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Which Is The Driest Inhabited Continent?
Question: What is the driest inhabited continent. My friend says Africa; I say Australia.
Answer: A very tough question. I would have picked Antarctica as the driest continent, but of course, you knew that and put the qualifier of inhabited continent (research teams don't count). If we look at it the other way, we can eliminate Europe and South America from the possibilities although South America has the driest area on Earth, outside the polar continent, located in Chile. North America could have a strong argument in the northern regions, but the southern areas such as Central America are quite wet. That leaves the A continents: Australia, Africa and Asia.
Now, how to decide on what criteria to use to rate them: percentage of area with precipitation less than a certain amount, total area of arid or semiarid areas, some weighted method of distributing precipitation. Or perhaps number of dry days or precipitation less evaporation potential?
Looking at the climate classification maps I would say that Australia seems to have the highest percentage of dry climates. But the Sahara is larger in area than all of Australia. And the dry interior of Asia along with the Middle East and dry areas of China and India give Asia large dry regions.
According to W.G. Kendrew in his 1961 printing of his book Climate of the Continents:
"The possibilities of the future development of Australia, which is the most arid of continents, depend largely on the vital question of rainfall... Australia is in one of the driest belts of the earth.... It thus resembles North Africa... The continent has its greatest length from east to west, as if to ensure that the maximum possible area should be subject to the most arid conditions."
Finally, the article on the climate of Australia in The Encyclopedia of Climatology gives the following facts:
I think these figures give a good case for believing the Australian continent the driest overall. So, I will say Australia.
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