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Around the Block: Desert

Sand as far as the eye can see!

You know what my favourite part of a meal is? Dessert. So I guess it’s no surprise that I picked desert as our featured biome this month. The two are more alike than you might think. They both look simple on the surface, but hide deep layers of complexity. They both exhibit surprising variety. And they’re both a feast for the senses.

Minecraft has featured deserts for a very long time – since the Halloween Update in October 2010, which also added the Nether, fishing, and sunrises. Since then, our developer squad has packed with them exciting things to find – like husks and, er, dead bushes.

I’m kidding. There’s a ton of cool stuff that you can find buried beneath the sands. Desert wells offer a chance to find water, as well as artefacts from lost civilizations. Villages offer a chance to trade and gather food. Desert pyramids and pillager outposts can be raided for loot (and danger). While fossils hint at the enormous creatures that once roamed the Overworld.

Despite the harsh environment, you’ll find a lot of creatures living here too. Rabbits live all over the sands, while cats, cows, sheep, pigs, and camels can be found in desert villages. At night, you’ll be assailed by creepers, skeletons, slimes, spiders, husks, endermen and witches. Cacti dot the landscape, and lava ponds are a helpful way to dispose of any items you don’t need.

Survival in a desert isn’t easy – you’ll be heavily dependent on resources brought from other biomes. But with a single sapling bought from a wandering trader, and perhaps some crops “borrowed” from a village, you’ll be good to go. Just watch out for husks – these dried-out zombies will make you hungry, and don’t burn up in the daylight like regular zombies do.

In the real world that we call Earth, deserts are a common sight anywhere that rain is infrequent. Little rain means little vegetation, and little vegetation means nothing protecting the wind and sun from eroding away the surface. Lots of erosion creates sand, which is why deserts are filled with sand!

Actually, not all deserts are filled with sand. Much of the polar regions of our planet are officially categorised as deserts because very little rain falls, and when it does it falls as snow instead. This snow sticks around because it’s so cold, turning into ice and eventually becoming glaciers (which are really just slow-moving rivers, with ice instead of water).

Just like in Minecraft, real deserts aren’t as barren as they might first appear. Many plants and animals live there, with special adaptations to cope with the harsh environment. Plants have deep root systems, and spikes to stop them being eaten by animals. Animals tend to be nocturnal, avoiding the heat of the daytime sun, and efficient at conserving water.

But the deserts might be the future of energy production on our planet. The uninterrupted sunlight makes them the perfect place to host large quantities of solar power plants – easily enough to power humankind’s entire civilization. The only difficulty is getting that power out of the deserts to where it needs to go. But we’ll solve that, right? Let’s hope so...

Duncan Geere
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Duncan Geere
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