Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Terrain Training Tuesday: The Desert Part 1

Survival Kit top up: anything that can be used to catch and store water, a mirror for signalling (or merely for annoying your companions should you have them)and one of those cool silver light weight blankets to stay warm and cosy at night.  The grenade featured in the picture below is optional...

The Desert, while it evokes the endless horizon of sand dunes that waver in the intense heat, there are actually five basic terrains:
  • Mountainous (High Altitude)
  • Rocky plateau.
  • Sand dunes.
  • Salt marshes.
  • Broken, dissected terrain.
Desert terrain tends to make movement difficult and demanding. Land navigation can be extremely difficult as there may be very few landmarks. Cover and concealment can also be very limited making the threat of exposure to the enemy very real.

Mountain Deserts
Scattered ranges of barren mountains separated by dry, flat basins characterize mountain deserts. Most of the infrequent rainfall occurs on high ground and runs off rapidly, generally as flash floods. The water rapidly evaporates, leaving the land as barren as before, except for the occasional bit of short-lived vegetation. If enough water enters one of the formed basins to compensate for the rate of evaporation, shallow lakes may develop, such as the Dead Sea, however most of these lakes have a high salt content.

Rocky Plateau Deserts
Rocky plateau deserts have relatively slight relief interspersed with extensive flat areas with quantities of solid or broken rock at or near the surface. There may be steep-walled, eroded valleys and although their flat bottoms may be superficially attractive as assembly areas, the narrower valleys can be extremely dangerous due to flash flooding after rains. Good times.

Sand or Dune Deserts
The classic sand or dune deserts are extensive areas covered with sand or gravel, with some areas containing sand dunes that are over 300 meters high and up to 24 kms long. Mobility in such terrain will depend on the windward or leeward slope of the dunes and the texture of the sand. Plant life may vary from none to scrub over 2 meters high.

Salt Marshes
Salt marshes are flat, desolate areas, sometimes studded with clumps of grass but devoid of most other vegetation. The salty crust can be anywhere between 2.5 to 30 cms thick forms over the saltwater. They occur in arid areas where rainwater has collected, evaporated, and left large deposits of alkali salts and water with a high salt concentration. The water is so salty it is undrinkable.  These areas usually support many insects, most of which bite. Avoid salt marshes if you can, simple as that, otherwise it is a perfect place to build a secret hideout away from interfering goodie two shoes as this type of terrain is highly corrosive to boots, clothing, and skin.

Broken Terrain
All arid areas contain broken terrain. Rainstorms erode soft sand and carve out canyons from this terrain. These may range from 3 meters wide and 2 meters deep to several hundred meters wide and deep. The direction it takes varies as much as its width and depth. It twists and turns and forms a mazelike pattern. It will give you good cover and concealment, but do not try to move through it because it is very difficult terrain to negotiate.

Next week, we all know the importance of keeping up your fluids but there is one question that survival experts still argue over to this very day: Do you drink your own urine?  Stay tuned.

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