The monolithic Sahara Desert encompasses much of North Africa. Covering an area of 9,400,000 km2 (3,600,000 sq mi) the Sahara almost equals China in size. And yet, it is only the third largest desert in the world, trailing slightly behind the Arctic and Antarctica. Sahara is however the world’s largest hot desert, in addition to being the hottest desert in the world.
The climate of the Sahara desert is dry, hot and extreme. Hurricane force winds frequently buffet the land, causing sand storms and whirlwinds (dust devils) while rain is extremely sporadic. Half of the desert receives less than 2 cm (less than 1 inch) of rain each year, while the other half may receive up to 10 cm (4 in).
A number of major cities are located within the Sahara’s boundaries, including Cairo (Egypt), Nouakchott (Mauritania), Tripoli (Libya), several Algerian cities, Agadez (Niger) and Timbuktu (Mali). The Sahara is divided into six sections; Western Sahara, the Tibesti Mountains, the Ahaggar Mountains in the centre, the Air Mountains, Ténéré Desert and the Libyan Desert.
The extraordinarily diverse landscape includes massive sand dunes, some up to 180 m (590 ft) in height, sand seas, stone plateaus, mountains, valleys and salt flats. The highest mountain in the Sahara is the volcano known as Emi Koussi at 3,415 m (11,204 ft).
The wildlife and vegetation communities of the Sahara are those which have adapted to the harsh climate and tough terrain. There are relatively few plant varieties, most of which are species of shrubs, grasses and succulents. As for animals, camels and goats are most commonly spotted, and are often domesticated. Wild mammals include several species of gazelle, the hyrax, ostrich, small packs of African wild dogs and the increasingly rare Saharan cheetah.