Telltale Stone Tools Yield Clues

Other studies have yielded similar conclusions and demonstrated how important the much-wetter Sahara was to human beings as they developed the culture and technology that would eventually enable them to dominate ecosystems on every continent. For instance, mysterious nomads wandered across the Sahara Desert between 8,000 and 5,500 years ago, according to a National Science […]

A Mystery 1,000 Years Older Than Stonehenge

Other studies have shown that human beings thrived in the Sahara for 100,000 years or more in areas now virtually uninhabitable. For instance, scientists have discovered the earliest known observatory for marking the movement of the stars, which ancient people could have used in religious ceremonies and in planning their migrations and crop plantings. Some […]

Can Snail Shells Solve a Mystery?

Things have changed dramatically in the Sahara, according to Washington University Assistant Professor of Earth Sciences Jennifer Smith, who has studied ancient snail shells taken from some of the Sahara's vanished lakes. Specifically, she dug shells of the freshwater gastropod Melanoides out of silts laid down in the bottom of a small lake in the […]

Sahara Desert

Sahara Desert: Northern Africa

Something happened. Something bad. Something strange. Some 6,000 years ago, the region of North Africa that today constitutes the world's greatest desert was a lush grassland studded with scrubby trees, lakes, and streams. Antelope, rhinos, hippos, lions, jackals, giraffes, clams, fish, and human beings wandered about in well-hydrated content. That hospitable grassland habitat dated back […]

The Battle of the Bulls

One of the strangest battles of the Mexican-American War was fought on the banks of the San Pedro. Under the leadership of Brigham Young, members of the Church of Latter-day Saints had settled in Mexico seeking a refuge from religious persecution when the Mexican-American War broke out. Young believed that if he offered the United […]

San Pedro River: A Linear Oasis

The San Pedro River marks the western edge of the Chihuahuan Desert. It is a small, struggling, vital, and enormously diverse river, thronged with ghosts. The last undammed river in a region where an estimated 90 percent of the precious riparian areas have been destroyed or degraded, the San Pedro nurtures great, leafy meanders of […]

Living on Algae’s Efforts

In most of the dunes, plants need special adaptations to deal with the gypsum, or calcium carbonate, in the soil. Plants that have evolved special techniques for dealing with such calcium carbonates are called gypsophiles, and the Chihuahuan Desert has more such plants than any other desert. Fortunately, a variety of algae has also developed […]

Chiricahua Mountains: Between Two Deserts

Sitting on the northwestern edge of the Chihuahuan Desert, the Chiricahua Mountains mingle cataclysmic geology with a bloody history. The 150-mile-long (241 km), 9,700-foot-tall (3 km), ecologically extravagant range of tormented rock is the most extensive and varied of southeast Arizona's famed Sky Islands and serves as a vivid lesson in how geology shapes both human […]

White Sands National Monument

The Chihuahuan Desert also harbors another geological marvel, the blinding white dunes of White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. These dunes are made of gypsum left behind by the evaporation of a once-vast Ice Age lake. The gypsum crystals are soft and easily scratched, which means that the tiny crystals reflect the light that […]

Carlsbad Caverns National Park: Fantastic Realm

One of the most remarkable geological features of the Chihuahuan Desert actually lies far beneath the surface, the Carlsbad Caverns, a vast limestone cave decorated with a fantasy of natural stone shapes. The cavern is the most spectacular and accessible of many such caverns that have formed in the once-sea-bottom layers of limestone that underlie […]

Big Bend National Monument: Hard and Historical

This 2,865-square-mile (7,420 sq km) region in a bend of the Rio Grande exemplifies the austere terrain and the complex geological history of the lower-elevation areas of the Chihuahuan Desert. Lying in a great, down-dropped trough, the park features the typical basin and range topography of low flat basins surrounding sharply uplifted, isolated mountain ranges. […]

Creatures That Never Take a Drink

Any creatures living in a desert where eight months without significant rain is routine must have intricate adaptations to these conditions. For instance, the desert pocket mouse can go its whole life without a drink of water. The tiny, big-eyed rodents dig burrows up to five feet deep (1.52 m), usually with at least two […]

