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Everything You Need to Know About the Sahara Desert

After the icy deserts of Antarctica and the Arctic, the Sahara is the world’s biggest hot desert and the third largest desert overall. One of the hardest places on Earth, the Sahara spans roughly a third of the African continent and covers an area equivalent to the size of the United States (including Alaska and Hawaii) at 3.6 million square miles (9.4 million square kilometers).

The Sahara is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the west, the Red Sea to the east, the Mediterranean Sea to the north, and the Sahel savanna to the south. The enormous desert spans around  10 countries  which are consist of Chad, Libya, Algeria, Egypt, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Sudan, Niger, and Tunisia) as well as the territory of Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony that was annexed by Morocco in 1975, though control of the region is disputed by the Indigenous Saharawi people.

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Geographical Understanding

Despite having a wide range of geographical features, the Sahara desert is mainly known for its sand dunes, which are frequently shown in motion pictures. The dunes, which may reach heights of about 600 feet (183 meters), make up around 25% of the whole desert. Mountains, plateaus, plains covered in sand and gravel, salt flats, basins, and depressions are some more topographical characteristics. At 11,204 feet (3,415 meters) above sea level, the Emi Koussi volcano, which is now extinct in Chad, is the highest point in the Sahara. The Qattara Depression, located in northwest Egypt, is the lowest point in the Sahara, at 436 feet (133 meters) below sea level.

Even though there isn’t much water in the overall region, the Sahara has two permanent rivers—the Nile and the Niger—at least 20 seasonal lakes, and massive aquifers that serve as the main water supplies for more than 90 significant desert oasis. Water management officials formerly believed that the aquifers in the Sahara were “fossil aquifers,” or water reserves that formed in the distant past under distinct geological and climatic conditions. They were also afraid that exploitation would cause these resources to soon run out. 


The Sahara is home to a wide variety of plant and animal species, despite its severe, dry climate. The Sahara is home to over 500 plant species, 70 animal species, 90 bird species, 100 reptile species, and many kinds of minute arthropods, including spiders and scorpions. Despite having North American ancestry, the camel is one of the most recognizable creatures of the Sahara. According to a 2015 study published in the Research Journal of Agriculture and Environmental Management, the ancestors of modern camels first appeared approximately 45 million years ago. The large mammals ultimately found their way to the African continent by heading across the Bering isthmus between 3 million and 5 million years ago. 

Camels, sometimes referred to as the “ships of the desert,” are well suited to the hot, dry climate of the Sahara. A camel’s rear humps contain fat, which it may use for intermissions as a source of energy and liquids. Camels can survive for several months without food and for over a week without water because of how well they store energy. Gazelles, addaxes (a kind of antelope), cheetahs, caracals, desert foxes, and wild dogs are some of the other mammals that call the Sahara home. The desert habitat is also home to a wide variety of reptiles, such as lizards, snakes, and, in areas with sufficient water, crocodiles. According to the Sahara Conservation Fund, the Sahara is also home to a number of arthropod species, including “deathstalker” scorpions, dung beetles, scarab beetles, and several kinds of ants.

Plant species in the Sahara have adapted to the dry climate by developing deep-rooted roots that extend underground in search of hidden water sources and leaves with spines that reduce moisture loss. While the driest regions of the desert are entirely devoid of vegetation, oasis regions, like the Nile Valley, are home to a wide range of plants, such as date palms, olive trees, and other shrubs and grasses.

Also Read: Deserts of the United States

Unheard Facts About the Sahara

Many little-known facts about the Sahara Desert exist, underscoring its singular and complex character. It is commonly portrayed through its recognizable sand dunes and vast, desolate landscapes. In actuality, only roughly 20% of the Sahara’s area is made up of sand dunes, unlike what the general public believes. The hamadas, or rocky plateaus; the regs, or gravelly plains; and the vast arid valleys comprise much of the desert.

The Sahara’s past climatic fluctuation is one fascinating feature. The Sahara was a lush, vegetated area with plenty of water sources thousands of years ago. About 10,000 to 5,000 years ago, during the African Humid Period, the desert was peppered with enormous lakes and home to a wide variety of flora and wildlife, such as giraffes, hippos, and elephants. This lush Sahara is attested to by the cave paintings and rock art found in locations such as Tassili n’Ajjer in Algeria, which portray scenes from daily life as well as human figures and animals.

One of the desert’s distinctive geological characteristics is the Richat Structure, also referred to as the “Eye of the Sahara.” Approximately 50 kilometers in diameter, this remarkable circular structure in Mauritania is visible from orbit. It is thought to have resulted from geological uplift and erosion, not from an impact by an asteroid. It stands out as a highlight among the typically monotonous desert stretches because of its concentric circles.

The Sahara is home to an unexpectedly large number of subterranean aquifers, despite its dry surroundings. These ancient water reserves, which were created during wetter climatic times, are essential to the continued existence of life in the desert. These aquifers supply essential water supplies for agriculture and human habitation in oases like the Siwa Oasis in Egypt and the Libyan Desert. The discovery of prehistoric fossils in the Sahara, which indicates that a variety of dinosaurs formerly called the region home, is another amazing truth. In places like Morocco’s Kem Kem Beds, fossils of dinosaurs like Spinosaurus and Carcharodontosaurus have been found, suggesting that the desert was once a vibrant home for these extinct animals.

Because of its harsh environment, the Sahara is a great place for several types of scientific study. For instance, astrobiology research and equipment testing for space missions are conducted in its hyper-arid regions, such as the Tanezrouft Basin. The circumstances in the desert are similar to those on Mars, which offers important lessons for upcoming trips to the Red Planet. In addition, despite its reputation for intense heat, the Sahara occasionally receives snowfall. In locations like Ain Sefra, Algeria, where the desert sands were covered in snow, producing an eye-catching and bizarre scene, this unique occurrence has been documented.

