Posted By on June 27, 2016

World’s second largest continent

Africa is the second largest continent, approximately three times the size of the United States. The African continent measures 5,200 miles from north to south, and at its broadest point, is nearly as wide as it is long.

Victoria Falls from Zambian side

Africa’s 11,636,846 square miles of land are divided into 55 countries (including South Sudan, which became a separate country in 2011). Africa is bordered by:

  • the Atlantic Ocean to the west
  • the Indian Ocean to the east
  • the Mediterranean to the north.

A variety of climate zones

Unsurprisingly, such a large land mass has a wide variety of climates:

  • Tropical rainforest – found particularly in the centre of the continent and also along the eastern coast of Madagascar.
  • Humid sub-tropical – found in the southwest.
  • Mediterranean – mostly on the northwest (Mediterranean) coast and in the southeast
  • Savannah – found to the north and south where it replaces the rain forest. There are distinct wet and dry seasons.
  • Steppe – away from the Equator, to the north and south, the savannah grades into drier steppe.
  • Desert – here there is little rainfall and wide differences between day and night temperatures. The Sahara in the north is the world’s largest desert (only three countries have a greater area – Russia, Canada and China). The Kalahari in southern Africa covers an area larger than France.
  • Highland – largely found in the east, below the Horn of Africa.
  • Marine – largely in the southeast.

Highs and lows

Temperatures are highest in desert areas, particularly the Sahara. They are coolest across the south and in mountainous areas and plateaux highlands.

Rainfall varies dramatically across Africa. The northern half of the continent contains large areas of arid desert, where annual rainfall can be just 50mm. But in central areas of the continent, tropical rainforests can receive over 4,000mm each year (Scotland has an average of around 1,500mm).

Changing weather patterns

However, patterns of weather are changing, both locally and across the continent. For example, droughts are becoming more common across the semi-arid Sahel region (which stretches across countries such as Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Sudan). Scientists think a rise in water temperatures in the nearby Gulf of Guinea has shifted the flow of rain clouds southwards.

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