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Desert Landforms

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A desert can be described as a natural area with a flat surface, low amount of precipitation, and absence of any flora and fauna. The deserts cover the entire globe and occupy around 25 percent of it. Unique landscapes of the deserts are combined with the extreme air temperatures when the scarcity of rainfall creates a harsh environment for life. Desert landforms differ significantly from those in humid regions. There are mountains, plateaus, and plains in all regions but these large formations have very different appearance in the deserts. All the world’s deserts have such a typical relief forms as sand ridges, dunes, hills, cavities, rocky ridges, and many others.

The formation of desert landforms is mostly caused by wind and water erosion. The deserts’ peculiarities are the same natural processes, which are prerequisites for their morphogenesis: erosion, water accumulation, deflation, and atmogenic accumulation of sand mass. Digital-Desert notices that wind erosion (eolian process) provides a variety of landforms and is the most common in desert areas. Desert sands have different mechanical and mineralogical structure, different physical and chemical properties, and different soil conditions which reflects the forms of relief. In this case, eolian landforms are the most typical for large areas of sandy sediments that do not contain much vegetation. The wind carries dust particles and deposits them both in the desert and far beyond its borders. It creates pyramidal dunes as the result of wind interference and existence of a great mass of sand. Science Clarified states that high speed and unidirectional wind makes dune grow and turns it into a sand drift (e.g. the Taklamakan Desert). Nowadays soil deflation obtains the form of sand storms in different regions of the Earth.

Science Clarified claims that eolian landforms’ formation is possible due to a combination of certain physical and geographical conditions. Firstly, it requires arid climate, which causes dryness of the rock’s surface and poor development or absence of vegetation. Secondly, the strong wind and intense physical weathering of rocks are necessary. Rocky, gravelly, gravelly-pebble, and gypsum deserts are the most common types among other deserts (e.g. the Sahara Desert). The relief of rocky deserts is of smooth and flat plateaus, slightly inclined plains, slopes, gentle hills, and ridges. Eolian process also influences loamy and solid rocks by blowing out the smallest particles of it. Active deflation leads to the formation of voids, pillars, and pockets in solid rocks. The origin of certain forms of desert relief is due to the accumulation of salts. Saline deserts appear in the internal-drainage cavities with shallow groundwater level and contain a large amount of soluble salts.

As stated in United Nations Environment Program, water erosion may be caused by the rivers that flow along the desert (e.g. the Nile, the Colorado River) and form wide valleys and spacious cavities. Another reason for water erosion is heavy water streams as a result of sudden rainstorms. Most of the streams carry sand, silt, gravel, and pebbles which create many features of the desert landforms. When flowing down the steep slopes, water streams deposit the particles at the bottom of the slopes and form alluvial fans, which are the accumulation of sediment. Such formations are common in the deserts of Southwestern part of the USA. According to Maxmonteith, fast flowing water erodes the crust sediments and creates gullies and ravines which may sometimes lead to the formation of badlands. The badlands are typical in the desert regions all around the world and may require a single rainstorm to extend.

Thus, the desert landforms are mostly the result of wind and sudden water streams. Accumulative eolian landscapes are the most common in the sandy deserts and have their own zonal peculiarities. A common feature of all accumulative desert landforms is their high dynamics. The deserts are characterized by almost complete absence of the local hydrographic system with regular flowage and appropriate forms of relief.

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