Africa > East Africa > Ethiopia > Ethiopia Geography Profile

Ethiopia: Ethiopia Geography Profile

2012/03/09

Ethiopia is located in the Horn of Africa and is bordered on the north and northeast by Eritrea, on the east by Djibouti and Somalia, on the south by Kenya, and on the west and southwest by Sudan. The country has a high central plateau that varies from 1,290 to 3,000 m (4,232 to 9,843 ft) above sea level, with the highest mountain reaching 4,533 m (14,872 ft). Elevation is generally highest just before the point of descent to the Great Rift Valley, which splits the plateau diagonally. A number of rivers cross the plateau—notably the Blue Nile rising from Lake Tana. The plateau gradually slopes to the lowlands of the Sudan on the west and the Somali-inhabited plains to the southeast.

Between the valley of the Upper Nile and Ethiopia's border with Eritrea is a region of elevated plateaus from which rise the various tablelands and mountains that constitute the Ethiopian Highlands. On nearly each side, the walls of the plateaus rise abruptly from the plains, constituting outer mountain chains. The highlands are thus a clearly marked orographic division. In Eritrea, the eastern wall of this plateau runs parallel to the Red Sea from Ras Kasar (18° N) to Annesley Bay (as well known as the Bay of Zula) (15° N). It again turns due south into Ethiopia and follows closely the line of 40° E for some 600 km (373 mi). About 9° N there is a break in the wall, through which the Awash River flows eastward. The major range at this point trends southwest, while south of the Awash Valley, which is some 1,000 m (3,281 ft) below the level of the mountains, an extra massif rises in a direct line south.

This second range sends a chain (the Ahmar mountains) eastward toward the Gulf of Aden. The two chief eastern ranges maintain a parallel course south by west, with a broad upland valley in between — in which valley are a series of lakes — to about 3° N, the outer (eastern) spurs of the plateau still keeping along the line of 40° E. The southern escarpment of the plateau is highly irregular, but has a general direction northwest and southeast from 6° N to 3° N. It overlooks the depression in which is Lake Turkana and — east of that lake — the southern Debub Omo Zone (part of the larger Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Region). The western wall of the plateau from 6° N to 11° N is well marked and precipitous. North of 11° N the hills turn additional to the east and fall additional gradually to the East Sudanian savanna plains at their base.

On its northern face the plateau falls in terraces to the level of the eastern Sudan. The eastern escarpment is the best defined of these outer ranges. It has a mean height of 2,100 to 2,400 m (6,890 to 7,874 ft), and in a lot of places rises almost perpendicularly from the plain. Narrow and deep clefts, through which descend mountain torrents that lose themselves in the sandy soil of the Eritrean coast, afford means of reaching the plateau, or the easier route through the Awash Valley may be chosen. On surmounting this rocky barrier, the traveller finds that the encircling rampart rises little above the normal level of the plateau.

The physical aspect of the highlands is impressive. The northern portion, lying mainly between 10° and 15° N, consists of a huge mass of Archaean rocks with a mean height of 2,000 to 2,200 m (6,562 to 7,218 ft) above sea level, and is flooded in a deep central depression by the waters of Lake Tana. Above the plateau rise several irregular and generally ill-defined mountain ranges which attain altitudes of from 3,700 m (12,139 ft) to just under 4,600 m (15,092 ft). A lot of of the mountains are of unusual shape. Characteristic of the country are the enormous fissures which divide it, formed over time by the erosive action of water. They are in fact the valleys of the rivers which, rising on the uplands or mountain sides, have cut their way to the surrounding lowlands. Some of the valleys are of considerable width; in other cases the opposite walls of the gorges are but two or three hundred meters apart, and fall almost vertically thousands of meters, representing an erosion of a lot of hundred thousands cubic metres of hard rock. One result of the action of the water has been the formation of numerous isolated flat-topped hills or small plateaus, known as ambas, with nearly perpendicular sides. The highest peaks are found in the Semien and Bale ranges. The Semien Mountains lie northeast of Lake Tana and culminate in the snow-covered peak of Ras Dejen, which has an altitude of 4,550 m (14,928 ft). A few kilometers east and north respectively of Ras Dejen are Mounts Biuat and Abba Yared, whose summits are less than 100 meters (328 ft) below that of Ras Dejen. The Bale Mountains are separated from the larger part of the Ethiopian highlands by the Great Rift Valley, one of the longest and most profound chasms in Ethiopia. The highest peaks of that range include Tullu Demtu, the second-highest mountain in Ethiopia (4,377 m/14,360 ft), Batu (4,307 m/14,131 ft), Chilalo (4,036 m/13,241 ft) and Mount Kaka (3,820 m/12,533 ft).

