- Date: 1652
- 1 : excessively dry; specifically : having insufficient rainfall to support agriculture
- 2 : lacking in interest and life : jejune
A region is said to be arid when it is characterized by a severe lack of available water, to the extent of hindering or even preventing the growth and development of plant and animal life. As a result, environments subject to arid climates tend to lack vegetation and are called xeric or desertic.
The expression 'available water' refers to water in the soil in excess to the wilting point. The air over a hot desert may actually contain substantial amounts of water vapor but that water may not be generally accessible to plants, except for very specialized organisms (such as some species of lichen). 'Lack of water' refers to use by plants. The water that is actually present in the environment may be sufficient for some species or usages (such as climax vegetation), and grossly insufficient for others. Aridity, the characteristic nature of an arid climate, may thus depend on the use of the land. Regards to the presence of life, what is more important than the degree of rainfall is the fraction of precipitation that is not quickly lost through evaporation or runoff. Attempts to quantitatively describe the degree of aridity of a place has often led to the development of aridity indexes. There is no universal agreement on the precise boundaries between classes such as 'hyper-arid', 'arid', 'semi-arid', etc.
If different classification schemes and maps differ in their details, there is a general agreement about the fact that large areas of the Earth are considered arid. These include the hot deserts located broadly in sub-tropical regions, where the accumulation of water is largely prevented by either low precipitations, or high evaporation, or both, as well as cold deserts near the poles, where water may be permanently locked in solid forms (snow and ice). Other arid regions include areas located in the rain shadows of major mountain ranges or along coastal regions affected by significant upwelling (such as the Atacama Desert).