Great Victoria Desert

Written by Abdulmumin Akinde
Updated: September 27, 2022
© iStock.com/idizimage
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Australia is the driest inhabited continent in the world. Its deserts cover 18% of the continent’s mainland, equaling 1,000,000 square miles. Because the continent receives little rainfall, about 35% of the area is unofficially referred to as deserts. Of its ten deserts, the Great Victoria Desert is the largest and best known. Here are some of the things you should know about this desert. 

Great Victoria Desert – Location And Name 

Indigenous Australians have lived in deserts for over 50,000 years. However, it was not until the Europeans came before the area received the prominence it is now known for. The Great Victoria Desert consists of grassland plains, sandhills, salt lakes, and closely packed pebbles. It is located north of the Nullarbor Plain, in the Southern rangelands of Western Australia, and stretches into the Western side of South Australia. The desert is surrounded by smaller deserts and ranges. 

The people of Tjuntjuntjara, known today as the Spinifex people, have lived in the area for 25,000 years, and the current occupants go back as far as 600 generations. However, there is no record of a common name before the age of exploration. 

British-born Australian explorer Ernest Giles was the first European to cross the Great Victoria Desert. He did so in 1875, during the reign of Queen Victoria. As a result, he named it after the monarch. 

Great Victoria Desert – Size 

great victoria desert
The total area covered by the Great Victoria Desert is about 163,115 square miles.

©iStock.com/idizimage

The Great Victoria Desert is the largest dune desert in Australia and the seventh largest desert in the world, covering a total area of 422,466 square kilometers (163,115 square miles) of land. It is over 348,750 square kilometers from the eastern Goldfields region of Western Australia to the Gawler ranges in the South and over 700 kilometers wide from east to west. 

The desert covers 4.5% of Australia. It lies between the Little Sandy Desert to the Northwest and the Western Australian mulga shrublands ecoregion to the north. The Nullarbor Plain in the South and the Titari-Sturt Stony Desert to the east separate the Great Victoria Desert from the South Ocean. 

Great Victoria Desert – Climate 

Much of the eastern end of the Great Victoria Desert is occupied by the central and northwest aboriginal reserves. The average annual rainfall in the Great Victoria Desert is low and irregular. It receives from 200 – 250 mm (7.9 – 9.8 inches) yearly. In contrast, thunderstorms are relatively more common, with an average of 15 – 20 thunderstorms annually. 

The desert’s temperature during the summer daytime ranges from 32 – 40 degrees Celsius or 90 – 104 degrees Fahrenheit. However, the temperature falls to 18 – 23 degrees Celsius or 64 – 73 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter. Put simply, summer in the desert is very hot while winters are cooler. Also, the temperature at night can drop below freezing. 

Great Victoria Desert – Physical Features  

The desert features some of the oldest rocks on earth. Much of the Great Victoria Desert is covered by sandhills. However, it also has open woodlands and grasslands and many salt lakes. The area is shared roughly equally by western and southern Australian states. Because it hardly gets rain, only the toughest plants can survive in the environment-meaning the desert is mostly bare. Several reserves and parks are also located in the desert, including the Nullarbor National Park, the Great Victoria Desert Nature Reserve, and the Flora and Fauna Conservation Park. 

As with most natural landscapes, human activities are the greatest threat to the Great Victoria Desert. Mining and weapons testing have affected the environment’s biodiversity, and the pollution from their activities has caused the clearing and fragmentation of some vegetation. Apart from this, plutonium–239 deposits pose a health risk to animals in the long run.

Great Victoria Desert – Wildlife 

Hardy native plants survive in the Great Victoria Desert. A few large birds, reptiles, and mammals have adapted to the desert conditions as well and can survive here. About 31% of the desert is protected and has limited use for agriculture. As a result, many habitats remain largely undisturbed. 

Plant Life of the Victoria Desert 

Scarlet Wisteria (Sesbania punicea)
You can find acacia in the dunes.

©iStock.com/Nico Perez Photography

Three gum tree species thrive in the Great Victoria Desert – the Eucalyptus gongylocarpa, E. pyriformis, and E. socialis. Eucalyptus gongylocarpa is a desert gum tree that grows among the sand in the desert. The mulga tree also grows and covers hundreds of miles. Apart from the common ones, shrubs, acacia, and eucalyptus are scattered over the area. 

Areas between sand hills and the sand plains support Triodia basedowii, marble gum, mulga, and large-fruited mallee. You will also find mallee, acacia, and similar shrubs in the dunes. However, gibber plains don’t have much vegetation outside the rainy seasons. But when the rain comes, the area may be densely covered by species from the amaranth, pea, and daisy families. 

Animal Life of the Victoria Desert  

lizards with spikes thorny devil
The thorny devil thrives in the Great Victoria Desert.

©iStock.com/chameleonseye

Reptiles thrive the most in the Great Victoria Desert. The most spectacular of the selection is the thorny devil. The lizard sources water from the morning dew that settles on its thorns and eats ants. There are also over 100 species of documented reptiles, including elapid snakes, agamids, geckos, goannas, and skinks

There are up to 9 gecko species in the western reaches of the Great Victoria Desert. Most of the vertebrates have widespread distributions except for the endangered chestnut-breasted whiteface. The malleefowl thrive in the desert, and the less famous spinifex parrot is documented. Although the skink was considered extinct, they were rediscovered a few decades ago. 

Unlike reptiles, mammals have not been faring well in the desert. Some species that have been extirpated or lost include the long-tailed hopping mouse, short-tailed hopping mouse, pig-footed bandicoot, and lesser stick-nest rat. However, the greater stick-nest rat is still present, and other endangered species include the sandhill dunnart, mulgara, and marsupial mole

The Great Victoria Desert supports 9 threatened plant species, 4 threatened bird species, 10 threatened mammal species, and 1 threatened reptile species. Although grazing is not common, military activities in the area have introduced radiation. Human activities also introduced predators like foxes, feral cats, and dingo. 

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About the Author

Abdulmumin is a pharmacist and a top-rated freelance writer on Upwork. He can pretty much write on anything that can be researched on the internet. However, he particularly enjoys writing on health, technology and animals. He is inquisitive and currently aspires to become a software engineer. He loves animals, especially horses and would love to have one someday.

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Sources
  1. World Atlas (1970) worldatlas.com/articles/where-does-the-great-victoria-desert-lie.html#h_53568455110981607036628526
  2. One Earth (1970) oneearth.org/ecoregions/great-victoria-desert/
  3. Wikipedia (1970) en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Victoria_Desert