A Tale of Hungry Bats and Lush Flowers

Gary Paul Nabhan and Stephen L. Buchmann in The Forgotten Pollinators detail the remarkable relationship between the bats and the agave. Nectar-feeders like the long-nose bats travel a looping 3,200-mile (5,150 km) migratory route every year that appears precisely timed to take them from wintering caves deep in Mexico to caves in which they raise their […]

Century Plant Grows Fatally Tall to Survive

The massive century plant is one of the most distinctive plants of the Chihuahuan, a tough, sharp-spined member of the lily family with a dramatic strategy for spreading its seeds. One of the largest agaves, the century plant may persist for 50 years before it reproduces in a single season of fatal extravagance. Normally, the […]

The Mystery of the Cataclysm

Some million years ago as the Basin and Range Province took shape, a long, violent series of volcanic eruptions shaped the face of the Big Bend area and much of the rest of the Chihuahuan Desert. This period of intense volcanic activity shaped much of the American Southwest. In some places, great bubbles of molten […]

Chihuahuan Desert: Arizona, Texas, Mexico

The same forces that have shaped the other North American deserts by creating the geologically stretched Basin and Range Province also forged the 280,000-square-mile (450,616 sq km) Chihuahuan Desert. This great desert plain punctuated with a patterned scattering of northsouth trending mountains starts in the shadow of the massive Sierra Madre in Mexico, runs north […]

The “Blueberries” That Predicted an Ocean

The Great Basin Desert harbors enigmatic sandstone marbles that have already helped prove that Mars once had oceans. The geological mystery story starts on the Red Planet, where the robot rover Opportunity went trundling across the surface looking for signs of water and beamed back to Earth images of perplexing stone nodules, perfectly round rocks […]

Condors Make a Comeback

The rock-climbing biologists dangling in front of the cliff-face condor cave expected the worst, but hoped for the best. They wanted to know why condor and condor had abandoned their nest in the ancient cave in the inaccessible heart of the Grand Canyon. The devoted condor couple was among California condors reared in captivity who […]

Painted Desert: Cold Winds and Buried Dinosaurs

Many experts consider the sprawl of colorful high-elevation desert in the northeast corner of Arizona to be a part of the higher, colder Great Basin Desert to the north. The Painted Desert is far from the moist storms of either the distant Pacific or the Gulf of California. The deluge of summer storms that make the […]

Invaders Unhinge an Ecosystem

Ironically, an exotic grass introduced by human beings now threatens the sagebrush ecosystem that expanded so dramatically as a result of human beings and their cattle. The sagebrush populations exploded after overgrazing removed the cold-adapted native grasses. Those grasses used to carry periodic, low-intensity fires that would burn up encroaching brushes. The grass, on the […]

Wind erosion

Adapted to the Sagebrush Ocean

The Great Basin Desert harbors far fewer species than the warm, summer-rain-blessed Sonoran Desert to the south. Only a handful of flowers like the plains daisy and the yellow parsley bloom in the spring. Only a handful of birds, notably the horned lark, flit through its expanses. Horned larks account for almost all the flocks […]

A Sagebrush Realm

Despite the hardships the desert imposed on travelers, the plants and animals that evolved to fit into its austere seasons and angular design demonstrate the adaptability of life, especially in the most unlikely places. The transition from the low, hot Sonoran Desert to the high, cold Great Basin Desert demonstrates the tradeoffs that plants and […]

A Lethal Barrier to Exploration

For much of the nation's history, the Great Basin Desert formed a terrible barrier to explorers and settlers, especially after the discovery of gold in California in 1848 spurred the California gold rush. Legendary explorer Jedediah Smith made the first recorded crossing of the basin in 1824, although he left no documentation of his route […]

Cataclysm Leaves Wealth of Minerals

That complex geological history has left the region with a wealth of minerals, many of them formed when the rocks in these desert ranges were deep beneath the ocean along the crack in the Earth between two crustal plates. The weak crust along such gigantic fissures lets molten rock from the deep Earth escape to […]

United States landforms

Great Basin: Terrible Thirst and Endless Sagebrush

The same forces that stretched, pulled, and uplifted the entire American Southwest also created the landscape of the Great Basin Desert, a portion of the larger Basin and Range Province, which extends from California's Sierra Nevadas down into Mexico and Texas and up to Nevada and Utah. One old survey map described the mostly north-south […]

