The Sahara is the world's second largest desert (second to Antarctica), over 9,000,000 km²,
located in northern Africa and is 2.5 million years old. The entire land area of the United
States of America would fit inside it. Its name, Sahara, is an English pronuciation of the word
for desert in Arabic.
The boundaries of the Sahara are the
Atlantic Ocean on the west, the Atlas
Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea
on the north, the Red Sea and Egypt
on the east, and the Sudan and the
valley of the River Niger on the south.
The Sahara is divided into western
Sahara, the central Ahaggar
Mountains, the Tibesti massif, the Aïr
Mountains (a region of desert
mountains and high plateaus), Tenere
desert and the Libyan desert (the
most arid region). The highest peak in the Sahara is Emi Koussi (3415 m) in the Tibesti
Mountains in northern Chad.
The Sahara divides the continent into North and Sub-Saharan Africa. The southern border of
the Sahara is marked by a band of semiarid savanna called the Sahel; south of the Sahel lies
the lusher Sudan.
Humans have lived on the edge of the desert for almost 500,000 years. During the last ice
age, the Sahara was a much wetter place, much like East Africa, than it is today. Over 30,000
petroglyphs (fossils) of river animals such as crocodiles survive in total with half found in the
Tassili n'Ajjer in southeast Algeria. Fossils of dinosaurs have also been found here. The
modern Sahara, though, is generally devoid of vegetation, except in the Nile Valley and at a
few oases and in some scattered mountains and has been this way since about 3000 BC.
2.5 million people live in the Sahara, most of
these in Mauritania, Morocco and Algeria.
Dominant groups of people are the Tuareg-Berber,
the Sahrawis, Moors, and different black African
ethnicities including the Tubu, the Nubians, the
Zaghawas and the Kanuri. The largest city is
Nouakchott, Mauritania's capital. Other important
cities are Tamanrasset, Algeria; Timbuktu, Mali;
Agadez, Niger; Ghat, Libya; and Faya, Chad.
Did You know??
• sand dunes can reach heights of up to 300m
• sand covers less than 20 per cent of the world's desert areas
• dust from the Sahara has occasionally been carried as far afield as the UK and Germany
• the Sahara Desert accounts for around 8 per cent of the world's land area
• there are an estimated 1,200 species of plant to be found in the Sahara
• in the last 50 years the Sahara has spread south to cover an extra 65 million hectares