The Gobi is the largest desert in Asia at approximately 1.2 million square kilometers in size. The desert is largely situated in a high basin with the Altai Mountains and Mongolian steppes to the north and the Tibetan Plateau and North China Plain to the south. The Gobi is a cold desert that can have subarctic winter temperatures but also hot summers. Due to deforestation and overgrazing, it is expanding.
The Gobi is situated in a rain shadow created by the Himalayas, which blocks most rain and snow from reaching the desert and warms the air. However, on average, it does receive just a little over 19 centimeters, or 7.6 inches, of precipitation a year. Precipitation fluctuates a great deal, and in some years, it receives no precipitation at all. The Gobi has little soil and few plants due to the low precipitation and near constant high winds that blow the soil away. It is composed largely of rock, and the term "gobi" refers to the many areas of small stones throughout the desert.
The Gobi, like most cold deserts, is characterized by long, cold winters and short, moderate summers. Much of the Gobi climate is driven by the nearly continual high winds, and most precipitation occurs during the winter as wind-blown snow off of the Himalayas. Wind speeds of up to 140 kilometers per hour, or up to 90 miles per hour, are strongest in the spring and fall. Temperature patterns are extreme with large fluctuations possible in a single day. The mean annual temperature is just under 3 degrees Celsius (37 degrees Fahrenheit).
Summer Temperature Patterns
Summer in the Gobi lasts from late May until mid-September. Average August low and high temperatures range between 9 and 23 degrees Celsius (48 to 73 degrees Fahrenheit). Daily summer temperatures vary dramatically, and a hot Gobi summer day can fluctuate dramatically from morning lows to late afternoon highs. Although summer temperatures are typically moderate in the Gobi, they can rise above 49 degrees Celsius (120+ degrees Fahrenheit) on occasion. Ulaanbaatar, the closest Mongolian city to the Gobi, records an average frost-free period of just over two months from mid-July through August.
Winter Temperature Patterns
The Gobi is a cold desert, and winters are long. Snow, if it falls, can begin as early as September. Below freezing temperatures can occur as late as July. January is the coldest month, and average January low and high temperatures range between -24 and -11 degrees Celsius (-11 to 12 degrees Fahrenheit). However, temperatures in the Gobi can drop to much more frigid temperatures, and lows can reach below -40 degrees Celsius (-40 degrees Fahrenheit).