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SAHARA DESERT

SAHARA DESERT, SAHARA DESERT MAP, WHERE IS THE SAHARA DESERT, SAHARA DESERT LOCATION

Sahara

DESERT, AFRICA

Sahara, (from Arabic ṣaḥrāʾ, “desert”) largest desert in the world. Filling nearly all of northern Africa, it measures approximately 3,000 miles (4,800 km) from east to west and between 800 and 1,200 miles from north to south and has a total area of some 3,320,000 square miles (8,600,000 square km); the actual area varies as the desert expands and contracts over time. The Sahara is bordered in the west by the Atlantic Ocean, in the north by the Atlas Mountains and Mediterranean Sea, in the east by the Red Sea, and in the south by the Sahel—a semiarid region that forms a transitional zone between the Sahara to the north and the belt of humid savannas to the south.

SAHARA DESERT MAP

PHYSICAL FEATURES

PHYSIOGRAPHY

The principal topographical features of the Sahara include shallow, seasonally inundated basins (chotts and dayas) and large oasis depressions; extensive gravel-covered plains (serirs or regs); rock-strewn plateaus (hammadas); abrupt mountains; and sand sheets, dunes, and sand seas (ergs). The highest point in the desert is the 11,204-foot (3,415-metre) summit of Mount Koussi in the Tibesti Mountains in Chad. The lowest, 436 feet (133 metres) below sea level, is in the Qattara Depression of Egypt.

The name Sahara derives from the Arabic noun ṣaḥrāʾ, meaning desert, and its plural, ṣaḥārāʾ. It is also related to the adjective aṣḥar, meaning desertlike and carrying a strong connotation of the reddish colour of the vegetationless plains. There are also indigenous names for particular areas—such as the Tanezrouft region of southwestern Algeria and the Ténéré region of central Niger—which are often of Berber origin.

The Sahara sits atop the African Shield, which is composed of heavily folded and denuded Precambrian rocks. Because of the stability of the shield, subsequently deposited Paleozoic formations have remained horizontal and relatively unaltered. Over much of the Sahara, these formations were covered by Mesozoic deposits—including the limestones of Algeriasouthern Tunisia, and northern Libya, and the Nubian sandstones of the Libyan Desert—and many of the important regional aquifers are identified with them. In the northern Sahara, these formations are also associated with a series of basins and depressions extending from the oases of western Egypt to the chotts of Algeria. In the southern Sahara, down warping of the African Shield created large basins occupied by Cenozoic lakes and seas, such as the ancient Mega-Chad. The serirs and regs differ in character in various regions of the desert but are believed to represent Cenozoic depositional surfaces. A prominent feature of the plains is the dark patina of ferromanganese compounds, called desert varnish, that forms on the surfaces of weathered rocks. The plateaus of the Sahara, such as the Tademaït Plateau of Algeria, are typically covered with angular, weathered rock. In the central Sahara, the monotony of the plains and plateaus is broken by prominent volcanic massifs—including Mount ʿUwaynat and the Tibesti and Ahaggar mountains. Other noteworthy formations include the Ennedi Plateau of Chad, the Aïr Massif of Niger, the Iforas Massif of Mali, and the outcroppings of the Mauritanian Adrar region.

Sand sheets and dunes cover approximately 25 percent of the Sahara’s surface. The principal types of dunes include tied dunes, which form in the lee of hills or other obstacles; parabolic blowout dunes; crescent-shaped barchans and transverse dunes; longitudinal seifs; and the massive, complex forms associated with sand seas. Several pyramidal dunes in the Sahara attain heights of nearly 500 feet, while draa, the mountainous sand ridges that dominate the ergs, are said to reach 1,000 feet. An unusual phenomenon associated with desert sands is their “singing” or booming. Various hypotheses have been advanced to explain the phenomenon, such as those based upon the piezoelectric property of crystalline quartz, but the mystery remains unsolved.

