Information on Sahara Desert


Where is Sahara Desert? Information on land, people, climate, vegetation and economy on Sahara Desert.

Sahara DesertSahara Desert; the great desert of northern Africa and the largest in the world. It extends from the Atlantic Ocean on the west to the Red Sea on the east, and from the Atlas Mountains and Mediterranean Sea on the north to the savannas of the Sudan region on the south. With an area of more than 3 million square miles (8 million sq km), the Sahara is divided among the countries of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, Senegal, Libya, Egypt, and Sudan, and the territory of Spanish Sahara. Parts of the desert are known by separate names, such as the Eastern or Arabian Desert between the Nile River and the Red Sea, and the Libyan Desert along the border between Egypt and Libya.

The Sahara has an estimated population of 2 million, excluding the densely settled Nile Valley, which is usually considered apart from the surrounding desert. The principal language of the people of the Sahara is Arabic and their religion is Islam.

Land and People. The northern Sahara, from southern Morocco to Egypt, is composed of rocky plateaus (hamadas), gravel-covered plains (regs), and areas of shifting sand dunes (ergs). Oases occur wherever water is available, as along the intermittent streams that flow into the Sahara from the Atlas Mountains and at artesian springs and wells. Nomadic tribes graze sheep and goats in the desert during the period of winter rains, but during the dry summer most of the nomads move north to the Atlas Mountains or high plateaus.

Contrasts in landforms, peoples, and oases have led to the recognition of distinctive areas. For example, the Mzab region in Algeria is inhabited by people of Berber origin, who comprise a sect of Islam and live in cities located on rocky hills or mesas. Nearby is the Souf, where date palms are planted in basins scooped out of loose sand and the people are mostly of Arab origin. The Fezzan, in southern Libya, is a large basin of gravel (reg) surface, and its people, the Fezzanis, maintain a separate tradition. Cyrenaica, in northeastern Libya, is a rocky plateau with coastal settlements and interior pasturages, and is the home of the Sanusi people.

The central part of the Sahara, in southern Algeria and along Libya’s borders with Niger and Chad, consists of high plateaus and mountains. The major uplands of this region are the Ahaggar, Air, and Tibesti mountains. The latter region has the highest peaks of the Sahara, including the extinct volcano Emi Koussi, which rises to a height of 11,204 feet (3,415 meters). The Ahaggar and Air regions are inhabited mainly by Tuaregs, while the Tibesti mountains are occupied by a Negroid people, the Tebu.

The southern Sahara, from Mauritania across the Lake Chad region to the northern part of the Republic of Sudan, consists of low plateaus and broad plains. Date palms are found only in rare spots. One of the few resources is salt, which is mined at Taoudeni and Bilma. Nomads graze goats and cattle on the southern margins of the desert during the season of summer rains, migrating south during the dry winter. The peoples are mostly of mixed Hamitic and Negro origin, but certain Saharan areas in West Africa have predominately Tuareg or Arab populations.

Climate and Vegetation. Arid climate and sparse vegetation are characteristic features of the Sahara. In central parts precipitation averages less than 1 inch (25 mm) a year, but it increases to more than 5 inches (125 mm) along the outer margins. It is one of the world’s hottest areas, with mean annual temperatures reaching over 100° F (38° C) in some places.

In the interior, rainfall is so light and rare that forage for camels or goats is available only at intervals, and the nomadic population is very sparse and mobile. In the extremely dry Tanez-rouft region of southern Algeria, vegetation is entirely absent and there are neither oases nor nomads. In more favored spots, wells and springs provide water for the date palms, barley fields, and vegetable gardens of the oases. The margins of the Sahara, with seasons of light rain, support a nomadic population.

Economy. From the 10th century to the close of the 19th century, trans-Saharan camel caravans crossed the desert to trade. They carried cloth and other manufactured goods from the cities of Barbary—such as Marrakech, Constantine, and Tripoli—to Sudanese centers—such as Timbuktu and Kano—and returned with cargoes of gold, leather, and slaves. Camels are still widely used for local trade and travel, but trans-Saharan transportation is now provided mostly by trucks and airplanes.

The Sahara has been found to be rich in minerals. It is a major source of oil, especially in parts of Libya and Algeria. Iron ore is mined in Mauritania. The Saharan region is also a principal source of natural gas.

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