Well, the title is the question. I searched for a similar question but only found one asking about sand deserts and swamps together, so I think this is not duplicated.

I have a strange mind and almost all the time I'm living in alternate worlds and histories that I create myself in the moment. In one of them, my world has an ice desert and a sand desert next to each other... Is this possible?

Edit: I need the sand desert to be hot, as requested in a comment.

Assuming there is magic in my world but people in that continent are not aware of that, but trying to be as realistic as possible.

I will be probably posting more question of all my alternate worlds and histories for other opinions, and probably write them down. Thanks for your help

PS: I don't know at all which tags should I use for this, as is my first question here but I've been following some posts here for a while. Re-tag someone if need to.

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    $\begingroup$ Were you aware of the fact that deserts can be cold? If so, are you specifically talking about a hot desert, or do you just want a lot of sand? $\endgroup$ Nov 6, 2015 at 19:58
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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to the Site Ale. I am going to suggest we put this on hold until you clarify the question. (once you make an update we can get it re-opened). See the comment above for the point that needs to be clarified. $\endgroup$
    – James
    Nov 6, 2015 at 20:28
  • $\begingroup$ If a glacier comes off a mountain into something like the Atacama Desert, then you could simulate the effect you are looking for (especially if the glacier is largely evaporating and the wind blows the moisture laden air back up the mountains). $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    Nov 6, 2015 at 20:51
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, sorry for not specifying that... I want a hot desert and a cold one, just as the answers... Editing question $\endgroup$
    – AleOtero93
    Nov 9, 2015 at 12:15
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    $\begingroup$ It's worth noting that most "hot" deserts aren't always hot. They get hot, but they also tend to get quite cold. More than anything, they're defined by huge temperature swings. Especially near a cold and mountainous region, your 'hot' desert will likely be hot in the summer and somewhat snowy in the winter. $\endgroup$
    – ckersch
    Oct 4, 2017 at 15:59

5 Answers 5


Assuming you want a hot desert and a cold desert, then they could be next to each other with an elevation change.

You have a high, cold desert where arctic winds blow constantly, a cliff with several thousand feet of sheer drop where some ancient cataclysm caused the land to shift, and at the bottom a hot desert where the cliff keeps the cold wind away.

Elevation and air pressure can make a lot of difference with temperature. I've been to the area around the Dead Sea, where it was around 60f in Jerusalem which has an elevation of 2,582 feet, and then traveling to the Dead Sea which has an elevation of -1,401 feet, and the temperature was over 100f.

Other geographic factors could exaggerate this effect.

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    $\begingroup$ How high should that cliff be? $\endgroup$ May 28, 2016 at 20:23

A sandy desert in a cold region actually exists on earth. I'm no geologist, but given right landmass, mountain, and air currents configuration it looks like it can be moved to the north and/or made bigger.

Here are some more pictures, though the text is all in Russian.

  • $\begingroup$ Great pics, thank you. Was looking for something like that, and adding that to the @AndyD273 answer information would be perfect $\endgroup$
    – AleOtero93
    Nov 9, 2015 at 19:24

Dessert are actually related to the total amount of precipitation over the year. our polar regions have polar deserts where actual precipitation is very small, it just doesn't melt away. So sand/ice deserts are going to be at an edge where a sandy area connects to a polar region. So the ice lasts from year to year and what little falls in the sand desert melts during the 'summer' months.

Now if you mean can there be a 'Hot' desert next to ice, that would be much more of an elevation situation. mountain glaciers near a desert


This depends if they're 'right' next to each other. I would assume a day's walk is okay, which Wikipedia informs me is about 40 kilometers. On a tidally locked planet, there's a large ice side and desert side. But that's too large. Good thing we can lower the mass, while lowering diameter, to have the same gravity. Not sure about the exact measurements, and you could have a mountain range blocking light from getting to a specific area, which could just be cold enough for snow and ice to exist at all times.


I think it could exist without too much of a handwave:

You need some really major mountains, stuff that towers way above Everest. (Which is either a low-g world or a handwave.) The air pressure above them is so low that it seriously limits winds going over them, the winds are channeled by them instead. You have multiple chains of mountains, they run east-west. (Cause: A major subduction event from plates meeting in a north-south direction.)

The layout of the mountains directs warm wind towards the poles, other mountains direct cold winds away from the poles. Your ice/sand desert exists where these two winds are once again moving east/west and parallel to each other. Eventually the temperatures equalize but you'll have a zone where you have substantially different temperatures right next to each other.

While you will find no place on Earth where air behaves like this you can find examples of it in water--places where water from a hot spring join an ordinary stream. Earlier this year I even saw a spot where water of two different colors was flowing down the same streambed. (Go farther downstream and it's all mixed.)


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