The Sahara Desert Guide & Interesting Facts

Trip to the Sahara Desert (Erg Chebbi)

The Sahara is the largest hot desert in the world and the second hottest desert after the Lut desert in Iran. It occupies approximately 10 percent of the African Continent including Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Sudan and Tunisia. Hence, the history of the Sahara is as interesting as it sounds.

Below are some of the most interesting facts to know about the Sahara desert which are worth digging into.

Erg Chigaga, Sahara desert, Morocco.

General Information

Geography

The Sahara Desert stretches from 3,500,000 square miles (9,000,000 km2) southward to about 17° north of the Equator. The Sahara is one of the hottest places on Earth (but the Lut desert in Iran is the hottest) and the Sahara Desert temperatures may rise to 136 F (57.7 C).

As the world’s largest hot desert, the Sahara receives less than three inches (7.6 cm) of rain a year. Even the scarcity of water and high temperatures one can witness a varied and typical kind of the Flora & Fauna in the Sahara.

The desert covers most of Mauritania, Western Sahara, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Chad, Niger and Mali, and touches Morocco and Tunisia. Its sand dunes make up about 15% of the desert (erg), rocky plains (hamada) comprise another 70% and the remainder 15% consists of limestone and shale plateaus (serir or reg).

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 16 deg northern latitude and 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.

Climate

The Sahara’s climate consists of basically two sub-climates, a dry subtropical climate in the north and a dry tropical climate in the south. The dry tropical climate is generally characterized by mild, dry winters, a hot dry season just before the rainy season, and an annual temperature cycle.

The dry subtropial climate is characterized by annually high temperature ranges with cold winters, hot summers and two rainy seasons (yes, it does rain in the Sahara desert). Winters in the north are cold to cool, in the south, mild. Summers are hot all over the desert. There is a narrow strip in the western portion of the Sahara, along the coast, which generally has cool temperatures compared to the rest of the Sahara because of the influence of the cold ocean currents.

Precipitation

Extreme dryness is one of the Sahara’s chief characteristics. Except in a few of the higher mountainous areas, the average annual rainfall nowhere exceeds 5 inches (130 mm). Some areas may have no rain for several years and then receive 5 inches or more. The chief cause of the Sahara’s dryness is the northeast trade winds, which blow toward the Equator all year. In the highest peaks when precipitation occurs in winter with temperatures below freezing it can even snow.

Daytime and nighttime temperatures

Daytime temperatures, especially in summer, are among the hottest in the world, highs of more than 100° F (38° C) are common. Because the air is so dry and has so few clouds, the temperature drops quickly after sunset. Differences of as much as 50° F (28° C) between day and night occur regularly, the average low temperature at night in the Sahara desert is 25°F (-4°C).

Wildlife

Being a really harsh environment and one of the hottest desert on Earth, the Sahara plants and animals species have managed to survive with notable adaptations. The soil in Sahara is low in organic matter, and often biologically inactive.

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.

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Animal life is limited to gazelles, antelopes, jackals, foxes, badgers, hyena, gerbil, jerboa, cape hare and desert hedgehog, barbary sheep, oryx, gazelle, deer, wild ass, baboon, hyena, jackal, sand fox, weasel and mongoose. There are also more than 300 species of bird.

Tourism

This huge and serene desert also offers some of the finest and popular tourist attractions and activities. Namely a visit to the Sahara Desert Oasis and Hot Springs will provide a unique unforgettable lifetime experience.

The Sahara desert safari offers some very thrilling activity like the Sahara Desert Camping. By visiting the Sahara Museums one can explore all about the Tribes & Culture of Sahara. The Sahara desert sunset offers visitors some of the finest breathtaking views. The most popular Sahara Desert Mountains and the natives that reside around its vicinity are few of the best subjects to be explored during your visit in the Sahara.

Facts about the Sahara

  • The Sahara desert is the second largest desert in the world, after Antarctica, and the largest hot desert in the world.
  • Arabic is the most widely spoken language in the Sahara region, from the Atlantic to the Red Sea.
  • The desert is home to around 500 species of flora and quite a few animal species. This place has mainly nomadic tribes which move from place to place in search of better living conditions.
  • Covering almost all the parts of Northern Africa the desert stretches from the Red Sea and includes parts of the Mediterranean coasts to the outskirts of the Atlantic Ocean. The southward region is limited by the Sahel, a belt of semi-arid tropical savanna separating it from Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Sahara is divided into Western Sahara, Central Ahaggar Mountains, Tibesti Mountains, Air Mountains, Tenere Desert and Libyan Desert which is known as the most arid region here.
  • Despite being known as a sandy desert, 70% of the Sahara is actually a rocky desert or hammada.
  • Rocky regions with varied elevation, the desert comprises of underground rivers that sometime penetrate the surface, creating beautiful oasis. The desert sand dunes reach a height of about 180 meters.
  • The central region of Sahara desert is elevated, with peaks such as Emi Koussi and Tahat. The peaks in the desert are snowcapped during the winter. Yes, it snows in the Sahara desert!
  • The climate of Sahara desert is the harshest and during the day, it is very hot, while night brings along chill. The prevailing north-easterly wind often causes the sand to form sand storms here on a large scale. Rainfall here is only 8 inches per annum and hence the population is just 2 million.
  • The Sahara desert is one of the most dangerous deserts in the world, but its dangers are often linked to human activity rather than to the desert itself.

Camel riding in the Sahara desert. Merzouga, Morocco.

F.A.Q.s

Do people live in the Sahara desert?

Around 4 million people live in the Sahara and most of them live in Mauritania, Western Sahara, Algeria, Libya and Egypt. There are obviously large cities and settlements in the more vegetated areas closest to the sea, but many nomadic groups live in the desert itself. Dominant groups of people are Sahrawi’s, Tuareg and Negroid’s.

Only 200,000 km² of Sahara are fertile oases, where dates, corn and fruits in the Sahara 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.

Why is it called Sahara desert?

Sahara literally means “desert” in Arabic. To be more specific it is called Sahara after the word “ṣaḥrā” and its plural form “ṣaḥārā” is what is commonly accepted in English as the name of this desert. In Arabic, the Sahara is actually referred to as Al-Ṣaḥrāʾ al-Kubrā, which stands for “the Great Desert”.

Is the Sahara desert growing?

Yes, the Sahara desert is getting bigger and bigger every year. Unfortunately, this is a process known as desertification that can be linked to global warming and climate change.

The Sahara desert has been expanding by more than 7,600sq km a year over the past century and is now 10% larger in size than it was in 1920. This expansion is threatening the so-called “green lung” of Central Africa where vegetation may be gradually be replaced by sand dunes, due to the increasingly drier and hotter climate.

What temperature is the Sahara desert at night?

Temperature at night often falls below freezing, with an average of 25°F (-4°C). This means there can be more than 50° F (28° C) difference in temperature between day and night.

Read also: How to survive in the Sahara

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