What Are the Main Landforms in the Desert?

Wolfgang Staudt/Flickr/CC-BY-2.0

The most common landscape features found in deserts are sand dunes, yardangs, desert pavements, debris, playas, oases, mesas, alluvial fans, arroyos and buttes. These landforms vary from desert to desert.

Sand dunes are thought of as a typical feature in most deserts, but these landforms occupy only a relatively small part of deserts in the world. Some deserts, however, have expansive dunes referred to as sand seas or ergs.

Yardangs are the bare rock surfaces found in most deserts. These features occur where surface particles have been removed by wind, which leaves the hard bedrock exposed.

Desert pavements are tightly compacted layers of rock and gravel that cover mostly flat areas. Other areas, such as the foot of a mountain, are covered by huge deposits of coarse debris and gravel, which in some cases are very deep.

Arroyos are dried streams that form roughly hewn canyons. These landscapes can be narrow and deep, but most of them are shallow with a width of just a few yards.

Constant wind erosion creates large flat-topped hills called mesas. On the other hand, playas result from the accumulation of water from flash floods. Playa lakes disappear quickly, leaving behind sand, silt and other dissolved minerals and thus forming salt flats.

Oases are fertile areas lying near an underground stream, spring or artificial source of irrigation.

Alluvial fans are fan-shaped landscapes formed from mineral deposits carried below desert mountains through arroyos.