mining centers. The aboriginal people of the desert fall into two main groups the Martu in the west and the Pintupi in the east. Linguistically, they are speakers of Western Desert Languages. Many of these indigenous people were forcibly removed from their lands during the 20th century and relocated to settlements such as Papunya in the Northern Territory. In recent years, none of the original inhabitants have returned.


Rainfall is low throughout the coast and far north. Areas near the Kimberley do have an average exceeding 300 mm (12 in), but the rainfall is patchy with many drought years often ending in a monsoon cloud mass or tropical cyclone. Like many of Australia's deserts, rainfall does seem high by desert standards, because even in the driest parts rainfalls rarely drop below 250 mm (9.8 in). A massive evaporation rate makes up for the higher than normal desert rainfall. This region is one which gives rise to the heat lows which help drive the NW monsoon. Almost all rain comes from monsoon thunderstorms, or the occasional tropical cyclone rain depression.

Thunderstorm day's average 20-30 through most of the area, but in the north bordering the Kimberley, 30-40 per year is the average.

Summer daytime temperatures are some of the hottest in Australia. The range on the northern border near the Kimberley at Halls Creek is around 37 to 38 °C (99 to 100 °F), but this would be indicative of the low end of the range. Regions further south would average 38 to 42 °C (100 to 108 °F) except when monsoonal cloud cover is active. Several people have died in this region after their vehicles have broken down on remote tracks. Winter is short and warm, temperatures range from 25 to 30 °C (77 to 86 °F), by late August it is hot again.

Frost does not occur in most of the area. The regions bordering the Gibson Desert in the far south east may record a light frost or two every year. Away from the coast winter nights can still be chilly in comparison to the sun drenched warm days.


Little economic activity occurs in the desert. Mines, most importantly the Telfer gold mine and Nifty copper mine, and cattle stations are found in the far west. Telfer is one of the largest gold mines in Australia. The undeveloped Kintyre Uranium Deposit lies south of Telfer.

Fauna and Flora

The vegetation of the Great Sandy Desert is dominated by spinifex.

Animals occurring in the region include feral camels, dingos, goannas (including the large Perentie) and numerous species of lizard and birds. Other animal inhabitants include Bilbies, Thorny Devils, Bearded Dragons, and the Red Kangaroo.

The IBRA regions, with Great Sandy Desert in red

It is an Interim Biogeographic Regionalisation for Australia (IBRA) region.[1][2]


The first European to cross the desert was Peter Warburton in 1873.

The historic Canning Stock Route traverses the southeastern portions of the Great Sandy Desert. Indigenous people were forcibly removed from the area due to Blue Streak missile tests in the 1950s.

See also


  • Burbidge, A.A. and N.L. McKenzie. (editors)Wildlife of the Great Sandy Desert, Western Australia Perth, W.A. : Western Australian Wildlife Research Centre [and] Dept. of Fisheries and Wildlife, 1983. ISBN 0-7244-9307-7

Further reading

  • Thackway, R and I D Cresswell (1995) An interim biogeographic regionalisation for Australia: a framework for setting priorities in the National Reserves System Cooperative Program Version 4.0 Canberra: Australian Nature Conservation Agency, Reserve Systems Unit, 1995. ISBN 0642213712



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