25 Interesting facts About the Sahara Desert

  1. The Sahara is the largest hot desert and the third largest desert in the world after two polar deserts (Antarctica and the Arctic). It spans 11 countries of this region.
  2. This desert covers almost the entire northern Africa except small areas in the north with a Mediterranean climate. It borders the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlas Mountains in the north, the Red Sea in the East, the Atlantic Ocean in the west, and the Sahel (a semiarid region) in the south.
  3. The Sahara Desert is primarily rocks, limestones, and sandstones, while the sand covers only 25% of its surface. Several dunes can reach up to 500 feet, while the height of ergs (sand seas) can be 1000 feet. 
  4. The summit of Mount Koussi (11,204 feet) in Chad is the highest point in the Sahara Desert. The lowest point in this desert is the Qattara Depression (436 feet below sea level) in Egypt.
  5. According to the latest research, the Sahara Desert formed around 7 million years ago after the drying of this region because of tectonic plate movement. This event affected the ancestors of human beings, plants, and animals in the region. (Source)
  6. In the past 800,000 years, the Sahara Desert changed its environment between arid and green in a cycle of 21,000 years. The primary driver of this cycle is a change in the Earth’s orbit around the sun. The humid period did not happen during the ice ages because large glacial ice sheets suppressed the African monsoon system. (Source)
  7. The latest arid period of the Sahara started nearly 10,000 years ago. However, this transition from humid to dry period happened rapidly between 8,000 and 4,500 years ago compared to previous cycles. Scientists consider that overgrazing of grasses by human-introduced goats and cattle caused this acceleration. (Source)
  8. The Sahara Desert receives plenty of sunlight throughout the year, while the eastern Sahara Desert is the sunniest place on Earth. The average sunshine in this area is 4,300 hours per year, slightly less than 12 hours per day. (Source
    Satellite image of the Sahara Desert and its surroundings
    The Sahara is the sunniest place with high solar energy potential

  9. Covering the Sahara with solar panels can produce clean energy four times the current world’s energy requirement. However, solar panels only generate 15% of their absorbed sunlight and return the remaining to the environment as heat. Therefore, a solar farm reaching 20% of the Sahara can increase the local temperature by 1.5 C and the global temperature by 0.16 C. The 50% coverage of this desert can increase temperature by 2.5 C and 0.39 C on local and global scales. (Source)
  10. The Sahara Desert is one of the hottest and driest places on Earth. However, it has received snowfall five times (1979, 2017, 2018, 2021, and 2022) in the past 40 years. The place of all these snowfall events is 1000 meters high, Ain Sefra in Algeria. The warming of the Arctic is a possible reason for consistent snowfall in this hot desert. (Source)
  11. The Sahara desert is not devoid of plant life as there is scattered vegetation on highlands and oases. Grasses, herbs, shrubs, and woody plants that tolerate heat, drought, and salt can flourish here. Famous of these are olives, date palms, thyme, and oleander.
  12. Various mammals, birds, and reptiles can tolerate the harsh climate of the Sahara. These include cape hare, jerboa, Barbary sheep, Nubian wild ass, sand fox, spotted hyenas, jackals, ostriches, guinea fowls, barn owls, lizards, cobras, chameleons, frogs, crocodiles, and several others. Human interference has caused the extinction of some animals from this desert.
  13. Archaeologists discovered the largest graveyard of Stone Age people in the Sahara in 2008. There were around 200 graves of two successive populations in this 10,000-year-old cemetery. The skeletons and pottery in these graves belong to the tall Kiffian, the initial inhabitants of the Sahara, and their immediate successors, the relatively shorter Tenerians. (Source)
  14. In 2018, a meteorite hunter discovered a strange meteorite from the Sahara Desert. Scientists now suspect NWA (Northwest Africa) 13188 is the first known boomerang meteorite on Earth. This rock entered space thousands of years ago due to impact from an asteroid or a volcanic eruption and later returned to its original place. Before that, the first-ever meteorite from Earth was discovered on the moon in 1971. (Source)
  15. In 2020, scientists discovered 4.5 billion years old space rock from a dune-filled region of the Sahara. These rocks with greenish crystals belonged to a meteorite and were confirmed to be the oldest volcanic rock ever found. (Source)
  16. The name Sahara is derived from the Arabic word sahra (desert). It is called Al-Sahra al-Kubra (the great desert) in Arabic.
  17. Due to harsh weather conditions, the population of Sahara is nearly 2.5 million, less than one person per square mile. The majority of these residents are Arabic-speaking nomads.
  18. In 2015, a Japanese Earth Observation satellite spotted an ancient river system beneath Western Sahara. This system was over 500 km long and provided nutrients to marine organisms and freshwater to humans, wildlife, and plants 5,000 years ago. (Source)
  19. In 2020, NASA and USGS (United States Geological Survey) discovered remnants of an ancient lake beneath the Sahara Desert. It was bigger than the Caspian Sea – now the world’s largest lake. Due to its relation to Lake Chad, scientists named this 7000-year-old “Lake Mega Chad.” The presence of this vast lake confirms the lush green environment of the Sahara Desert thousands of years ago. (Source)
  20. There are nearly 90 major oases in the Sahara that support life. These oases form due to the presence of one of the world’s largest underground water resources beneath this desert.
  21. Two rivers flow through the Sahara Desert in opposite directions. The Nile River flows through its eastern part, while the Niger River is in the western region of the desert.
  22. Sahara has substantial reserves of iron ore, copper ore, uranium, phosphate, and fossil fuels. High amount of these deposits are present in Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania, Niger, Egypt, and Libya.
  23. Nabta Playa, a stone circle in the Sahara, is the oldest known astronomical site in the world. Cattle-worshipping nomadic people built this site more than 7,000 years ago in southern Egypt to observe the movement of stars. (Source)
  24. The Sahara Desert plays a vital role in the growth of plants in the Amazon rainforest by transporting phosphorus-rich soil. The amount of phosphorus in this soil, 22,000 tons per year, is roughly the same as what this rainforest loses due to rainfall. It is the largest transport of dust on Earth. (Source)
  25. The Tuareg are Berber-speaking people that inhabit a vast area in the Sahara. These people follow their traditional matriarchal organization, where women get extraordinary freedom compared to other tribes in the region.

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