DRAINAGE

Several rivers originating outside the Sahara contribute to both the surface water and groundwater regimes of the desert and receive the discharge of its drainage networks. Rivers rising in the tropical highlands to the south are particularly prominent: the main tributaries of the Nile join in the Sahara, and the river flows northward along the desert’s eastern margin to the Mediterranean; several rivers discharge into Lake Chad in the southern Sahara, and a significant quantity of water continues northeastward and contributes to the recharge of regional aquifers; and the Niger rises in the Fouta Djallon region of Guinea and flows through the southwestern Sahara before turning southward to the sea. Streams and wadis (ephemeral streams) flowing from the Atlas Mountains and coastal highlands of Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco contribute additional water. Prominent among these are the Saoura and Drâa. Many of the smaller wadis discharge into the chotts of the northern Sahara. Within the desert itself, there are extensive networks of wadis: some are seasonally active remnants of systems formed during more humid periods in the past; some, however, have been shaped by the sudden discharge of historically documented storms, such as the flood that destroyed Tamanrasset, Algeria, in 1922. Particularly significant are the complex network of wadis, lakes, and pools associated with the Tibesti Mountains and those associated with the Tassili n’Ajjer region and the Ahaggar Mountains, such as Wadi Tamanrasset. The sand dunes of the Sahara store considerable quantities of rainwater, and seeps and springs issue from various escarpments in the desert.

SOILS

The soils of the Sahara are low in organic matter, exhibit only slightly differentiated horizons (strata), and are often biologically inactive, although nitrogen-fixing bacteria are present in some areas. The soils in depressions are frequently saline. At the margins of the desert are soils containing greater concentrations of organic matter. Weatherable minerals are a prominent constituent of these soils, and chemically active expanding-lattice clays are common. Free carbonates are often present, indicating that little leaching has occurred. Compact and indurated layers, or crusts, are largely restricted to the northwestern section of the desert in association with calcareous bedrock. Fine materials, including deposits of diatomaceous earth, are limited to basins and depressions.

CLIMATE

The age of the Sahara has been a matter of some dispute. Several studies of the rocks in the region indicate that the Sahara became established as a climatic desert approximately 2–3 million years ago, an interval that spanned from the late Pliocene to the early Pleistocene Epoch. The discovery of 7-million-year-old dune deposits throughout northern Chad in 2006, however, suggests that the region became arid during the Miocene Epoch (23 million to 5.3 million years ago). Since the Pliocene the Sahara has been subject to short- and medium-term oscillations of drier and more humid conditions. Human activity seems to have contributed to the stability of the desert by increasing surface reflectivity and by reducing evapotranspiration. During the past 7,000 years cattle-based animal husbandry in the desert and along its margins apparently has contributed further to the maintenance of these conditions, and the climate of the Sahara has been relatively constant for 2,000 years. A noteworthy departure from existing norms occurred from the 16th to the 18th century, the period of the so-called Little Ice Age in Europe: precipitation increased significantly along the tropical margin of the Sahara, in the desert itself, and perhaps along the northern margin as well. By the 19th century, however, a climate similar to that of the present was reestablished.

The Sahara is dominated by two climatic regimes: a dry subtropical climate in the north and a dry tropical climate in the south. The dry subtropical climate is characterized by unusually high annual and diurnal temperature ranges, cold to cool winters and hot summers, and two precipitation maximums. The dry tropical climate is characterized by a strong annual temperature cycle following the declination of the sun; mild, dry winters; and a hot dry season preceding variable summer rains. A narrow strip of the western coastal zone has a relatively cool, uniform temperature reflecting the influence of the cold Canary Current.

The dry subtropical climate of the northern Sahara is caused by stable high-pressure cells centred over the Tropic of Cancer. The annual range of average daily temperatures is about 36 °F (20 °C). Winters are relatively cold in the northern regions and cool in the central Sahara. For the zone as a whole, average monthly temperatures during the cold season are approximately 55 °F (13 °C). The summers are hot. Daily temperature ranges are considerable during both the winter and summer months. Although precipitation is highly variable, it averages about 3 inches (76 millimetres) per year. Most precipitation falls from December through March. Another maximum occurs in August, characterized by thunderstorms. These storms can cause tremendous flash floods that rush into areas where no precipitation has fallen. Little precipitation falls in May and June. Snowfall occurs occasionally over the northern plateaus. Another feature of the dry subtropics are the hot, southerly winds that often carry dust from the interior. Although they occur at various times of the year, they are especially common during the spring. In Egypt they are known as the khamsin, in Libya as the ghibli, and in Tunisia as the chili. The dust-laden haboob winds of Sudan are of shorter duration, chiefly occur during the summer months, and often usher in heavy rains.

