Desertification is a serious threat to human development and sustainability. This process is characterized by land degradation over areas with dry sub-humid, semiarid and arid climate. In this work, climate susceptibility to desertification was identified for the state of Rio de Janeiro (SRJ), Brazil, the third most populated state in the country. The state is characterized by complex topography, and diverse climate and land uses. Two formulations for the aridity index were used: I a , defined by Thornthwaite (1948, Geographical Review, 38(1), 55-94) and Penman (1953, Horticultural Congress, 2, 913-924), and D, a modification of I a by Hare (1983, Climate and Desertification: A Revised Analysis, Geneva: World Meteorological Organization). Both estimates of the aridity require annual rainfall and potential evapotranspiration, which were calculated from the climatological water balance using times series of rainfall and air temperature (1961-2010) from 98 stations over the SRJ. Annual rainfall, evapotranspiration, water deficit and the aridity indices were then spatially interpolated over a 5 × 5-km grid using a spline tension method. Both indices agree on the driest regions of the SRJ: Norte and Baixada Litorânea, near the northern coast, both under sub-humid and semi-arid climate. The index I a indicated susceptibility to desertification over 2,305 km 2 on the Norte and Baixada Litorânea regions, which correspond to 5% of SRJ area; similarly, the index D classified a smaller area over the Norte region under desertification (431 km 2). These subregions, among the others also considered in this study, are of great importance for the agricultural, forestry and tourism industries and contribute immensely to the economic development of the state. Hence, the evaluation of susceptibility to desertification in those areas is essential to help prevent further land degradation and support policies formulation on long-term sustainable management of land and water resources, especially under regional and global climate change scenarios. The methodology used in this work can be applied to studies of desertification in other regions of the world.