Parallel with the eastern escarpment are the heights of Biala, 3,810 m (12,500 ft), Mount Abuna Yosef, 4,190 m (13,747 ft), and Kollo, 4,300 m (14,108 ft), the last-named being southwest of Magdala. Between Lake Tana and the eastern hills are Mounts Guna, 4,210 m (13,812 ft), and Uara Sahia, 3,960 m (12,992 ft). In the Choqa Mountains of Misraq Gojjam, Mount Choqa (as well known as Mount Birhan) attains a height of 4,154 m (13,629 ft). Below 10° N, the southern portion of the highlands has additional open tableland than the northern portion and fewer lofty peaks. Though there are a few heights between 3,000 and 4,000 m (9,843 and 13,123 ft), the majority do not exceed 2,400 m (7,874 ft), but the general character of the southern regions is the same as in the north: a much-broken hilly plateau.

East of the highlands towards the Red Sea there is a strip of lowland semi-desert, the Ethiopian xeric grasslands and shrublands.

LOCATION AND SIZE

Ethiopia is located in eastern Africa in the area known as the Horn of Africa: the northeastern extension of the continent. The country lies west of Somalia, north of Kenya, east of Sudan, and south of Eritrea and Djibouti. With an area of about 1,127,127 square kilometers (435,186 square miles), the country is slightly less than twice the size of the national of Texas. Ethiopia is divided into nine states and two self-governing administrations

TERRITORIES AND DEPENDENCIES

The territory of Eritrea was once a part of Ethiopia. Eritrea became an independent country in 1993, however, next a long and bloody war fought over several decades. As of 2002, the governments of both nations were in dispute concerning the official boundaries between the nations.

CLIMATE

Ethiopia has three major climatic zones: the dega , or cool zone; the weina dega , or temperate zone; and the kolla , or hot zone. In the highlands above 2,400 meters (7,800 feet) in elevation, daily temperatures range from near freezing to 16° C (61° F), with March, April, and May the warmest months. Nights are usually cold throughout the year, and it is not uncommon to greet the day with light frost. Snow is found at the highest elevations. Daily temperatures at lower elevations—from 1,500 meters to 2,400 meters (4,875 feet to 7,800 feet)—range from 16°C (61°F) to 30°C (86°F). Below 1,500 meters (4,875 feet) is the kolla zone, with daytime temperatures averaging 27°C (81°F), but soaring to 40°C (104°F) in the Ogaden region during midyear.

Ethiopia is affected by the seasonal monsoon trade winds from the Atlantic Ocean that cross the African continent. The country receives most of its rain from mid-June to mid-September, with the high plateau experiencing a second and light rainy season from December to February. Converging winds in April and May bring lighter rains known as the balg . Annual precipitation is heaviest in the southwest, reaching up to 200 centimeters (80 inches). Up to 122 centimeters (48 inches) of rain falls annually in the highlands. The Ogaden in the east receives as little as 10 centimeters (4 inches), and precipitation in the Great Rift Valley and the Danakil Depression is negligible.

TOPOGRAPHIC REGIONS

Ethiopia has some of the majority spectacular scenery in Africa. Much of the country is set on a high plateau, with a massive central highland complex of mountains divided by the deep Great Rift Valley and a series of lowlands along the periphery (edges) of the higher elevations. The wide diversity of terrain produces regional variations in climate, natural vegetation, soil composition, and settlement patterns.

In the northwest, Simien Mountains National Park provides a habitat for such native animals as baboons, ibex, Simien fox, and birds of prey inclunding a large vulture species, the bearded vulture or lammergeyer .

