Official name: Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria
Area: 2,381,740 square kilometers (919,590 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Mount Tahat (3,003 meters/9,853 feet)
Lowest point on land: Chott Melrhir (40 meters/131 feet below sea level)
Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern
Time zone: 1 P.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 2,400 kilometers (1,500 miles) from east to west; 2,100 kilometers (1,300 miles) from north to south
Land boundaries: 7,341 kilometers (4,561 miles) total boundary length; Tunisia, 958 kilometers (595 miles); Libya, 982 kilometers (610 miles); Niger, 956 kilometers (594 miles); Mali, 1,376 kilometers (855 miles); Mauritania, 463 kilometers (288 miles); Morocco, 1,637 kilometers (1,017 miles)
Coastline: 998 kilometers (620 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
Algeria is the largest of the three countries that form the Maghreb region of northwest Africa. (The Maghreb region is made up of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia.) Algeria is the second-largest country in Africa; only Sudan is larger. Algeria is a little less than three-and-a-half times the size of Texas, and it is as large as the whole of Western Europe.
Algeria has no territories or dependencies.
Algeria's geographical diversity produces a range of climatic conditions. The northern part of the country has a Mediterranean climate with mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers. The plateau region has a semiarid (having light annual rainfall) climate, with greater contrasts between summer and winter. Temperatures vary the most in the Sahara Desert region, which has an arid climate with almost no annual rainfall. Summer temperatures average about 25°C (77°F) in the northern coastal region, 27°C (81°F) on the plateau, and 34°C (93°F) in the desert, where readings as high as 49°C (120°F) have been recorded. Average winter temperatures range from about 5°C (41°F) on the plateau to about 11°C (52°F) in the north; winter lows in the desert can plummet to as low as -10°C (14°F). The hot, dusty wind known as the sirocco often blows in the summer.
Just as its temperatures vary, Algeria's rainfall also differs by region. Fewer than 10 centimeters (4 inches) of rain fall annually in the Sahara Desert, but as many as 100 centimeters (40 inches) may fall in the easternmost section of the mountainous Tell region in the north. Precipitation is heaviest between September and December, tapering off in January. Very little rainfall occurs in the summer months. Drought occurs frequently in the Saharan region.
The southern 80 percent of Algeria's land is in the Sahara Desert and almost completely uninhabited. The northern half of the desert is less arid than the southern half, and most of the region's oases (any fertile tract in the midst of a wasteland) are found here. The southern zone of the Sahara is almost totally arid and consists mostly of barren rock. Its most prominent feature is the Ahaggar mountain range, which rises in the southeast.
To the north of the Sahara lies the Tell region, made up of consecutive belts of land extending west to east, roughly parallel to the Mediterranean border. The region consists of a narrow strip of coastal plains and the two Algerian sections of the Atlas Mountains (Tell Atlas and Saharan Atlas), as well as a plateau that separates them. In contrast to the Tell region, the prominent topographic features (mountains, plains, and basins) in the northeastern corner of Algeria do not parallel the coast.
The Mediterranean Sea borders Algeria to the north. The Mediterranean Sea is an almost completely landlocked sea that lies between southern Europe, northern Africa, and southwest Asia. It links to the Atlantic Ocean in the west through the Strait of Gibraltar, and to the Red Sea in the southeast through the Suez Canal. It also connects to the Black Sea to the northeast through the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmara, and the Bosporus.
Algeria's Mediterranean coastline is relatively smooth, especially in the center. The shallow Gulf of Bejaïa is the only indentation of any size. There are several smaller bays at the eastern and western ends of the coast.
Coastal plains alternate with steep uplands along much of the coast, except for the easternmost section, where the coast is mostly mountainous.
There are shallow salt lakes and salt marshes (soft, wet lands) in the high plateaus.