Climate and Environment

The Sahara is now covered in a parched, hostile desert. But every 20,000 years, it alternates between a severe desert and other extreme—a verdant oasis. They discovered that the subtle variations in Earth’s axis tilt, which also influence monsoon activity, correlated with the cycle between a dry and a green Sahara. The Northern Hemisphere got more sunlight when Earth’s axis inclined it only one degree closer to the sun—roughly 24.5 degrees as opposed to today’s 23.5 degrees—which enhanced the monsoon rains and allowed the Sahara to grow lush and green.

Prehistoric rock paintings, cave paintings, and other archaeological artifacts have been found by archaeologists, providing insight into the way of life in the formerly verdant Sahara. Pottery fragments indicate that herders gathered vegetation and kept cattle in what is today a barren desert about 7,000 years ago.

But the Sahara’s climate has remained largely constant and dry for the last 2,000 years or more. Warm winds are directed toward the equator by the northeastern winds, which remove moisture from the air above the desert. Extremely high winds can result in strong dust storms that completely block up visibility in the surrounding area. Trade winds carry Saharan dust all the way to the other side of the world.

The Dark Side of the Sahara Desert

The Sahara Desert has a darker side highlighted by severe environmental issues, difficult living circumstances, and geopolitical instability, while being idealized for its enormous dunes and magnificent views. Both human and animal life are seriously threatened by the harsh environment. The climate is unfriendly since daytime highs of over 50°C (122°F) are common and nighttime lows can reach below freezing. A major problem is the lack of fresh water due to the desert’s extreme aridity and average yearly rainfall of less than 25 mm (1 inch), which makes it difficult for the small population to survive.

The health and well-being of humans are significantly impacted by severe environments. Heat-related ailments, such as dehydration and heatstroke, are frequent and can be deadly if left untreated. In addition to impairing hydration, a lack of water also erodes sanitation and hygiene, raising the risk of illness. Another serious issue is malnutrition, which is made worse by how hard it is to grow food in such dry conditions.

Living in the Sahara is made more difficult by geopolitical concerns. Political unrest and conflict, including armed banditry, terrorism, and insurgencies, plague many areas of the desert. There has been a lot of turbulence in countries like Mali, Niger, and Libya, which has made some locations dangerous for both locals and visitors. The vast, uncontrolled areas of the desert serve as havens for terrorist organizations, making it more difficult for national and international authorities to impose security and order.

Financial difficulties are also common. The few readily available natural resources, such as minerals and oil, are frequently exploited by outside parties, with little profit accruing to the local populace. Furthermore, infrastructural development and economic growth are extremely costly and challenging due to the distant and harsh circumstances of the Sahara. Due to their limited chances for growth, many Saharan communities live in poverty as a result of their economic marginalization. The prospects for the Sahara are increasingly clouded by environmental deterioration. Climate change and irresponsible land use practices are contributing to desertification, which is encroaching on arable land and endangering ecosystems as it spreads farther and wider across the desert. Communities are uprooted and forced to migrate, and food and water insecurity is made worse by this process. The scant flora in the desert is being stripped for fuel, and animal overgrazing is causing soil erosion, further endangering the delicate environment.

Smuggling and human trafficking are widespread in the Sahara, taking advantage of the area’s isolated and ungoverned areas. When trying to traverse the desert into Europe, migrants and refugees frequently become victims of human trafficking, where they are subjected to cruel treatment, abuse, and occasionally even death. These hazardous expeditions highlight the danger and desperation involved in surviving in some of the world’s most hostile places. Therefore, the Sahara Desert has many dark and hazardous sides that have a significant impact on both its natural and human environments, hidden under its austere beauty.

Also Read: Deserts in India


The Sahara Desert is an area of striking contrasts and subtle intricacies due to its immense extent and harsh weather. It has varied landscapes, old geological structures, and a history of climate changes that formerly sustained luxuriant ecosystems, in addition to its famous sand dunes. The Sahara’s unusual characteristics offer important insights for scientific investigation, and despite its severe climate, life is sustained by subsurface oases and aquifers. 

The mystery of the desert is increased by its rich ancient past, geopolitical difficulties, and sporadic, unusual events like snowfall. Recognizing the Sahara’s diversity highlights both its problems and its continuing appeal. It also illustrates the delicate balance between the region’s lively history and the intimidation of the desert is increased by its rich ancient past, geopolitical difficulties, and sporadic, unusual events like snowfall.


Which Nation is Home to the Sahara Desert?

Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Western Sahara, Sudan, and Tunisia are the ten nations that make up the Sahara desert. The Sahara desert is made up of sand dunes, rocky plateaus, mountains, salt flats, and arid valleys.

Why is Sahara Well-known?

With one of the toughest climates in the world, the Sahara is the world’s hottest desert. The highest temperature ever recorded was 58°C, while the average yearly temperature is 30°C.

Which Desert is the Biggest in the World?

With a land area of 14.2 million square kilometers (5.5 million square miles), Antarctica is the biggest desert on Earth. In addition, it is the planet’s coldest desert—even colder than the Arctic, the other polar desert. 

Why is the Sahara So Dry?

Because of the little amount of rainfall it receives, the Sahara is a desert. The location of the area means that it receives less rainfall.

What is the Oldest Desert in the World?

The oldest desert on Earth is thought to be the Namib Desert in southwest Africa. It also produces some of the highest dunes on Earth. The Namib Sand Sea, a region of the desert covering 34,000 square kilometers (13,000 square miles) of coastal Namibia, is home to several of the tallest dunes.

Oleksandra Mamchii

Working as a academic lead at Best Diplomats.

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