It’s March in Death Valley, California, and the snow-capped peaks of the Panamint Range sparkle against the deep blue sky. And below those mountains, a dry expanse of desert usually stretches out as far as the eye can see. But now something is very different: a vast lake of water has mysteriously emerged in one of the driest places on Earth.
From Africa’s sprawling Sahara to Asia’s vast Gobi, deserts make up around a third of the landmass on planet Earth. And, technically, “desert” can be used to describe any region that experiences minimal rainfall throughout the year. Understandably, then, the word tends to make us think of hot, arid and inhospitable places – and in most cases, that’s an accurate stereotype.
For example, researchers in Libya once reported a world record of 136 °F in the Sahara, although said measurement has since been disputed. Outside of the polar regions, meanwhile, the driest place on Earth is the Atacama Desert in South America. In some parts of this plateau, the average rainfall is as low as 0.04 inches a year.