Great Basin Desert: Utah, Arizona, Nevada

T he sprawling Great Basin Desert gives North America a cold, interior rain shadow desert to rival Asia's Gobi Desert. Haunted by the harsh winters of its 6,000–7,000-foot (2,000–2,333 m) elevation, screened from rain by the towering Sierra Nevadas and California to the west and the Rocky Mountains to the east, the Great Basin's endless […]

Grand Canyon Reveals the History of the Earth

The great gash of the Grand Canyon also provides perhaps the single most dramatic lesson in geology and the Earth's history on the planet. The Colorado River cut down through the leading edge of the uplifted Colorado Plateau in the past five million years as the same forces that created the Basin and Range Province […]

Grand Canyon: A Transformed Sliver of the Mojave

The mile-deep gash of the Grand Canyon connects the drought-adapted Mojave Desert to the frost-adapted Great Basin Desert. As shown in the color insert on page C-2, the desert plants and animals in the bottom of the canyon have evolved to adapt to the odd combination of desert heat and rampaging river in the course […]

Rattlesnakes: Deadly Adaptations

Although rattlesnakes evolved long before the world's deserts took their present form, they were exquisitely preadapted to desert conditions. The fear of rattlesnakes is greatly exaggerated, since far more people die from bee stings or dog bites than rattlesnake venom. But something about the coiled warning, slitted eyes, and flicking tongue of the venomous rattlesnake, […]

It Takes a Fungus to Make a Soil

Fortunately for the thirsty flowers, they get help from strange fungi waiting in the top two inches of these desert soils. In wet, fertile areas, the topsoil is constantly enriched by the carbon-containing debris of plants, including leaves, roots, and twigs. In the riotously productive rain forest, the mass of plant debris on the ground […]

Desert Bursts into Flower

The Joshua tree represents one set of adaptations to a place with dry summers and chilling, but still thirsty, winters. Desert creatures have developed many different solutions to those problems. For instance, desert wildflowers seem almost miraculous in their delicate abundance during a rare wet year, when a succession of winter rains or snows yields to […]

The Edge of the Desert

The monument lies on the southwestern border of the Mojave Desert. To the south lies the Colorado Desert, a division of the Sonoran Desert that includes Palm Springs, the Coachella Valley, and the Salton Sea, which in the Ice Age rivaled Lake Manly and which is now sustained mostly with irrigation water brought in from […]

Joshua Tree National Monument: As Lush As the Mojave Gets

While Death Valley represents the most extreme environment in the Mojave Desert, Joshua Tree National Monument in Southern California presents the Mojave at its balmy best. Of course, this is relative, since this high-elevation desert with its giants' playground of granite boulders and an octopus's garden of bizarre yucca swelters in summer, freezes in winter, […]

Ice Age Desert Fish Hangs On

Death Valley also harbors one of the more inconspicuous but fascinating of endangered species, the Devils Hole Pupfish. These minnowlike, almost transparent, 1.5-inch-long (38.1 mm) fish with odd, bright blue eyes live in a single, spring-fed pool that has collected in a collapsed limestone cavern. They are descended from cyprinodonts, fish that once lived in […]

Creosote: The Oldest on Earth

One of the most widespread plants in the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts is the creosote bush, which nourishes its own interdependent set of creatures. Remarkably, the creosote might live longer than any other plant on the planet, nearly 12,000 years. That is remarkable considering the low, olive-green bush with tiny leaves thrives in areas too tough […]

Desert-Adapted Species Struggle

Death Valley also boasts an array of desert-adapted Mojave species, despite its harsh conditions, even in seemingly impossible places like Badwater. Periodically, storms create shallow, fleeting ponds on the salt flat, full of minerals and salt. But that is just fine with soldier flies, which lay their eggs in the salt flats so their larvae […]

Death Valley: The Lowest, Hottest Place

The spectacularly eroded Death Valley is a strange desert in a continental sinkhole that remains one of the most bizarre and forbidding places in the world. Pine-clad mountains harboring the oldest trees on Earth overlook the breathtaking plunge into a valley that ranks as the lowest, hottest, and driest place in North America. The rocks […]

