The Great Sandy Desert is located in the North West of Western
Australia straddling the Pilbara and southern Kimberley regions. It is
the second largest desert in Australia after the Great Victoria Desert
and encompasses an area of 284,993 square kilometres. The Gibson Desert
lies to the south and the Tanami Desert lies to the east of the Great
The Great Sandy Desert contains large ergs, often consisting of
longitudinal dunes. The Wolfe Creek meteorite impact crater is located
in the northeast.
The region is sparsely populated. The main populations consist of
Indigenous Australian communities and mining centers. The aboriginal
people of the desert fall into two main groups: the Martu in the west
and the Pintupi in the east. Linguistically, they are speakers of
multiple Western Desert Languages. Many of these indigenous people were
forcibly removed from their lands during the 20th century and relocated
to settlements such as Papunya in the Northern Territory. In recent
years, some of the original inhabitants have returned.
Rainfall is low throughout the coast and far north and is strongly
seasonal. Areas near the Kimberley have an average rainfall that
exceeds 300 mm, but is patchy. Many drought years end with a
monsoon cloud mass or tropical cyclone. Like many of Australia's
deserts, rainfall is high by desert standards, with the driest parts
recording falls little below 250 mm.
A massive evaporation rate makes up for the higher than normal
desert rainfall. This region is one which gives rise to the heat lows
which help drive the NW monsoon. Almost all rain comes from monsoon
thunderstorms, or the occasional tropical cyclone rain depression.
On average for most of the area, there are about 20–30 days
where thunderstorms form. However, in the north bordering the
Kimberley, 30-40 per year is the average.
Summer daytime temperatures are some of the hottest in Australia.
The range on the northern border near the Kimberley at Halls Creek is
around 37 to 38 °C, but this would be indicative of the low
end of the range. Regions further south average 38 to 42 °C
except when monsoonal cloud cover is active. Several people have died
in this region after their vehicles have broken down on remote tracks.
Winters are short and warm; temperatures range from 25 to