Great Sandy Desert

ecoregion and desert in Northern Western Australia

The Great Sandy Desert is a desert in the northwest of Australia, mostly in Western Australia. It is the second-largest desert in Australia (after the Great Victoria Desert). It covers about 284,993 square kilometres (110,036 sq mi).[1][2] South of the Great Sandy Desert is the Gibson Desert, and to the east is the Tanami Desert.

Labelled satellite image of Australia, showing the Great Sandy Desert in the northwest, reaching from the centre of the continent to the northwest coastline
Location of deserts in Australia

There are not many people living in the Great Sandy Desert. Most of them are Aboriginal communities and mining towns. The Aboriginal people of the desert fall into two main groups: the Martu in the west and the Pintupi in the east. They both speak Western Desert languages.

The area does not get much rain, but even in the driest parts rainfalls rarely drop below 250 mm (9.8 in). The rate of evaporation (how quickly the water dries up) is very high. Most of the rain comes from thunderstorms. Many drought years end with a monsoon or tropical cyclone. On average for most of the area, there are about 20-30 days where thunderstorms form.

Most of the plants growing across the Great Sandy Desert are spinifex grasses. Animals living in the desert include dingos, red kangaroo, monitor lizards, bilbies, marsupial mole, thorny devils, bearded dragons and many other species of lizard.[3]

The first European to cross the desert was Peter Warburton. He made the journey from Alice Springs leaving in April 1873 and arriving at De Grey Station in January 1874. When Warburton arrived, he was starving and blind in one eye. He thanked his survival on his Aboriginal companion Charley.[4]


  1. "Outback Australia - Australian Deserts". 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-30.
  2. "Department of the Environment WA - Refugia for Biodiversity". 2009. Retrieved 2010-08-30.
  3. "National Geographic - Great Sandy-Tanami desert (AA1304)". 2009. Retrieved 2010-08-30.
  4. "Australian Dictionary of Biography - Peter Warburton". 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-31.

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