It spans 3.6 million square miles (9.4 million square kilometers) across most of Northern Africa. That is roughly 10% of the continent. The desert connects many countries, covering large sections of Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Western Sahara, Sudan and Tunisia.
The Sahara is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on the western edge, the Atlas Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea to the north, the Red Sea on the east, and Sudan and the valley of the Niger River on the south.
Most of the Sahara desert is made up of rocky Hamada, a type of desert landscape that has very little sand and is made up of primarily barren, hard, rocky plateaus. The sand dunes that make up the rest of the Saharan landscape continually move on a daily basis due to strong sand storms that occur regularly. These sand dunes can peak at heights of 590 feet (180 meters).
With the exception of the Nile River (one of the largest rivers in the world), the Sahara’s rivers and streams are seasonal. The Nile crosses the desert from central Africa filters out into the Mediterranean.
The annual rainfall in the Sahara is below 2.5 cm (25 mm) per year. This is a result of a monsoon that moved south (around the year 3400 BCE), where it is today and the desert again dried out to the state it is in today. In addition, the presence of the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) in the southern Sahara Desert prevents moisture from reaching the area, while storms north of the desert stop before reaching it as well.
All this adds up to make the Sahara one of the hottest and driest regions in the world. The average annual temperature for the desert is 86°F (30°C) but during the hottest months temperatures can exceed 122°F (50°C), with the highest temperature ever recorded at 136°F (58°C) in Aziziyah, Libya.
ANIMALS OF THE SAHARA DESERT
Even though the Sahara spans such a large distance, animal and plants life is sparse, with only the species that have adapted to this harsh environment being able to survive. There is around 500 plant species that live in the Sahara, and these consist mainly of drought resistant plants that can deal with high levels of salt. These plants only occur where there is sufficient moisture.
In the central and driest part of the Sahara desert there are around 70 different animal species, 20 of which are large mammals like the spotted hyena. Other mammals include the gerbil, sand fox and Cape hare. Reptiles like the sand viper and the monitor lizard are present in the Sahara as well. The smaller animals such as the jerboa burrow under the sand to keep cool.
Jackals and several types of hyenas are among the carnivores that roam the Sahara. Weighing less than 3 pounds (1.4 kg), the Mall Fennec Fox is another carnivore that makes its home in tunnels in the sand dunes during the day to keep cool and comes out at night to prey on the rodents.
Camels are not native to the Sahara desert like many people believe; they were introduced to the desert around 200 A.D. They have many advantages over horses that they replaced; these include soft feet that are aligned so that they can move quickly and easily through sand and their ability to go for up to 17 days without food or water. These Camels are used by nomads of the desert for transportation, and without these nomads leading them through the desert; they would not be able to find their way out alone.