Because its rainfall is scanty and irregular, Algeria has few permanent inland bodies of water and no navigable rivers (rivers that can be used for boating). Almost all of the Algerian rivers flow only seasonally (during rainy periods) or irregularly. The longest and best known of these is the Chelif, which wanders for 230 kilometers (143 miles) from its source in the Tell Atlas to the Mediterranean Sea. Most of the Tell streams diminish to trickles or go dry in summer. In the western part of the country, reservoirs have been developed for irrigation in the Chelif and Hamiz river basins (area drained by a river). The land in the southernmost Saharan region is largely arid but contains some date-palm oases.
South of the Saharan Atlas, the Algerian portion of the Sahara Desert extends southward 1,500 kilometers (931 miles) to the country's borders with Niger and Mali. Its average elevation is about 460 meters (1,500 feet). Immense areas of sand dunes, called ergs, occupy about one-fourth of the desert. The two major ergs are the Grand Erg Occidental (Great Western Erg) and the larger Grand Erg Oriental (Great Eastern Erg), where enormous dunes 2 to 5 meters (7 to 16 feet) high are spaced about 40 meters (130 feet) apart. Much of the remainder of the desert is covered by bare, rocky platforms called hamada that are elevated above the sand dunes. Almost the entire southeastern quarter of the desert is taken up by the Ahaggar Mountains. They are surrounded by sandstone plateaus cut by deep gorges and, to the west, a flat, pebble-covered expanse that stretches to the Mali frontier (border).
The Sahara is the world's largest desert. It spans the width of the African continent from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea, extending over parts of Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Mali, Chad, Niger, and Sudan. The Sahara covers a vast area of around 8,547,000 square kilometers (3,300,000 square miles).
The major cities of Algiers, Oran, and Annaba are located on Algeria's narrow coastal plains. The port cities of Bejaia and Skikda also are situated along the coast. The country's most fertile agricultural areas are in these northern plains, including the gentle hills that extend 100 kilometers (62 miles) westward from Algiers.
Chott Ech Chergui, lying southwest of Algiers near the border with Morocco, is the second largest chott (or shatt, salt-water lake) in North Africa. (Only Chott Djerid in Tunisia is larger.) The chott features marshy, stagnant water, while the region around Chott Ech Chergui is barren. In winter, migrating waterfowl nest around Chott Ech Chergui.
The Atlas Mountains cover much of Morocco and extend eastward into Tunisia. Within Algeria, they are known as the Tell Atlas and Saharan Atlas ranges. The Tell Atlas, farther to the north, extends from the Moroccan frontier in the west to Bejaia in the east. Its peaks, some of which rise to heights of over 1,830 meters (6,000 feet), include the Greater and Lesser Kabylie, as well as the Tlemcen and Madjera summits.
The Saharan Atlas Mountains separate the Maghreb desert region from the Sahara Desert to the south. They are higher and more continuous than the Tell Atlas Mountains, and they consist of three ranges: the Ksour near the Moroccan border, the Amour, and the Ouled Nail south of Algiers. Dominating the southeast area of the country are the Ahaggar Mountains, with irregular heights reaching above 2,000 meters (6,561 feet). Algeria's highest peak, Mount Tahat (3,003 meters/9,853 feet), rises from in this range.
About 50 miles (80 kilometers) east of Algiers, there are a few limestone caves as well as near Tlemcen in the northwest.
The High Plateaus stretch for more than 600 kilometers (372 miles) eastward from the Moroccan border. They consist of a steppe-like (treeless) tableland lying between the Tell and Saharan Atlas ranges. Averaging between 1,100 and 1,300 meters (3,609 and 4,265 feet) in elevation in the west, the plateaus drop to 400 meters (1,312 feet) in the east. They are so dry that they are sometimes considered part of the Sahara.
Most of the Tell streams diminish to trickles or go dry in summer, but in the west, reservoirs have been developed in the Chelif and Hamiz river basins for irrigation purposes.
Fromentin, Eughne. Between Sea and Sahara: An Algerian Journa l. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1999.
McLaughlan, Anne, and Keith McLaughlin. Morocco & Tunisia Handbook, 1996; With Algeria, Libya, and Mauritania. Lincolnwood, IL: Passport Books, 1995.
Ruedy, John. Modern Algeria: The Origins and Development of a Nation . Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992.