The World in a Song

The Mojave Desert–dwelling Chemuehevi Indians had few possessions, but they always had their songs. The Chemuehevi lived in the deep desert, hunting rats, rabbits, and bighorn sheep, gathering roots, tubers, beans, and berries and moving ceaselessly over a broad area. They thrived for thousands of years in desert that routinely killed settlers trying to cross […]

Deserts of the western United States

A Collision of Continents

This collision of continents created the topography of the western United States and Mexico. Initially, the collision built up the Sierra Nevadas, pasted California and parts of Washington and Oregon onto the western edge of North America, and isolated the terrain that would one day become the deserts of North America behind this rain-stealing rampart […]

Mojave Desert: California, Arizona

T he Mojave Desert is a jagged, angular land of staggering extremes. It contains the lowest, hottest place in North America, a great underground river, places of bizarre beauty, a terrible earthquake fault, dead lakes, low basins, and strange and resourceful plants and animals. It occupies some 51,000 square miles (81,000 square km) and extends […]

A Massacre That Shocked the Nation

One of the most heartrending stories attached to the Gila involves the massacre of the family of Royce Oatman, who set out from Independence, Missouri, in 50 with his wife and seven children. A successful farmer driven by some fatal restlessness, Royce set out with his family for California, where the gold rush had triggered […]

A Fragile Desert at the Mercy of Human Beings

The long, complex history of the Sonoran Desert demonstrates the intimate connection between geology, ecology, and human beings. Early human cultures depended utterly on the land and learned to survive by making the most of its whims and resources. For a time, it seemed that the Salado, Hohokam, and other desert civilizations had overcome the […]

Gila River: Plight of the Desert

Nothing so captures the human impact on the Sonoran Desert as the plight of the Gila River, once its most important river system. The river has all but vanished into reservoirs, irrigation ditches, and thickets of exotic salt cedar along most of its once epic length. The ghost river originates in the highlands of New […]

Buenos Aires: The Grassland Boundary

The Sonoran Desert remains a surprisingly fragile ecosystem and has repeatedly shifted its boundaries in response to climate changes and other influences. In wet periods, grasslands expand into desert regions. During droughts and climate shifts, the grasslands retreat and the desert expands. Even insects and animals can affect the boundary between desert and grassland. Creatures […]

The Lethal Secret of the Lost Dutchman

When Jacob Waltz and his partner Jacob Weiser emerged from the Superstition Mountains with a handful of gold nuggets, people naturally assumed they had discovered gold in the unlikely geology of the volcanic Superstition Mountains. And when Waltz one day emerged from the mountains without his partner who he said had been killed by the […]

Flowers Blossom in the Desert

The hardy desert wildflower seeds can lie, desiccated and dreaming in the desert soil for decades, waiting for the steady winter rains they need to flourish in the spring. They are testament to the gaudy persistency of life, especially flowering plants, which emerged approximately 140 million years ago. As leaves evolved into petals loaded with […]

Superstition Mountains and the Legend of the Lost Dutchman

The jagged Superstition Mountains just outside of Phoenix show another face of the Sonoran Desert, rife with alluring legends of violent death and lost gold mines. That includes one of the most famous tales of the Sonoran Desert, the lost gold mine of the mysterious, semi-mythological Jacob Waltz, better known as the “Lost Dutchman.” The […]

Casa Malpais: Death by Religious Warfare?

One of the most intriguing clues to the mystery of the regional collapse of ancient civilizations throughout the Southwest lies on a high plateau grassland that lies at the edge of both the Sonoran and Great Basin deserts—the stone ruins of Casa Malpais, a 50-room pueblo on a lava flow riddled with caves. Casa Malpais […]

More Clues in the Verde Valley

More clues to the mystery have been unearthed 100 miles (160.9 km) northwest in the Verde Valley, which harbors some well-preserved ruins constructed by the cliff-house–dwelling Sinagua, who also abandoned an ancient and adaptable Sonoran Desert civilization in the 1400s, including well-constructed stone pueblos at Tuzigoot, Montezuma Castle, and Montezuma Well. The mysterious Sinagua settlement […]

