Gibson Desert

Gibson Desert

The Gibson Desert covers a large area in the state of Western Australia and is still largely in an almost "pristine" state. It is about 155,000 square kilometres (60,000 square miles) in size, making it the 5th largest desert in Australia, after the Great Sandy, Great Victoria, Tanami and Simpson deserts. It lies between Lake Disappointment and Lake Macdonald along the Tropic of Capricorn. The Gibson bioregion includes extensive areas of undulating sand plains and dunefields, low rocky/gravelly ridges and substantial upland portions with a high degree of laterite formation. Several isolated salt-water lakes occur in the centre of the region and to the southwest a system of small lakes follow paleo-drainage features. Groundwater sources include portions of the Officer Basin and Canning Basin. Large portions of the desert are characterized by gravel-covered terrains, as noted by early Australian explorers such as Giles (discussed below). Geographically, the Gibson Desert area forms part of the plateau of central Western Australia.

The desert was named after Alfred Gibson. Gibson perished while looking for water while attempting to cross it in 1874, on an exploratory expedition with Ernest Giles. Giles, who successfully crossed the region in 1876, only narrowly avoided a similar fate, subsisting for weeks on dried horse meat and extremely limited water supplies.

In much of the region, especially the drier western portion, the only human inhabitants of the area are Indigenous Australians, many of whom have had very limited contact with the outside world. In 1984, due to a severe drought which had dried up all of the springs and depleted the bush foods, a group of the Pintupi people who were living a traditional semi-nomadic desert-dwelling life, walked out of a remote wilderness in the central-eastern portion of the Gibson Desert (northeast of Waberton) and made contact for the first time with European-Australian society. They are believed to have been perhaps the last uncontacted tribe in Australia . On the eastern margin of the region, population centers (which include people of European descent) include Waberton, Mantamaru and Warakurma.

Climate

Rainfall in the Gibson Desert ranges from 200 mm (7.8 in) to 250 mm (9.8 in) annually, while evaporation rates are in the 3600 mm/yr range. The climate is generally hot; summer maximum temperatures rise above 40°C (104°F) whilst in winter the maximum may fall to 18°C (64°F) and minimum winter temperatures dip to 6°C (45°F)..

Environment and wildlife

Due to the lack of large scale farming or industry in the area, the environment is relatively unchanged from its natural state. Wildlife includes red kangaroo, emu, the greater bilby (a small, nocturnal rabbit-like herbiferous mammal), the hardy bush stone curlew, whose eerie cries echo over the desert in the night, and reptiles such as the thorny devil and perentie ((Varanus giganteus) - the largest monitor lizard or goanna native to Australia, and fourth largest lizard on earth, after the Komodo Dragon). Feral animals include the camel. Pastoral leases lie on the edge of the desert, and in some areas escaped grazing animals such as sheep compete with the local fauna for sparse resources.

Leisure and tourism

The Gibson Desert Nature Reserve is popular for visitors with four wheel driver vehicles (which can cause severe habitat damage if used irresponsibly) and is accessible from the famous Gunbarrel Highway.

Geography

The Gibson Desert is located on the central Western Australian plateau, south of the Great Sandy Desert, east of the Little Sandy Desert, and north of the Great Victoria Desert. The altitude rises to just above 500 meters in places.

Biogeography

It is one of Western Australia's Interim Biogeographic Regionalisation for Australia (IBRA) regions, and an ecoregion of the World Wildlife Fund.

References

Further reading

  • Thackway, R and I D Cresswell (1995) An interim biogeographic regionalisation for Australia : a framework for setting priorities in the National Reserves System Cooperative Program Version 4.0 Canberra : Australian Nature Conservation Agency, Reserve Systems Unit, 1995. ISBN 0642213712
  • Giles, Ernest (1889) Australia Twice Traversed : Hesperian Press, 1995. ISBN 0859052060

External links

  • Gibson Desert 1997; a photo album of the Gibson Desert by Stuart Jackson, Verified 2006-01-23

See also

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