Syrian Desert

Written by Abdulmumin Akinde
Updated: January 24, 2023
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The part of Asia commonly referred to as the Middle East consists predominantly of arid and semi-arid areas. Some of the most interesting deserts are found in this part of the world. This includes a desert that covers more than half the land area of two different countries. This is the Syrian Desert — a huge stretch of arid land located within the borders of four countries. Here are some of the things to know about this remarkable desert. 

Location and Name 

Camels with saddles and blankets resting in the desert

Camels are one of the animals kept by Bedouin nomads in the Syrian Desert.

©Christoph Hilger/Shutterstock.com

The Syrian Desert is an arid wasteland located in southwestern Asia (the Middle East). The desert extends Northwards from the Arabian Peninsula, covering four different countries. Even though it is named after Syria, part of the desert extends into the northern region of Saudi Arabia, eastern Jordan, western Iraq, and of course, southern Syria. 

The Syrian Desert is bordered by some very popular natural landscapes in the Middle East. On the western border of the desert, you have the Orontes River and the volcanic field of Harrat al-Shamah. Conversely, it has the Euphrates River to the east. Down south, the Syrian Desert merges into the larger and more popular Arabian Desert, which covers nearly the entire Arabian Peninsula. In the north, the desert gradually transitions into a fertile area with grass and other vegetation. 

The Syrian Desert is known by many names. One of its most popular nicknames is the “Badiyat al-Sham,” a reference to the nomadic Bedouin tribe (Badiya) that roam parts of the desert in search of pasture for their animals. The desert also goes by other names such as Shamiyah, the Syrian steppe, Jordanian steppe, or simply the Badia. 

In some sources, the entire Syrian Desert is equated to the “Hamad Desert.” However, several other sources use the name for just the central plateau on the southern edge of the desert. Some people also consider the entire region that includes the Syrian Desert and other semi-arid lands to the south as the “Hamad.” 

Some parts of the Syrian Desert also have their unique names. Examples include the Palmyrene Desert, located around Palmyra, and the Homs Desert. The part of the Syrian Desert located within the borders of Iraq is also referred to as the Western Desert. 

Climate 

Receiving less than five inches of rainfall annually on average, the Syrian Desert is a true desert. Like other deserts of its kind, it is prone to temperature extremes during the day, with hot days and cool nights. Winter temperatures are about 44.6 degrees Fahrenheit on average, while the average temperature during the summer season is around 82.4 degrees Fahrenheit. 

June and July are the hottest months of the year, and July is also the driest month. The rainy season in the Syrian Desert is typically between the months of November and May, with January as the wettest month of the year. The summer months are typically hot and dry. However, since the weather is windy during summer, the weather stays mild and relatively favorable.

Geography

The Syrian Desert near Palmyra

TLarge tribes of Bedouin nomads call the Syrian Desert home.

©Anton_Ivanov/Shutterstock.com

The Syrian Desert consists of arid land, semi-arid land, and a steppe. The entire desert is often divided into two parts that differ in terms of their surface geography. There’s the 2,300 to 3,000-foot high plateau located in the middle of the desert, which is known as the Hamad Plateau. This is a flat and stony arid land with a bedrock of limestone and chert gravel. 

The second part of the desert is at a lower elevation, between 2,208 and 623 feet. This area is less dry compared to the plateau. It has several dry river channels (wadis) that are exposed to flooding. Whatever little rain the desert gets flows into these salt flats. 

The highest points in the Syrian Desert include the 3,300 feet high Khawr um Wual in Saudi Arabia and the 3,150-foot high Jebel Aneiza, which is at the border between Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Jordan. 

The Syrian Desert, along with the other deserts in the Arabian Peninsula, is among the driest locations in the world. The entire desert receives less than five inches of rainfall annually. Despite the low rainfall and poor soil quality, the predominantly nomadic Bedouin herdsmen still use the region as rangeland for livestock. They graze up to 12 million sheep and goats in this desert, as well as a few camels. 

Syrian Desert — Size 

The Syrian Desert is one of the top 10 biggest deserts in the world. It ranks ninth on the list if we consider the Arctic and Antarctic deserts. It covers a land area of 200,000 square miles. The desert covers 85% of the entire land area of Jordan and 55% of Syria. It also includes parts of Iraq and Saudi Arabia. 

Despite covering such a vast area, the Syrian Desert is still dwarfed by many of the biggest deserts in the world. The neighboring Arabian Desert, for instance, covers a land area of 900,000 square miles. Similarly, the Sahara Desert has a land area of 3,600,000 square miles. 

Wildlife

A rodent isolated on a white background - Funny Syrian hamster sits and eats pasta.

Syrian hamsters are common household pets, but are classified as endangered in the wild.

©Lesya Girl/Shutterstock.com

The Syrian Desert does not have a lot of plant and animal life. However, a few of the climax plants (drought-resistant) plants that grow in the Syrian Desert include the Mediterranean saltwort (Caroxylon vermiculatum), white wormwood (Artemisia herba-alba), and the saltbush (Atriplex leucoclada). 

The ecosystem of the Syrian Desert is highly stressed due to drought, overgrazing, and other human activities. Many plant species have also died out and have now been replaced with grasses with low nutritional value. Under such conditions, only a few animals can survive. Many of the native animal species, such as the gazelles and hartebeests that used to be common in the desert, have now gone extinct. The predator species have disappeared due to the absence of prey in the area. 

One popular animal native to the region and still exists is the golden hamster or Syrian hamster (Mesocricetus auratus). This is a small rodent that people commonly keep as a house pet. While the golden hamster still exists in the desert region, it is now listed as endangered by the IUCN. Habitat loss is gradually driving the hamster to local extinction. 

A few bird species visit the seasonal lakes in the desert valleys on their yearly migratory journey. This includes storks, cranes, small waders, waterfowls, herons, and a few raptors. Desert animals, including scorpions and camel spiders, also populate this region.

Up Next 

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Anton_Ivanov/Shutterstock.com


Sources

  1. Encyclopedia, Available here: https://www.encyclopedia.com/places/asia/middle-eastern-physical-geography/syrian-desert
  2. Animal Stratosphere, Available here: https://animalstratosphere.com/syrian-desert-facts/
  3. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syrian_Desert
  4. Kiddle, Available here: https://kids.kiddle.co/Syrian_Desert
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About the Author

Abdulmumin is a pharmacist and a top-rated content writer who can pretty much write on anything that can be researched on the internet. However, he particularly enjoys writing about animals, nature, and health. He loves animals, especially horses, and would love to have one someday.

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