The Sahara Desert is the biggest non-polar desert in the world. When you think of a desert, it’s probably the Sahara that you’re picturing; photos of its sweeping, wide dunes are seen everywhere, and its often used as a filming location for movies.
The Sahara covers an area of 3,629,360 square miles – if it were a country, it would be the fifth largest in the world. But did you know that it wasn’t always a desert?
The Sahara switches from being a dry desert to a lush, green oasis roughly once every 20,000 years. There’s evidence in the Sahara of ocean fossils that are estimated to be up to 240,000 years old.
It’s been found that the Sahara changes between desert and oasis because of slight changes in the tilt of the Earth’s axis. When the Earth’s axis tilts just a single degree closer to the sun, it receives more sunlight, and the amount of rain increases as well.
This shift in the Earth’s tilt is what supports the Sahara oasis. However, for the last 2,000 years or so, the climate of the Sahara has been steady.
The Sahara Desert is one of the hottest places on Earth. The average temperature during summer is between 100.4 °F (38 °C) and 114.8 °F (46 °C). It rains very little and experiences drought nearly the whole year round.
The north-eastern winds cause the air to dry out over the desert, making it impossible for most plants to survive and drives hot winds toward the equator.
These winds can reach incredible speeds, and frequently cause sandstorms that make it impossible to see anything in the region.
Because of these factors, the overall climate of the Sahara makes it a difficult place for life to exist – even though it’s so hot during the day, the temperature drops rapidly at night due to the lack of cloud cover over the ground, and can even drop to below freezing!
Trade routes across the Sahara Desert have played an important part in the history of the world. Goods such as gold, salt, cloth, and ivory were transported across the desert, using long lines of animals called camels.
Camels are a kind of animal which are well suited to desert living – they have two sets of eyelids to protect from the sandstorms, strong legs to traverse the dunes, and are able to store water in a hump on their back so that they don’t need to drink for very long periods of time.
Usually, the caravans would travel late in the evening or early in the morning to avoid the heat of the day.
Although it is difficult to survive in the desert, many people have done so throughout history… and some still do today! Many powerful civilizations have made homes in the Sahara (for example, the Ancient Egyptians.)
In the Egyptian Sahara, semi-arid conditions allowed for a few types of grasses and shrubs to grow, and even some trees that sprouted near groundwater sources.
This vegetation, and the small, episodic rain pools that formed there, attracted animals who were suited to dry conditions (like giraffes) to make homes in the area.
Cave paintings and rock art from Ancient Egypt back up this idea, as they show people frolicking in the rain pools!
Aside from the Egyptians, other groups of people (nomadic tribes) survived the conditions by constantly moving, always hunting for new areas to graze their livestock and get food. Some nomads still live in the Sahara desert today.
The most widely spoken language in the Sahara is Arabic – the same language that the name of the desert came from. The word “Sahara” means desert in Arabic.
The Sahara Desert is extremely important to the culture of these nomads and has played a big part in determining how African people have settled/where they’ve built their settlements over the last 2,000 years.
– 3,629,360 square miles.
– Between 100.4 °F (38 °C) and 114.8°F (46 °C.)
– The Ancient Egyptians.
– The trade routes that crossed it were very important to the continent’s economy.