The dry tropical climate to the south is dominated by the same high-pressure cells, but it is regularly influenced by the seasonal interaction of a stable continental subtropical air mass and a southerly, unstable maritime tropical air mass. The annual range in average daily temperatures in the dry tropical regions of the Sahara is approximately 31.5 °F (17.5 °C). Average temperatures for the coldest months are essentially the same as they are for the subtropical zone to the north, but the diurnal range is more moderate. In the higher elevations of the zone, the lows approximate those of more northerly, subtropical regions. For example, absolute lows of 5 °F (−15 °C) have been recorded in the Tibesti Mountains. Late spring and early summer are hot; high temperatures of 122 °F (50 °C) are not unusual. Although the massifs of the dry tropics often receive small quantities of precipitation throughout the year, the lowlands have a single summer maximum. As in the north, much of this rainfall occurs as thunderstorms. Precipitation averages are about five inches per year, occasionally including some snowfall in the central massifs. In the western margin of the desert the cold Canary Current reduces air temperatures, thereby reducing convectional rainfall, but resulting in higher humidity and occasional fogs. In the southern Sahara the winter is the period of the harmattan, a dry northeasterly wind laden with sand and other easily transported dust particles.

PLANT LIFE

Saharan vegetation is generally sparse, with scattered concentrations of grasses, shrubs, and trees in the highlands, in oasis depressions, and along the wadis. Various halophytes (salt-tolerant plants) are found in saline depressions. Some heat- and drought-tolerant grasses, herbs, small shrubs, and trees are found on the less well-watered plains and plateaus of the Sahara.

The vegetation of the Sahara is particularly noteworthy for its many unusual adaptations to unreliable precipitation. These are variously seen in morphology—including root structure, a broad range of physiological adaptations, site preferences, dependency and affinity relationships, and reproductive strategies. Many of the herbaceous plants are ephemerals that may germinate within three days of adequate rainfall and sow their seeds within 10 or 15 days of germination. Sheltered in the Saharan massifs are occasional stands of relict vegetation, often with Mediterranean affinities.

Prominent among the relict woody plants of the Saharan highlands are species of olive, cypress, and mastic trees. Other woody plants found in the highlands and elsewhere in the desert include species of Acacia and Artemisia, doum palm, oleander, date palm, and thyme. Halophytes such as Tamarix senegalensis are found along the western coastal zone. Grasses widely distributed in the Sahara include species of Aristida, Eragrostis, and Panicum. Aeluropus littoralis and other salt-tolerant grasses are found along the Atlantic coast. Various combinations of ephemerals form important seasonal pastures called acheb.

In the 21st century, recognition that the Sahara and its border region to the south, the Sahel, were creeping southward owing to desertification led to efforts to stall that movement; most notable was the Great Green Wall for the Sahara and Sahel Initiative. The idea that led to the initiative—planting a “wall” of trees along the edges of the Sahara that would stretch across the African continent in order to halt further desertification—was first conceived in 2005 and was later further developed with the assistance of the African Union and other international organizations. It involved plans to plant drought-resistant native trees in a 9-mile- (15-kilometre-) wide swath of territory from the western to the eastern edges of the continent, creating a barrier to keep the desert from further encroaching on the lands to its south.

ANIMAL LIFE

Relict tropical fauna of the northern Sahara include tropical catfish and chromides found at Biskra, Algeria, and in isolated oases of the Sahara; cobras and pygmy crocodiles may still exist in remote drainage basins of the Tibesti Mountains. More subtle has been the progressive loss of well-adapted, more mobile species to the advanced firearms and habitat destruction of humans. The North African elephant became extinct during the Roman period, but the lion, ostrich, and other species were established in the desert’s northern margins as late as 1830. The last addax in the northern Sahara was killed in the early 1920s; serious depletion of this antelope has also occurred on the southern margins and in the central massifs.

Among the mammal species still found in the Sahara are the gerbil, jerboa, Cape hare, and desert hedgehog; Barbary sheep and scimitar-horned oryx; dorcas gazelle, dama deer, and Nubian wild ass; anubis baboon; spotted hyena, common jackal, and sand fox; and Libyan striped weasel and slender mongoose. Including resident and migratory populations, the birdlife of the Sahara exceeds 300 species. The coastal zones and interior waterways attract many species of water and shore birds. Among the species encountered in the interior regions are ostriches; various raptors; secretary birds, guinea fowl, and Nubian bustards; desert eagle owls and barn owls; sand larks and pale crag martins; and brown-necked and fan-tailed ravens.

