Geography and History of the World © 2010 Indiana Edition

Chapter 20: Physical Geography of Africa South of the Sahara

Chapter Overviews

Africa south of the Sahara is roughly three times the size of the continental United States. The northern edge of the region borders the massive Sahara. The Atlantic and Indian Oceans surround the rest of the continent. The annual rainfall rate for this region varies from more than 60 inches in the tropical rain forests near the Equator to less than 4 inches in the semiarid steppe climate.

The Land Shifting tectonic plates formed the Great Rift Valley, which runs from Syria to Mozambique. Most of the region's lakes are near the Great Rift Valley. Africa's overall elevation is higher than that of any other continent. High plateaus cover the continent, rising in elevation from the coast inland and from west to east. Volcanic mountains, such as Kilimanjaro, are located in the Eastern Highlands. The region's great rivers originate in the high plateaus and descend toward the sea. Sharp escarpments and steeps cataracts make navigation impossible on parts of these rivers. Africa south of the Sahara is rich in natural resources, including oil, gold, uranium, and diamonds. Because of irregular and unpredictable rainfall, irrigation and harnessing hydroelectric power are difficult.

Climate and Vegetation The tropical wet climate zone is located near the Equator. This climate zone is marked by a lack of a dry season, and dense forests and vegetation. Tropical dry climates, with alternating wet and dry seasons features savanna, grassland with scattered trees. To the north and south of the savannas are steppe climates and desert climates. The northern steppe, called the Sahel, has undergone serious desertification in the past 50 years. Although little rain falls in the desert, some grasses and even trees can be found there. South Africa has some midlatitude climate areas with marine, humid-subtropical, and Mediterranean climate areas. There are also extensive highland areas throughout Africa, where climate varies with the elevation.

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