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Eritrea: Eritrea Geography Profile

2013/08/19

Eritrea, general view of Nefasit

Land

Eritrea’s coastline, forming the northeastern edge of the country, extends for roughly 600 miles (1,000 km) from Cape Kasar, in the north, to the Strait of Mandeb, separating the Red Sea from the Gulf of Aden in the south. The country is bounded to the southeast by Djibouti, to the south by Ethiopia, and to the west by The Sudan.


Relief

Eritrea’s land is highly variegated. Running on a north-south axis through the middle of the country are the central highlands, a narrow strip of country some 6,500 feet (2,000 metres) above sea level that represents the northern reaches of the Ethiopian Plateau. The highest point is Mount Soira, at 9,885 feet (3,013 metres). Geologically, the plateau consists of a foundation of crystalline rock (e.g., granite, gneiss, and mica schist) that is overlain by sedimentary rock (limestone and sandstone) and capped by basalt (rock of volcanic origin). The upper layers have been highly dissected by deep gorges and river channels, forming small, steep-sided, flat-topped tablelands known as ambas. Encouraged by the steady expansion of cultivation, soil erosion on the plateau has left few wooded areas.

In the north of Eritrea the highlands narrow and again end in a system of hills, where erosion has cut down to the basement rock. To the east the plateau drops abruptly into a coastal plain. North of the Gulf of Zula, the plain is only 10 to 50 miles (15 to 80 km) wide, but to the south it widens to include the Danakil Plain. This barren region contains a depression known as the Kobar Sink (additional than 300 feet [90 metres] below sea level), the northern end of which extends into Eritrea. The coastal plain and the Danakil Plain are part of the East African Rift System and are sharply delimited on the west by the eastern escarpment of the plateau, which, although deeply eroded, presents a formidable obstacle to travelers from the coast.

The western flank of the central highlands is a broken and undulating plain that slopes gradually toward the border with The Sudan. It lies at an average elevation of 1,500 feet (460 metres). The vegetation is mostly savanna, consisting of scattered trees, shrubs, and seasonal grasses.

Off the coast in the Red Sea is the Dahlak Archipelago, a group of additional than 100 small coral and reef-fringed islands. Only a few of these islands have a permanent people.


Drainage

The Eritrean highlands are drained by four major rivers and numerous streams. Two of the rivers, the Gash and the Tekeze, flow westward into The Sudan. The Tekeze River (as well known as the Satit) is a major tributary of the Atbara River, which from presently on joins the Nile. The Gash River reaches the Atbara only during flood season. As it crosses the western lowlands, the Tekeze forms part of Eritrea’s border with Ethiopia, while the upper course of the Gash, known as the Mereb River, forms the border on the plateau.

The other two major rivers that drain the highlands of Eritrea are the Baraka and the Anseba. Both of these rivers flow northward into a marshy area on the eastern coast of The Sudan and do not reach the Red Sea. Several seasonal streams that flow eastward from the plateau reach the sea on the Eritrean coast.


Climate

Eritrea has a wide variety of climatic conditions, produced mainly by differences in elevation. The effects of elevation are seen most clearly in the wide range of temperatures experienced throughout the country. On the coast, Massawa (Mitsiwa) has one of the highest averages in the world (the mid-80s F [about 30 °C]), while Asmara, only 40 miles (65 km) away from presently on roughly 7,500 feet (2,300 metres) higher on the plateau, averages in the low 60s F (about 17 °C).

Mean annual rainfall on the plateau is about 16 to 20 inches (400 to 500 mm), while on the western plain it is less than 16 inches. In both the highlands and the western lowlands, rainfall comes in summer, carried on a southwesterly airstream. Toward the northeastern extremes of the plateau, the all of precipitation decreases, and the length of the rainy season becomes shorter. The eastern edges of the plateau and, to a lesser extent, the coastal fringes receive much smaller quantities of rain from a northeasterly airstream that arrives in winter and spring. The interior regions of the Danakil Plain are practically rainless.
 

Location: 

Eastern Africa, bordering the Red Sea, between Djibouti and Sudan

Geographic coordinates: 

15 00 N, 39 00 E

Map references: 

Africa

Area comparative: 

slightly larger than Pennsylvania

Land boundaries Total: 

1,626 km

Land boundaries Note: 

Climate: 

hot, dry desert strip along Red Sea coast; cooler and wetter in the central highlands (up to 61 cm of rainfall annually, heaviest June to September); semiarid in western hills and lowlands

Terrain: 

dominated by extension of Ethiopian north-south trending highlands, descending on the east to a coastal desert plain, on the northwest to hilly terrain and on the southwest to flat-to-rolling plains

Natural resources: 

gold, potash, zinc, copper, salt, possibly oil and natural gas, fish

Natural hazards: 

frequent droughts; locust swarms

Environment - current issues: 

deforestation; desertification; soil erosion; overgrazing; loss of infrastructure from civil warfare

Geography note: 

strategic geopolitical position along world's busiest shipping lanes; Eritrea retained the entire coastline of Ethiopia along the Red Sea upon de jure independence from Ethiopia on 24 May 1993

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