Areas of Australian and territory deserts

Last updated:7 June 2023

The definition of a desert is an important guide to such features in Australia and it’s Antarctic Territories; a desert is a desolate, uninhabited region that receives less than 250 to 500 millimetres of precipitation annually.

The desert features that form part of Australia and its Antarctic Territories are on the two driest continents in the world. The dryness is based on the climate classification* relating to precipitation and temperature.

Antarctica’s desert is classified as polar, (external frost/ice cap); precipitation falling as snow; temperatures range below 10°C and can exceed -60°C in winter months.

Australia’s mainland deserts are classified as arid, (desert and semi-arid); precipitation falling as rain; temperatures range above 10°C to exceed 35°C in summer months.

Geoscience Australia has listed the Australian Antarctic Territories desert as encompassing its entire Territories area.

The Australian mainland listing is of the 10 largest deserts with size and a percentage factor of the mainland area.

* Reference: Koppen-Geiger Climate Classification System.
With variations; M.C. Peel, B.L. Finlayson and T.A. McMahon. Published October 2007.

Area of Australian Antarctic Territories desert

Total area 5,896,500 km2. This is 42% of the entire Antarctica continent and is 76.7% in comparison to the Australian continent size.

Areas of Australian mainland deserts

State/TerritoryName Size (km2) Australia (%)
WA, SA Great Victoria 348 750 4.5
WA Great Sandy 267 250 3.5
WA, NT Tanami 184 500 2.4
NT, QLD, SA Simpson 176 500 2.3
WA Gibson 156 000 2.0
WA Little Sandy 111 500 1.5
SA, QLD, NSW Strzelecki 80 250 1.0
SA, QLD, NSW Sturt Stony 29 750 0.3
SA Tirari 15 250 0.2
SA Pedirka 1 250 less than 0.1
 Total1 371 00018

Source: Geoscience Australia Deserts database, 1994.Revised 2022