Syrian and Arabian Deserts
By Ethan Gelber
Dominating the southwestern edge of the Asian continent, two deserts of distinctly different character are a formidable barrier between the Asian steppe and the Mediterranean. The Syrian Desert is an arid rocky wasteland covering northern Saudi Arabia, eastern Jordan, southern Syria, and western Iraq. Formed by lava flows, the rock and gravel steppe is utterly barren, but crossed today by oil pipelines. In the south, a nomad-inhabited desert mountainous region known as Al-Hammad gives way to the great Arabian Desert. Famous in film as an endless blur of sand and terra cotta—colored plains, black lava flows, and red-tinted dunes, the Arabian Desert is unmistakable. Although hard to discern and despite the endless sand-swirling winds, there is life in this desert. Only the Rub' al-Khali, Arabic for the "Empty Quarter," is truly deserted. The largest uninterrupted sand-covered spread on the earth and one of the driest regions in the world, the Rub' al-Khali occupies most of the central southern Arabian Peninsula. In 1948, Al-Ghawar, the world's largest oil field, was discovered here.