Most of Ethiopia is seismically active. There are hot springs that bubble up from deep below the earth's crust in Addis Ababa and elsewhere. There is potential for critical and damaging earthquakes in the area surrounding the Great Rift Valley. Ethiopia is located on the African Tectonic Plate, with the Arabian Tectonic Plate somewhat further to the north, beyond Eritrea. The Great Rift Valley extends across the country from the southwest to the northeast.

Neighboring Somalia claims the Ogaden border region in the southeast, but an exact border between the two nations has at no time been determined.

OCEANS AND SEAS

Ethiopia is a landlocked country.

Location: 

Eastern Africa, west of Somalia

Geographic coordinates: 

8 00 N, 38 00 E

Map references: 

Africa

Area comparative: 

slightly less than twice the size of Texas

Land boundaries Total: 

5,328 km

Land boundaries Note: 

Climate: 

The climate is temperate on the plateau and hot in the lowlands. At Addis Ababa, which ranges from 2,200 to 2,600 m (7,218 to 8,530 ft), maximum temperature is 26 °C (78.8 °F) and minimum 4 °C (39.2 °F). The weather is usually sunny and dry, but the short (belg) rains occur from February to April and the big (meher) rains from mid-June to mid-September. The climate of Ethiopia and its dependent territories varies greatly. The Somali Region and the Danakil lowlands in the Afar Region have a hot, dry climate producing semi-desert conditions; the country in the lower basin of the Sobat is hot, swampy and malarious. But over the greater part of Ethiopia as well as the Oromia highlands the climate is very healthy and temperate. The country lies wholly within the tropics, but its nearness to the equator is counterbalanced by the elevation of the land. In the deep valleys of the Tekezé and Abay, and generally in places below 1,200 m (3,937 ft), the conditions are tropical and diseases such as malaria are prevalent. On the uplands, however, the air is cool and bracing in summer, and in winter very bleak. The mean range of temperature is between 15 to 25 °C (59 to 77 °F). On the higher mountains the climate is Alpine in character. The atmosphere on the plateaus is exceedingly clear, so that objects are easily recognizable at great distances. In addition to the variation in climate dependent on elevation, the year may be divided into three seasons. Winter, or the cold season, lasts from October to February, and is followed by a dry hot period, which about the middle of June gives place to the rainy season. The rain is heaviest in the Tekezé basin in July and August.

In the former provinces of Gojjam and Welega heavy rains continue till the middle of September, and occasionally October is a wet month. There are also spring and winter rains; indeed rain often falls in every month of the year. But the rainy season proper, caused by the southwest monsoon, lasts from June to mid-September, and commencing in the north moves southward. In the region of the headwaters of the Sobat the rains begin earlier and last longer. The rainfall varies from about 750 mm (29.5 in) a year in Tigray and Amhara to over 1,000 mm (39.4 in) in parts of Oromia. The rainy season is of great importance not only to Ethiopia but to the countries of the Nile valley, as the prosperity of the eastern Sudan and Egypt is largely dependent upon the rainfall. A season of light rain may be sufficient for the needs of Ethiopia, but there is little surplus water to find its way to the Nile; and a shortness of rain means a low Nile, as practically all the flood water of that river is derived from the Ethiopian tributaries.

Terrain: 

high plateau with central mountain range divided by Great Rift Valley

Natural resources: 

small reserves of gold, platinum, copper, potash, natural gas, hydropower

Natural hazards: 

geologically active Great Rift Valley susceptible to earthquakes, volcanic eruptions; frequent droughts

Environment - current issues: 

deforestation; overgrazing; soil erosion; desertification; water shortages in some areas from water-intensive farming and poor management

Geography note: 

landlocked - entire coastline along the Red Sea was lost with the de jure independence of Eritrea on 24 May 1993; the Blue Nile, the chief headstream of the Nile by water volume, rises in T'ana Hayk (Lake Tana) in northwest Ethiopia; three major crops are believed to have originated in Ethiopia: coffee, grain sorghum, and castor bean