A Long Buildup and a Fast Collapse

The earliest settlers in the Tonto Basin were most likely migrants from the Hohokam core areas in what are now Phoenix and Tucson, where tens of thousands of people tended hundreds of miles of irrigation canals. But they soon evolved their own vibrant culture. They made beautiful pots, painted with elegant, curved designs suggestive of […]

A Baffling Missing Persons Case

The Sonoran Desert holds the clues to one of history's great missing persons cases, the collapse of distinct but connected 1,000-year-old civilizations throughout the Southwest sometime in the 1400s, just before the arrival of the first Spanish explorers. Human beings have occupied the Sonoran Desert for at least 10,000 years and for perhaps as long […]

Organ Pipe National Monument Preserves Desert

On the edge of the Tohono O'odham Reservation stands Organ Pipe National Monument, one of the best places to glimpse the rich ecosystem of the Sonoran Desert, with its tenacious, understated extravagance and the long sweep to the horizon. The landscape was forged in a series of cataclysms starting 110 million years ago caused by […]


The sky islands scattered throughout the Sonoran Desert help account for its surprising ecological diversity. One such “island” mountain rising from the desert plains is Mount Graham, which rises from the mesquite-studded Sonoran Desert to a height of more than 0,000 feet ( ,0 m). This means the peak has conditions more akin to Canada […]

Sky Islands Rise from Desert Seas

The basin and range geography that created all the deserts of North America, in the Sonoran created a chain of 10,000-foot-tall (3,048 m) mountains surrounded by low desert basins that help account for the extraordinary ecological diversity of the Sonoran Desert. One of the most striking mountains is the 7,730-foot-tall (2,356.10 m) Baboquivari in southern […]

Saguaros Nourish Civilizations

Saguaros also sustained desert-dwelling Indians. The Pima and Papago, now called the Tohono O'odham, relied heavily on the sweet, nutritious fruit of the saguaro. They dry-farmed corn, squash, and beans, channeling both winter and summer rains onto farmed terraces and stream meanders. Fortunately, the saguaro fruit offered a nutritional bounty perfectly timed between their twin […]

Desert kit foxes are shy, nocturnal creatures that can climb trees, scale boulders, hide in burrows, and go for long periods without a drink of water, relying entirely on moisture in the bodies of the mice, kangaroo rats, and insects they consume. (Peter Aleshire)

Sonoran Desert Arizona and Northern Mexico

T he towering, bristling, water-hoarding saguaro cactus cluster thickly across the desert corrugations of Saguaro National Monument in Arizona, brooding over a mystery. The defining plant of the Sonoran Desert, the largest of the saguaro are 200 years old, 50 feet high (15.24 m), and weigh eight tons. They dominate the park that occupies two […]

The world’s deserts

Origin of the Landform: Deserts

T he appearance and evolution of Earth's deserts offer deep insights into geology, history, evolution, climate, and the whole rich history of the planet. Although deserts now cover great swaths of Earth's surface along the broad, hot midsection of the planet, most modern deserts are new landscapes—the transformation of grasslands and woodlands into an austere […]


Barely 100 kilometers (62 mi.) from the highest peak in the contiguous United States, Mount Whitney in the Sierra Nevada, lies the lowest point in the western hemisphere in Death Valley, in this northern arm of the Mojave Desert, the valley floor descends to 86 meters (282 ft.) below sea level. The valley may not […]

Although arid conditions were widespread in the Paleozoic “Age of Deserts,”most modern deserts were formed relatively late in the Cenozoic period.


The answer to the question “Why do deserts form?” seems obvious—sustained lack of rainfal—but he global and local climatic conditions that lead to such aridity are complex and an understanding of them helps explain such apparent anomalies as coastal deserts. Deserts are among some of the most alien, inhospitable landscapes on the planet. Some of […]


The term “desert” was once confined to hot, arid regions of the tropics and subtropics. However, the central place given to the absence or sparsity of vegetation in many definitions of the term has led to the development of the concept of the “cold desert”—a terrain in which low temperatures and physiological drought drastically inhibit […]


Arid, rocky region with their lack of soil and plant cover are ideal for fossilhunting. Remains of any dinosaurs, prehishistoric mammals, and other long gone creatures are regularly discovered in modern deserts such as the Gobi the patagonian Desert, and the Kalahari. A major expedition of the 1920s visited the rocks there are far too […]


In the Western imagination the word “desert” most often evokes a landscape of endless gigantic sand dunes, dazzling white under a cloudless hot-blue sky and a blazing sun. This landscape of the imagination is likely to be empty—deserted—except, perhaps, for a caravan of nomads and camels that inches slowly across the horizon, or a lone […]

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, snapped by Voyager 1 in 1979, when the spacecraft was 9.2 million kms/5.7 million miles from the planet.

