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Geography /
Arabic: sahrā'

Sahara: The Grand Erg Occidental of Algeria.
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The Grand Erg Occidental of Algeria.

From the Ubari region of Libya.
The massif of Gilf Kebir of Egypt.

Sahara: The Ubari lakes of Libya.
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The Ubari lakes of Libya.

Sahara: The Agabat region of Egypt.
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The Agabat region of Egypt.

Sahara: The Hoggar massif of Algeria.
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The Hoggar massif of Algeria.

Sahara: Nouakchott, Mauritania.
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Nouakchott, Mauritania.

Sahara: Bishra Oasis in Tunisia.
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Bishra Oasis in Tunisia.

Sahara: Garden in Paris Oasis in Egypt.
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Garden in Paris Oasis in Egypt.

Sahara: Spring flowers in Matmata, Tunisia.
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Spring flowers in Matmata, Tunisia.

The Sahara, with a size of 8.6 million km², is the world's largest desert, covering large parts of North Africa. Around 4 million people live here.
Its maximum length is 4,800 km, running from west to east, and up to 1,200 km from north to south. Sahara covers most of Mauritania, Western Sahara, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Chad, Niger and Mali, and touches Morocco and Tunisia.
To the north, Sahara is bordered by the Atlas Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea; in the west by the Atlantic Ocean; in the south, the desert zone reaches 16º northern latitude; in the east it is bordered by the Nile. Still the desert continues to the east of the river until it reaches the Red Sea, but this is not considered a part of the Sahara.
Sahara is very dry but there is an annual rainfall in most regions, although just a few dozens of millimetre.
Sahara has a subtropical climate in its northern parts, and a tropical one in the south. Winters in the north are cold to cool; in the south, mild. Summers are hot all over the desert. The highest temperature every recorded is 58ºC in Aziziyah, Libya. There is very little rain in the northern parts, virtually nothing in the east, although more in the south. Most rain falls throughout the summer, followed by some scarce winter rain.
About a quarter of Sahara consists of mountains. The highest peak reaches 3415, being Emi Koussi in Chad. Some mountain peaks may even have snow in the winter. The main mountain ranges are Hoggar in Algeria; Aïr/Azbine in Niger; and Tibesti in Chad. The Sahara's lowest point lies in the Qattara Depression in Egypt, at about 130 metres below sea level.
Sand sheets and dunes represent about 25% of the Sahara; the other parts are mountains, stoney steppes and oases. Pyramidal dunes can be as high as 150 metres, while mountainous sand ridges as high as 350 metres.
There are several rivers running through the Sahara, of which the Nile River and Niger River are the only permanent ones. The rest being seasonal, involves that most of the time, there is only a dry river bed, which may carry water for brief periods following uncommon rainfalls. There may be years in between this happening.
Metallic minerals are very important to most Saharan countries. Algeria and Mauritania have several major deposits of iron ore, while smaller deposits are found in Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Western Sahara and Niger. Copper is found in Mauritania and manganese in Algeria. Small deposits of uranium are widely distributed in the Sahara, while Niger has the largest deposits. Phosphates are found in great quantities in Morocco and Western Sahara, and are already well-exploited. Algeria's phosphate production is smaller, but large enough for exports. Oil is mainly found in Algeria, and is of great importance to the economy of the entire country. While the mineral exploitation has led to economic growth in Sahara, this has rarely helped the indigenous population, as skilled workers have been brought in to the different fields.
Of the Sahara's around 4 million people, most live in Mauritania, Western Sahara, Algeria, Libya and Egypt. Dominant groups of people are Sahrawis, Tuareg and Negroids. The largest city is Nouakchott, Mauritania's capital. Other important cities are Tamanrasset in Algeria, and Sebha and Ghat in Libya.
Only 200,000 km² of Sahara are fertile oases, where dates, corn and fruits are grown. The few fertile regions today are fed by underground rivers and underground basins. Many of Sahara's oases rests in depressions (areas under sea level) allowing water to surface from underground reservoirs; artesian wells.
The soil in Sahara is low in organic matter, and often biologically inactive. The soil in depressions is often saline. Animal life is limited to gazelles, antelopes, jackals, foxes, badgers and hyena.
Other sorts of vegetation include scattered concentrations of grasses, shrubs and trees in the highlands, as well as in the oases and along river beds. Some plants are well adjusted to the climate, allowing them to germinate within 3 days of rain and sow their seeds within 2 weeks after that.
Animal life of Sahara include gerbil, jerboa, cape hare and desert hedgehog, barbary sheep, oryx, gazelle, deer, wild ass, baboon, hyena, jackal, sand fox, weasel and mongoose. The bird life counts more than 300 species.

Maximum temperatures
In Celsius
J F M A M J J A S O N D Avg.
Tamanrasset, Algeria 21 24 27 30 33 36 35 34 33 30 26 21 29
Rainfall (in mm) 2 1 0 4 5 5 4 15 12 3 3 2 56
Sebha, Libya 17 22 26 32 36 40 39 37 35 33 27 16 30
Rainfall 0 0 0 0 4 0 0 0 0 0 4 0 8
Dakhla, Egypt 22 24 28 33 37 39 39 39 36 33 28 23 32
Rainfall 0 4 6 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 15
Agadez, Niger 29 33 38 41 44 43 41 38 40 39 35 32 38
Rainfall 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Timbouctou, Mali 31 34 38 42 43 43 39 36 39 40 37 32 38
Rainfall 0 0 3 0 5 23 79 81 38 3 0 0 232
Atar, Mauritania 31 33 34 39 40 42 43 42 42 38 33 29 37
Rainfall 3 0 0 0 0 3 8 30 28 3 3 0 78

5 million years ago: Climatic changes turn the region of Sahara into a desert.
Around 5000 BCE: Climatic changes, with more rainfall over the Saharan region. Domesticated livestock appears in Sahara, leading to nomadic pastoralism.
Around 4000 BCE: First traces of agriculture.
Around 0 CE: The climate of Sahara returns mainly to desert, rather similar to modern conditions.
3rd century: Camels are introduced in Sahara, taking the place of horses. This allows a great increase in trade, but also banditry.
7th century: Islam is introduced to Sahara, but the conversion process would take almost 4 centuries, involving sometimes mild missionary activities and sometimes brutal oppression.
16th century: Climatic changes involve increased precipitation.
18th century: This is a period of gradual decline in the precipitation, involving a process in which many regions become uninhabitable, leading up to the climatic and demographic conditions of modern times.
1922: Storms and floods destroy Tamanrasset in Algeria.

By Tore Kjeilen