Africa - Physical Aspects

Africa is separated from Europe by the Mediterranean Sea and is linked to Asia at its northeastern end by the Suez isthmus.

However, Africa occupies a single tectonic plate, unlike Europe which shares with Asia the Eurasian plate. To the north, it is bathed by the Atlantic Ocean on its western coast and by the Indian Ocean on its eastern side.

With the exception of the north coast and the Atlas mountains, the African territory is a vast, undulating plateau, disfigured by large basins.

In general, the altitude of the continent increases from northwest to southeast. The low coastal ranges, with the exception of the Mediterranean coast and the Guinean coast, are narrow and rise sharply towards the plateau. The peculiar feature of the northern plateau is the Sahara, which spans over a quarter of the African territory.

The central and southern plateaus comprise several major depressions, in particular the Congo River basin and the Kalahari desert. Other elements south of the plateau are the Drakensberg Mountains on the southeast coast and the Karoo.

The eastern mountains, which constitute the highest part of the continent, extend from the Red Sea to the Zambezi River. To the south of the Ethiopian plateau are several volcanic peaks, such as Mount Kilimanjaro, Kenya and the Elgon. A characteristic topographic element is the Rift Valley.

To the west is the Ruwenzori mountain range. There are few rivers in Africa, but large and long as the Nile River over 6,500 km long, the largest in the world in length. There are also the Niger River, Congo River or Zaire River, Zambezi River, Limpopo River, Orange River and others.

Mount Kilimanjaro

Seven climatic and vegetation zones can be distinguished. In the center of the continent and on the eastern coast of Madagascar, the climate and vegetation are tropical. Guinea's climate resembles the equatorial climate, but has only one rainy season. In the north and south, the rainforest's own climate is replaced by a tropical savannah climate that encompasses one-fifth of Africa. Far from the equator, to the north and south, the savannah climate zone turns into a dry steppe zone. The zones of the northwest and southwest ends are of Mediterranean climate. In the high plateaus of southern Africa, the climate is temperate. Africa has a more arid or desert climate than any other continent except Australia.

As regards fauna, Africa has two different zones. The north and northwest, which includes the Sahara and is characterized by a fauna similar to that of Eurasia. The other area is sub-Saharan Africa, with a wide variety of animals including antelopes, giraffes, African elephants, lions and leopards.

Africa is very rich in mineral resources. It has most of the known minerals, many of them in remarkable quantities. It has large coal deposits, oil and natural gas reserves, as well as gold, diamonds, copper, bauxite, manganese, nickel, radio, germanium, lithium, titanium and phosphate reserves.

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