Gas giants and icy moons

Despite their frigidity, the four planets past Mars (Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune,and Uranus) manage to produce some interesting weather. One of their moons even has an atmosphere surprisingly similar to Earth's. All four planets have been dubbed gas giants, because the bulk of their interiors are made up of gases rather than solids (though Neptune and […]

Inside the inner planets

The first rule of planetary weather is an obvious one – planets are generally cooler the farther they are from the Sun. But temperature also depends strongly on the thickness of each planet's atmosphere. When that insulating blanket is thinner than ours, temperatures can vary greatly between daylight and darkness. Mercury offers the most vivid […]

Weather: Antarctica/Arctic

The unrelenting cold of the glacial continent of Antarctica boggles the mind. Much of the ice-covered Arctic Ocean melts or breaks up each summer. By contrast, all but roughly two percent of the Antarctic landmass is sealed year-round beneath a mass of ice up to 4.8km/3 miles deep. There's so much ice that, were it […]

Weather: South Pacific, Papeete, Suva

Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein picked the right venue for a lush, warm musical when they composed South Pacific. This enormous expanse of island-dotted ocean simply screams “tropics” – or perhaps it gently whispers that refrain. The only real weather worry in these parts are tropical cyclones (hurricanes). In general, they're most likely to threaten […]

Weather: New Zealand

Auckland | Christchurch | Wellington The weather across the two islands of New Zealand isn't especially violent or dramatic, but it does keep you guessing. The band of westerly winds across the South Island is known as the Roaring Forties, and with good reason. Across the planet, there's no other land at this latitude except […]

Weather: Australia

Alice Springs, Brisbane, Cairns, Darwin, Melbourne, Perth, Sydney You can't look at a map of Australian rainfall and temperature without being struck by the effect of the Great Dividing Range. This low-slung set of peaks shelters the population belt of Australia's southeast coast from the dry, blastfurnace heat found through the vast interior. The Outback's […]

Weather: Australasia/South Pacific

Water – or the lack of it – has everything to do with the weather across this vast realm where the Pacific and Indian Oceans meet. The island continent of Australia and its much smaller neighbours are surrounded by mammoth stretches of sea. If you took a globe and shifted it so New Zealand were […]

Weather: Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos

Although all of Vietnam sits within the tropics, there are dramatic weather variations between the north and south ends of this ribbon-like nation. Warmth is more or less guaranteed year-round across the southernmost delta surrounding Ho Chi Minh city, while northern Laos and Vietnam – adjacent to southeast China – can get surprisingly chilly in […]

Weather: Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan

Dust may be the most vivid weather feature across most of Uzbekistan and its southern neighbour, Turkmenistan. Each spring, great clouds of dust whipped up from the Kara Kum desert cascade across the land. They often follow in the wake of blustery thunderstorms that drop little if any rain. The dustiest regions are in central […]

Weather: Thailand, Myanmar

Cradled by mountains to its east and west, Thailand manages to avoid the worst extremes a monsoon climate can dish out. Although it's decidedly moist here, sunshine is widespread, especially in winter, which is almost rain-free across the country. Even during summer, a given day has roughly even odds of staying dry, outside of the […]

Weather: Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan

Almost half of Tajikistan sits more than 3000m/9900ft above sea level. What's distinctive about the desolate highlands of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan is how dry they are. Pinched off from the Indian monsoon by the Himalayas and Tibetan plateau, these peaks get most of their winter snow as weak systems arrive from the west. Across the […]

Weather: Russia (including European Russia), Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia

Although its reputation precedes it, Russia's climate is extreme only after a particular fashion. There's no sugar-coating the fact that Russian winters are extremely cold. Yet much of the country enjoys warm mid-summer days that average above 20°C/68°F, and there are even a few bona fide hot spells. Thunderstorms are seldom intense outside of the […]

