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The sinking air prevents evaporating water from rising and, therefore, prevents the adiabatic cooling, which makes cloud formation extremely difficult to nearly impossible.
The permanent dissolution of clouds allows unhindered light and thermal radiation.
It stretches from the Red Sea in the east and the Mediterranean in the north to the Atlantic Ocean in the west, where the landscape gradually changes from desert to coastal plains.
To the south, it is bounded by the Sahel, a belt of semi-arid tropical savanna around the Niger River valley and the Sudan Region of Sub-Saharan Africa.
It is one of three distinct physiographic provinces of the African massive physiographic division.
The Sahara is mainly rocky hamada (stone plateaus), Ergs (sand seas - large areas covered with sand dunes) form only a minor part, but many of the sand dunes are over 180 metres (590 ft) high.
To the north, the Sahara skirts the Mediterranean Sea in Egypt and portions of Libya, but in Cyrenaica and the Maghreb, the Sahara borders the Mediterranean forest, woodland, and scrub eco-regions of northern Africa, all of which have a Mediterranean climate characterized by hot summers and cool and rainy winters.
The northern and southern reaches of the desert, along with the highlands, have areas of sparse grassland and desert shrub, with trees and taller shrubs in wadis, where moisture collects.
In the central, hyperarid region, there are many subdivisions of the great desert: Tanezrouft, the Ténéré, the Libyan Desert, the Eastern Desert, the Nubian Desert and others.
It covers 9 million square kilometres (3,500,000 sq mi), amounting to 31% of Africa.
If all areas with a mean annual precipitation of less than 250 mm were included, the Sahara would be 11 million square kilometres (4,200,000 sq mi).