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Africa: Africa Plateau Region





Africa Plateau Region

The high southern and eastern plateaus, rarely falling below 600 m (2,000 ft), have a mean elevation of about 1,000 m (3,300 ft). The South African plateau, as far as about 12° S, is bounded east, west and south by bands of high ground which fall steeply to the coasts. On this account South Africa has a general resemblance to an inverted saucer. Due south the plateau rim is formed by three parallel steps with level ground between them. The largest of these level areas, the Great Karoo, is a dry, barren region, and a large tract of the plateau proper is of a still more arid character and is known as the Kalahari Desert.

The South African plateau is connected towards East African plateau, with probably a slightly greater average elevation, and marked by some distinct features. It is formed by a widening out of the eastern axis of high ground, which becomes subdivided into a number of zones running north and south and consisting in turn of ranges, tablelands and depressions. The most striking feature is the existence of two great lines of depression, due largely to the subsidence of whole segments of the Earth's crust, the lowest parts of which are occupied by vast lakes. Towards the south the two lines converge and give place to one great valley (occupied by Lake Nyasa), the southern part of which is less distinctly due to rifting and subsidence than the rest of the system.

Farther north the western depression, known as the Great Rift Valley is occupied for more than half its length by water, forming the Great Lakes of Tanganyika, Kivu, Lake Edward and Lake Albert, the first-named over 400 miles (600 km) long and the longest freshwater lake in the world. Associated with these great valleys are a number of volcanic peaks, the greatest of which occur on a meridional line east of the eastern trough. The eastern depression, known as the East African trough or rift-valley, contains much smaller lakes, many of them brackish and without outlet, the only one comparable to those of the western trough being Lake Turkana or Basso Norok.

At no great distance east of this rift-valley is Mount Kilimanjaro - with its two peaks Kibo and Mawenzi, the latter being 5,889 m (19,321 ft), and the culminating point of the whole continent — and Mount Kenya, which is 5,184 m (17,008 ft). Hardly less important is the Ruwenzori Range, over 5,060 m (16,600 ft), which lies east of the western trough. Other volcanic peaks rise from the floor of the valleys, some of the Kirunga (Mfumbiro) group, north of Lake Kivu, being still partially active.

The third division of the higher region of Africa is formed by the Ethiopian Highlands, a rugged mass of mountains forming the largest continuous area of its altitude in the whole continent, little of its surface falling below 1,500 m (4,900 ft), while the summits reach heights of 4600 m to 4900 m (15,000 to 16,000 ft). This block of country lies just west of the line of the great East African Trough, the northern continuation of which passes along its eastern escarpment as it runs up to join the Red Sea. There is, however, in the centre a circular basin occupied by Lake Tsana.

Both in the east and west of the continent the bordering highlands are continued as strips of plateau parallel to the coast, the Ethiopian mountains being continued northwards along the Red Sea coast by a series of ridges reaching in places a height of 2,000 m (6,600 ft). In the west the zone of high land is broader but somewhat lower. The most mountainous districts lie inland from the head of the Gulf of Guinea (Adamawa, etc.), where heights of 1800 m to 2400 m (6000 to 8000 ft) are reached. Exactly at the head of the gulf the great peak of the Cameroon, on a line of volcanic action continued by the islands to the south-west, has a height of 4,075 m (13,369 ft), while Clarence Peak, in Fernando Po, the first of the line of islands, rises to over 2,700 m (8,900 ft). Towards the extreme west the Futa Jallon highlands form an important diverging point of rivers, but beyond this, as far as the Atlas chain, the elevated rim of the continent is almost wanting.

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