How winter came to Russia’s aid

Like a judo expert manipulating another's strength to his advantage, Russia learned through years of experience how to use the power of wintertime in its own defence. Would-be conquerors who extended their stay past the autumn equinox did so at their own risk, as Napoleon discovered in 1812. That September, some 400,000 of his troops […]

Weather: Philippines

Even the warm South China and Philippines Sea aren't quite enough to keep this chain of tropical islands from the effects of the Asian monsoon. While Mindanao and the southern Philippines stay warm to hot year round, Luzon (including Manila) experiences a few degrees of cooling, especially in the evening, from November to March. Winter […]

Weather: Nepal, Bhutan

The serene, snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas do more than loom over the Indian plains. During the summer, they stand firm against the southwest monsoon winds, forcing them to dump prodigious amounts of water across Nepal. The main climate differences through this zone hinge on elevation and topography, as you might expect. Particularly toward the […]

Weather: Maldives

Perhaps the most telling aspect of the Maldives' climate isn't local but global. The slow worldwide rise in sea level threatens to inundate much of this island nation within the next century. There's little high ground here: the tallest atolls barely top 2m/6ft. Since the Maldives straddle the equator, wet seasons vary, but they tend […]

Weather: Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore

Seasonality is barely a concern when planning travel to this moist equatorial country. Temperatures in Malaysia hardly deviate through the year, with highs near sea level usually in the range of 30–32°C/86–90°F, and lows around 22–25°C/72–77°F. The range drops about 6°C/11°F for every 1000m/3300ft in elevation. Rainfall is well distributed through the year, with a […]

Weather: Kazakhstan

This is the behemoth of Central Asian countries, a sprawling land that spans 40° in longitude. That's one-tenth of the way around the globe, fully twice the breadth of India. But Kazakhstan features less weather variety than you might expect across such a vast area, mainly as a result of its landlocked location. Only the […]

Weather: Japan

The hard-core seasonality of Chinese climate gets moderated on its way to the Japanese archipelago. This chain of over 4000 islands runs from the tropics to the northern mid-latitudes, so there is plenty of north-to-south contrast. However, the broad strokes are similar to China's: wintertime cold and sweaty summer heat are interspersed with distinctly rainy […]

Weather: Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands

What Indonesia lacks in longitude, it makes up for in its vast east–west spread, extending over 4800km/3000 miles (and even further if you include Papua New Guinea). The volcanic peaks of Indonesia ensure that the main temperature differences are tied to elevation. As in Malaysia, anticipate a drop of roughly 6°C/11°F for every 1000m/3300ft, with […]

Weather: India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan

As troublesome as it may be, the monsoon is a member of the family here. India simply wouldn't be the same without it. It's a dramatic sight, to be sure: after days of torrid heat and humidity, with only an occasional storm at best, the skies suddenly darken, the southwest winds kick in, and before […]

Weather: Guam

Like its neighbours in the northwest Pacific, US territory Guam keeps its eyes to the east during the summer and autumn. Few other parts of the world are at as much risk from typhoons. Many buildings are constructed like concrete bunkers to ensure that they last more than a few years. If you focus your […]

Weather: China, Mongolia, North Korea, South Korea, Taiwan, Tibet

Weather may be one reason why the philosophy of yin and yang developed in China. This ancient culture evolved in a climate rife with dualism. For starters, there's the monsoon. Less publicized than India's, this annual cycle of rain and drought is a fundamental part of life across the densely populated eastern half of the […]

Weather: Asia

To say that Asia is the world's largest, most populous continent doesn't quite do the place justice. The sheer scope of this land mass is hard to comprehend. Asia is almost twice the size of North America. You could cram five Australias – or 140 Italys – within its ample borders. On one side of […]

Weather: Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia

Much like the Sahel, but without the blazing temperatures, Zimbabwe and neighbouring Zambia feel the pulse of the ITCZ each year. Its southward push brings widespread showers, thunderstorms and clouds from December into March. The rains are most frequent (almost daily) and the clouds most persistent across Zambia, where the ITCZ is enhanced by intrusions […]