Frogs, toads, and crocodiles live in the lakes and pools of the Sahara. Lizards, chameleons, skinks, and cobras are found among the rocks and dunes. The lakes and pools of the Sahara also contain algae and brine shrimp and other crustaceans. The various snails that inhabit the desert are an important source of food for birds and animals. Desert snails survive through aestivation (dormancy), often remaining inactive for several years before being revived by rainfall.

PEOPLE

Although as large as the United States, the Sahara (excluding the Nile valley) is estimated to contain only some 2.5 million inhabitants—less than 1 person per square mile (0.4 per square kilometre). Huge areas are wholly empty, but wherever meagre vegetation can support grazing animals or reliable water sources occur, scattered clusters of inhabitants have survived in fragile ecological balance with one of the harshest environments on earth.

Long before recorded history, the Sahara was evidently more widely occupied. Stone artifacts, fossils, and rock art, widely scattered through regions now far too dry for occupation, reveal the former human presence, together with that of game animals, including antelopes, buffalo, giraffe, elephant, rhinoceros, and warthog. Bone harpoons, accumulations of shells, and the remains of fish, crocodiles, and hippopotamuses are associated with prehistoric settlements along the shores of ancient Saharan lakes. Among some groups, hunting and fishing were subordinated to nomadic pastoralism, after domesticated livestock appeared in the Sahara almost 7,000 years ago. The cattle-herding groups of the Ténéré region of Niger are believed to have been either ancestral Berbers or ancestral Zaghawa; sheep and goats were apparently introduced by groups associated with the Capsian culture of northeastern Africa. Direct evidence of agriculture first appears about 6,000 years ago with the cultivation of barley and emmer wheat in Egypt; these appear to have been introduced from Asia. Evidence of the domestication of native African plants is first found in pottery from about 1000 BCE discovered in Mauritania. The cultivators have been associated with the Gangara, the ancestors of the modern Soninke.

Archaeological evidence suggests that the Sahara was increasingly inhabited by diverse populations, and plant and animal domestication led to occupational specialization. While the groups lived separately, the proximity of settlements suggests an increasing economic interdependence. External trade also developed. Copper from Mauritania had found its way to the Bronze Age civilizations of the Mediterranean by the 2nd millennium BCE. Trade intensified with the emergence of the Iron Age civilizations of the Sahara during the 1st century BCE, including the civilization centred in Nubia.

The greater mobility of nomads facilitated their involvement in the trans-Saharan trade. Increasing aridity in the Sahara is documented in the transition from cattle and horses to camels. Although camels were used in Egypt by the 6th century BCE, their prominence in the Sahara dates from only the 3rd century CE. Oasis dwellers in the Sahara were increasingly subject to attack by the Sanhaja (a Berber clan) and other camel-mounted nomads—many of whom had entered the desert to avoid the anarchy and warfare of the late Roman period in North Africa. Many of the remaining oasis dwellers, among them the Haratin, were subjugated by the nomads. The expansion of Islam into North Africa between the 7th and 11th centuries prompted additional groups of Berbers, as well as Arab groups wishing to retain traditional beliefs, to move into the Sahara. Islam eventually expanded through the trade routes, becoming the dominant social force in the desert.

Despite considerable cultural diversity, the peoples of the Sahara tend to be categorized as pastoralists, sedentary agriculturalists, or specialists (such as the blacksmiths variously associated with herders and cultivators). Pastoralism, always nomadic to some degree, occurs where sufficient scanty pasturage exists, as in the marginal areas, on the mountain borders, and in the slightly moister west. Cattle appear along the southern borders with the Sahel, but sheep, goats, and camels are the mainstays in the desert. Major pastoral groups include the Regeibat of the northwestern Sahara and the Chaamba of the northern Algerian Sahara. Hierarchical in structure, the larger pastoral groups formerly dominated the desert. Warfare and raids (ghazw) were endemic, and in drought periods wide migrations in search of pasture took place, with heavy loss of animals. The Tuareg (who call themselves Kel Tamasheq) were renowned for their warlike qualities and fierce independence. Although they are Islamic, they retain a matriarchal organization, and the women of the Tuareg have an unusual degree of freedom. The Moorish groups to the west formerly possessed powerful tribal confederations. The Teda, of the Tibesti and its southern borderlands, are chiefly camel herders, renowned for their independence and for their physical endurance.

