The Geography of the Arabian Peninsula

The Arabian Peninsula is the largest peninsula in the world. Arabia lies at the crossroads of Asia (of which it is a part) and Africa, which it faces across the Red Sea. The Persian Gulf lies along its eastern coast.

In the north, Arabia borders the Syrian Desert, which was crossed by caravans headed into Mesopotamia. Thus Arabia is an important land bridge connecting continents and cultures. Oil was not discovered in Arabia until the 1930s.

Temperatures throughout Arabia are high, reaching up to 130°F, and in most areas there is little rainfall. The Arabian Peninsula has few permanent lakes or rivers.

In some parts of the peninsula there are predictable rainfalls, which are influenced by the monsoon winds that bring rainfall to India. Water running down from the mountainous areas can be tapped many miles away by digging canals or wells. A central plateau has fertile valleys and enough rainfall to support the grazing of sheep, goats, and camels.

The Hijaz –– home to Islam’s holy cities of Mecca and Medina –– borders the northern coast of the Red Sea. The Hijaz is home to wadis and oases that draw on underground springs.

The most fertile areas of Arabia are the low-lying lands along the Persian Gulf. The peninsula’s highest peaks are in Yemen. Moisture rises from the surrounding waters up along the mountain ranges and condenses, bringing up to five inches of rainfall a year. It is possible to grow numerous products including coffee, frankincense, barley, wheat, lentils, ginger, and fruit.

Plants throughout the deserts of Arabia adapt by growing small spiny leaves instead of bigger leaves that would shrivel in the heat. Cacti survive by storing water. Other types of grasses spring to life when it rains and quickly wilt, after dropping sturdy seeds into the soil that survive until the next rainfall.

Animals also survive in the desert by adapting to the climate. Hedgehogs, rodents, and hares burrow underground during the intense daytime heat to survive. Cold-blooded lizards survive by carefully managing their body temperature and retaining water efficiently. Larger animals have adapted to require little or no drinking water. Predators such as foxes, desert lynxes, hyenas, and jackals take moisture from their prey, while herbivores like gazelles take moisture from the plants they consume.

The animal most important to human survival in the desert is the Arabian camel, or dromedary. Camels eat thorny plants and can drink thirty gallons of water at a time. They can vary their body temperatures to avoid sweating, and their single hump stores fat that can be broken down into energy when water and food are not available. Camels can go for a month or more without drinking.

Source: The Geography of the Arabian Peninsula
By Joan Brodsky Schur

Back to top