Weather: Tunisia

This tiny but diverse nation echoes the landscape and climate of Algeria in miniature: a mountain barrier separates a scenic coast from a parched interior. The east-facing shore is more vulnerable than Morocco's to cool, rainy winter storms settling down from Europe and heat from the Sahara moving north. Apart from the occasional blast-furnace days […]

Weather: Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda

Like Kenya to its north, Tanzania is blessed with delightful temperatures – largely as a result of altitude – but cursed by erratic rainfall that plays havoc with food supplies. The average rainfall does tend to run slightly higher than Kenya's; in both countries, summer drought can result when an El Nino is brewing. Most […]

Weather: South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland

Hail, tornadoes, snowstorms: at first glance the climate of South Africa seems to resemble that of the US Midwest. In reality, the extremes here are more localized and not terribly common. Sunshine and moderate warmth are actually the most prevalent features of South African climate. Jutting into the Atlantic, the southwest corner of the Western […]

Weather: Senegal, Cape Verde, The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone

This is the end-point for the east-to-west march of weather systems across the Sahel. Senegal, as well as The Gambia (which it surrounds) is where easterly waves enter the Atlantic after dousing the region with intense rain and thunder. Outside of the June-to-October visit of the ITCZ and its easterly waves, Senegal is virtually rainless. […]

Weather: Nigeria

Africa's most populous nation, Nigeria has a climate regime similar to that of the Guinea-coast nations to its west, as the ITCZ brings wet weather northward from March to May and southward from October to December. Only the extreme north is semi-arid in classic Sahel style, while parts of the lower Niger delta are drenched […]

Weather: Namibia, Angola

If it's dry land you crave, try Namibia. Featuring not one, but two types, of desert, temperatures here are still remarkably comfortable. Most of the nation is a high, sunny plateau, which keeps summer readings somewhat in check. Winter mornings are crisp, but the afternoons typically warm to well above 16°C/60°F. A stray winter shower […]

Weather: Morocco, Algeria

A Spaniard need only cross the Strait of Gibraltar to arrive in Morocco, so it naturally follows that the north coast of this mountainous nation shares a similar Mediterranean climate, with bright, warm summer days and a cool winter laced with rainy spells every two or three days. The story's much the same inland to […]

Weather: Mali, Burkina, Chad, Mauritania ,Niger

As sprawling as it is – Mali is nearly twice the size of Texas – this semi-arid country and its neighbours share a common climatic language. The yearly arrival and departure of the ITCZ and its rain is what divides the southern part of Mali from the harsher desert regime to its north. The same […]

Weather: Madagascar, Comoros, Mauritius, Reunion, Seychelles

The world's fourth largest island is a virtual rainmaking machine. Madagascar slopes upward to the east, culminating in the dramatic, forested cliffs that run the length of the island from north to south. The southeast trade winds are forced up this barrier, and the result is an average of 2000–3000mm/79–118in of rain along Madagascar's east […]

Weather: Kenya, Uganda

Generalizing about Kenyan weather is a dangerous practice. Given the highlands of the west, the semi-arid lowlands, the moist coast and the volcanic peaks of Kirinyaga and – just across the border – Kilimanjaro, distinct climate zones abound. Even climatology is of limited use, since a hallmark of Kenyan rainfall is its year-to-year variability. Much […]

Weather: Ghana, Benin, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Togo

Ghana's climate is the most distinctive among the small nations clustered along the Guinea coast of West Africa. The land is distinctive, too: huge tracts of virgin rainforest have disappeared, with more savanna than you'd expect so far south. Yet even without the hand of humanity, the ecosystem of Ghana, along with nearby Togo and […]

Weather: Ethiopia, Djibouti, Eritrea, Somalia

The horn of Africa has seen more than its share of agony, including decades of civil war and devastating drought. Visitors to Ethiopia may be surprised, then, at how agreeable its climate can be. The nation's western highlands escape both the sizzling heat of the northeast's Danakil Desert and the nonstop mugginess of the southeastern […]

Weather: Egypt, Libya, Sudan

Adaptation is the key to life in the Nile Valley, where agriculture has been sustained for millennia. Certainly, without irrigation, crops would not grow so well in the land around Cairo, where the annual rainfall average barely exceeds 20mm/0.8in. South of Egypt's north coast and populous northeast corner, the climate is relatively uniform. From early […]