In the desert proper, sedentary occupation is confined to the oases, where irrigation permits limited cultivation of the date palm, pomegranate, and other fruit trees; such cereals as millet, barley, and wheat; vegetables; and such specialty crops as henna. Cultivation is in small “gardens,” maintained by a great expenditure of hand labour. Irrigation utilizes ephemeral streams in mountain areas, permanent pools (gueltas), foggaras (inclined underground tunnels dug to tap dispersed groundwater in the beds of wadis), springs (ʿayn), and wells (biʾr). Some shallow groundwaters are artesian, but it is often necessary to use water-lifting devices. Ancient methods such as the shadoof (a pivoted pole and bucket) and the animal-driven noria (a Persian wheel with buckets) have been replaced by motorized pumps in more accessible oases. Water availability strictly limits oasis expansion, and, in some, overuse of water has produced a serious fall in the water level. Salinization of the soil by the fierce evaporation and burial by encroaching sand are further dangers.

ECONOMY

RESOURCES

During the century of colonial dominion over the Sahara, which lasted from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century, there was little fundamental change, except for military pacification; colonial powers were little interested in the economic development of what appeared to be an unpromising region. After World War II, however, the discovery of oil, in particular, attracted international interest and investment. Within a few years major discoveries had been made, particularly in mineral resources.

Metallic minerals are of considerable economic importance. Algeria possesses several major deposits of iron ore, and the reserves at Mount Ijill, in western Mauritania, are substantial; less extensive deposits have been found in Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Western Sahara, and Niger. Near Akjoujt, in southwestern Mauritania, lie substantial quantities of copper ore; extensive manganese deposits occur south of Béchar, Algeria. Uranium is widely distributed in the Sahara and has been particularly important in Niger. A broad range of other economically significant minerals have been found in the Ahaggar, Aïr, Tibesti, and Eglab regions. Rich phosphate deposits exist in Morocco and Western Sahara, and smaller deposits have been found elsewhere.

Fuel resources include coal, oil, and natural gas. Sources of coal include anthracite seams in Morocco and bituminous fields near Béchar. Following the discovery of oil near I-n-Salah, Algeria, after World War II, major reserves have been found in the Western Desert of Egypt, northeastern Libya, and northeastern Algeria. Minor reserves exist in Tunisia and Morocco, as well as in Chad, Niger, and Sudan in the south. Deposits of oil shale have also been discovered in the Sahara. Major fields of natural gas are exploited in Algeria and Egypt, and minor fields exist in Libya and Tunisia.

As a result of geologic and oil prospecting, vast underground reserves of water have also been found in a number of sedimentary basins, mainly within sandstone formations. Some recoverable water is also present in surface sand formations.

Economic development of the desert, however, offers enormous difficulties and has not changed the traditional Sahara. Oil and ore extraction have brought modern technology and improved communications to scattered locations, but such activities provide limited opportunities for local employment. Although oil revenues offer the means for desert development, the more immediate and attractive returns possible in inhabited coastal regions tend to take priority. The underground water offers possibilities for major developments in both agriculture and industry; but exploitation on a large scale would be expensive. Heavy exploitation would also result in progressive depletion, and hydrological changes might increase the threat of locust plagues, as locusts congregate into swarms when food supplies are restricted, multiply, and then occupy larger areas when conditions improve.

The desert peoples have benefited little from mineral exploitation—perhaps indeed the reverse. The decline in nomadic pastoralism, started by pacification, has been accelerated by changing economic conditions and official settlement policies (for nomads are administratively inconvenient). Widespread environmental degradation further encourages the drift of nomads to oases and towns, with resultant overcrowding and poverty. High wages in the oil fields attract labour but disrupt traditional life, and the jobs are relatively few and impermanent. Of the traditional desert products—animal skins and wool, surplus fruits, salt—only dates (particularly the daglet nour of the northern oases) retain much commercial importance. Industrial occupations to relieve growing unemployment have as yet made little progress.

In the early 21st century, renewable energy projects, particularly those focusing on wind- and solar-generated power, continued to be under development and had the potential to provide enough energy to allow countries in the region to manufacture and process goods locally, which would be a boon to their economies. However, renewable energy projects were hampered by factors such as the harsh desert climate, a lack of water for operating and maintaining equipment, the overall exorbitant costs involved in such an undertaking, and security issues. Tourism has grown considerably since the mid-20th century, although the difficulties of transport and of providing accommodations have largely limited it to the Sahara’s fringes.

