Exploring Our World: People, Places, and Cultures

Chapter 19: Physical Geography of Africa South of the Sahara

Chapter Overviews

The region of Africa south of the Sahara is diverse. It ranges from deserts to rain forests, from mountains to rolling grasslands, and from large plateaus to steep valleys. Over thousands of years, the movement of the Earth’s tectonic plates has shaped the landforms of this region. Almost the entire region lies on a series of plateaus, some of which are edged by escarpments. Lowland areas include ribbons of land that border the Atlantic and Indian oceans in the region. The Great Rift Valley in eastern Africa is a 4,0000-mile (6,437 km) natural wonder with jagged mountains, deep lakes, and a valley floor below sea level.

People in the region rely on its lakes and rivers for freshwater and transportation. Waterways also provide electricity. Lakes in the Great Rift Valley provide freshwater and fish to the people, and some serve as sources of important rivers. Four large river systems in the region—the Nile, the Congo, the Niger, and the Zambezi—begin in the plateaus and make their way to the sea. Waterfalls on the rivers were created as a result of tectonic plate activity.

The region of Africa south of the Sahara holds a variety of important resources. Petroleum deposits and natural gas reserves are found in some areas of the region, while other regions have coal. Minerals such as iron ore, chromium, uranium, and platinum. Gemstones like rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and diamonds are also mined in the region.

Climates in the region range from damp rain forests to vast grasslands to hot deserts. Africa south of the Sahara has four main climate regions: tropical wet, tropical dry, steppe, and desert. Rain forests are found along the Equator in Central and West Africa. Small areas on the coast of Southern Africa and the highlands of East Africa have moderate climates. Similar climate zones appear north and south of the Equator in the region.

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