TRANSPORTATION

Traditionally, travel in the Sahara was by camel caravan and was slow, arduous, and dangerous. To the hazards of losing the way, excessive heat, stifling sandstorms, and death by starvation—or more probably thirst—were added those of attack by raiders. Despite all this, trans-Saharan trade along caravan routes linking oases has persisted from very early times. Most of the principal routes were west of the Tibesti Mountains and tended to shift somewhat over time, although the easternmost of these—which ran northward from Lake Chad to Bilma (now in Niger) and through the Fezzan region to Tripoli—was used continuously through the centuries. East of the Tibesti Mountains oases are few, but the darb al-arbaʿīn (“road of the forty [days]”), west of the Nile, was a former slave route. Gold, ivory, slaves, and salt were major items of trade in the earlier days, but today camel caravans have almost ceased, except for a residual trade in salt from Mount Ijill, Bilma, and Taoudenni, Mali. The main routes remain in use, however, by specially equipped motor trucks, often traveling in convoys. Modern highways have been extended farther along the ancient trade routes into the desert. Off of the main routes a network of recognized tracks are motorable, with care; but in the open desert four-wheel drive is virtually essential, with at least two vehicles, ample spares, and large emergency supplies of fuel, food, and water—particularly in summer, when special regulations apply to all travelers. In large areas maps are inadequate, and navigational methods may be necessary.

To supplement ground travel, numerous international air services cross the Sahara on scheduled flights, while local services link the main inhabited centres to one another. Development of railways has been limited.

STUDY AND EXPLORATION

Classical accounts describe the Sahara much as it is today—a vast and formidable barrier. The Egyptians controlled only their neighbouring oases and, occasionally, lands to the south; the Carthaginians apparently continued the commercial relationships with the interior that had been established during the Bronze Age. Herodotus described a desert crossing by an expedition of Berbers during the 5th century BCE, and Roman interest in the Sahara is documented in a series of expeditions between 19 BCE and 86 CE. The descriptions of the Sahara in the works of Strabo, Pliny the Elder, and Ptolemy reflect growing interest in the desert. Geographic exploration, sponsored by the ʿAbbāsids, Fāṭimids, Mamlūks, and other courts in the Middle East, North Africa, and Moorish Spain, was widespread during the medieval period. Descriptions of the Sahara are contained in the works of numerous Arab writers, including al-Yaʿqūbī, ash-Sharīf al-Idrīsī, and Ibn Baṭṭūṭah.

Medieval travelers with religious and commercial motives contributed further to an understanding of the Sahara and its peoples. Abraham Cresque’s Catalan Atlas, published for Charles V of France in about 1375, renewed European interest in the desert. The atlas contained information based upon the knowledge of Jewish traders active in the Sahara. Its publication was followed by a period of intense Portuguese, Venetian, Genoese, and Florentine activity there. Particularly well documented are the travels of such 15th-century explorers as Alvise Ca’ da Mosto, Diogo Gomes, and Pedro de Sintra. Growing interest in the Sahara within northern Europe was reflected in the travels and writings of the 17th-century Dutch geographer Olfert Dapper.

Subsequent European exploration of the Sahara, much of it incidental to interest in the major waterways of interior Africa, began in earnest in the 19th century. Attempts to determine the course of the Niger River took the British explorers Joseph Ritchie and George Francis Lyon to the Fezzan area in 1819, and in 1822 the British explorers Dixon Denham, Hugh Clapperton, and Walter Oudney succeeded in crossing the desert and discovering Lake Chad. The Scottish explorer Alexander Gordon Laing crossed the Sahara and reached the fabled city of Timbuktu in 1826, but he was killed there before he could return. The French explorer René Caillié, disguised as an Arab, returned from his visit to Timbuktu by crossing the Sahara from south to north in 1828. Other notable expeditions were undertaken by the German geographer Heinrich Barth (1849–55), the French explorer Henri Duveyrier in 1859–62, and the German explorers Gustav Nachtigal (1869–75) and Gerhard Rohlfs (1862–78).

After the military occupation of the Sahara by the various European colonial powers, more detailed exploration took place; and by the end of the 19th century the main features of the desert were known. Political, commercial, and scientific activities that began in the 20th century greatly increased knowledge of the Sahara, although vast tracts of the desert remain remote.

If these facts have you inspired to visit the Sahara Desert, why not check out our Egypt tours?

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