Official name : State of Eritrea
Area: 121,320 square kilometers (46,842 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Soira (3,018 meters/9,902 feet)
Lowest point on land: Denakil Depression, near Kulul (75 meters/246 feet below sea level)
Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern
Time zone: 3 P.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 830 kilometers (520 miles) from northwest to southeast; 400 kilometers (250 miles) from north to south
Land boundaries: 1,630 kilometers (1,013 miles) total boundary length; Djibouti 113 kilometers (70 miles); Ethiopia 912 kilometers (567 miles); Sudan 605 kilometers (376 miles)
Coastline: 2,234 kilometers (1,388 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
1 LOCATION AND SIZE
Eritrea is located in northeast Africa on the western coast of the Red Sea. The country shares borders with Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Sudan. With an area of about 121,320 square kilometers (46,842 square miles), the country is slightly larger than the state of Pennsylvania. Eritrea is divided into eight provinces.
2 TERRITORIES AND DEPENDENCIES
Eritrea has no outside territories or dependencies.
Along the Red Sea, temperatures average from 27°C (81°F) to 30°C (86°F) in the daytime, but at midyear, in the Danakil Depression in the southeast, temperatures may reach 60°C (140°F). The highlands are moderate, with temperatures that average about 17°C (63°F). The coast enjoys a Mediterranean-like climate when the northeast trade winds blow in January.
Rainfall varies according to season, elevation, and location. The semiarid western hills and lowlands along the Sudanese border receive up to 50 centimeters (20 inches) of rain annually, with the heaviest rainfall occurring from June through August. In January, monsoons originating in Asia cross the Red Sea, bringing rain to the coastal plains and the eastern escarpment. The eastern lowlands receive less than 50 centimeters (20 inches) of rainfall annually, while the cooler and wetter highlands receive up to twice that amount.
4 TOPOGRAPHIC REGIONS
The country of Eritrea resembles a funnel lying on its side and tilted to the southeast. It occupies the northern portion of a high, mountainous plateau reaching north from Ethiopia to the Red Sea. The mountains descend to a network of high hills on the northeast and to a low, arid coastal strip along the Red Sea. A corridor of low rolling plains marks the southwestern perimeter with Sudan. Bordering Ethiopia in the southeast, the Danakil Depression at its deepest point lies 130 meters (423 feet) below sea level. The hottest temperatures in the world have been reported there. Only 3 percent of the land is arable.
Eritrea lies along the boundary between the African and Arabian Tectonic Plates. The Great Rift Valley, which extends from Mozambique in southern Africa all the way north into the Middle East, passes near Eritrea's eastern border.
5 OCEANS AND SEAS
Seacoast and Undersea Features
Eritrea has an eastern coast on the Red Sea, which is a narrow, landlocked sea that separates Africa from the Arabian Peninsula. In the north, the Red Sea links to the Mediterranean through the Gulf of Suez and the Suez Canal. In the south, the sea links to the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea through the Strait of Mandeb (Bab el Mandeb). The Red Sea is a busy shipping channel, potentially rich in oil and natural gas.
Sea Inlets and Straits
Massawa Channel separates the mainland from the Eritrean islands of the Dahlak Archipelago.
Islands and Archipelagos
The Dahlak Archipelago, a collection of coral-line (coral-like) islands, lies opposite the Buri Peninsula. The many islands are mostly small and sparsely inhabited.
Coastal hills drain inland into saline lakes and sinks from which commercial salt is extracted.
Although subject to torrid temperatures much of the year, Eritrea's coastal beaches and Red Sea islands hold significant tourism potential. The, hot, arid, and treeless coastal lowlands range in width from 16 to 80 kilometers (10 to 50 miles).
6 INLAND LAKES
There are no major lakes in Eritrea.
7 RIVERS AND WATERFALLS
The longest river in Eritrea is the Tekeze, with a length of about 755 kilometers (470 miles). The Tekeze and the Mereb Rivers form sections of the southern border with Ethiopia. The Gash River drains westward to Kassala in Sudan and the Baraka River flows northward to Sudan from its source near Asmara. Volume in these rivers is highly seasonal; at certain times of the year, they are completely dry.
DID YOU KNOW?
The waters surrounding the more than three hundred islands of the Dahlak Archipelago provide a habitat for diverse species of marine life and extensive coral reefs, providing scuba divers with much to explore.
Eritrea has semiarid western hills and a very dry and hot coastal strip of land along the eastern seaboard. The desert-like coast is home to vegetation such as acacia, cactus, aloe vera, prickly pear, and olive trees. The Danakil Depression is a desert region.
9 FLAT AND ROLLING TERRAIN
About 49 percent of the lowlands in Eritrea are characterized as permanent pasture.
10 MOUNTAINS AND VOLCANOES
Ethiopia's northwestern highlands extend into Eritrea, reaching elevations of more than 2,000 meters (6,500 feet) above sea level. A line of seismic belts extends along the length of Eritrea and the Danakil Depression, but no serious earthquakes were recorded in the area during the twentieth century.
The Danakil Depression is also the site of the Alid volcano. Alid is an elliptical mountain about 5 kilometers wide (3 miles), 7 kilometers long (4 miles), and 900 meters tall (2,953 feet). United States researchers have been working with the Eritrean government to assess the area of this volcano for possible geothermal resources, which may be used in the future to produce electricity.
11 CANYONS AND CAVES
There are no major caves or canyons in Eritrea, although southeast of Asmara there are some small caves, with ancient art drawn and etched into the rock walls.
12 PLATEAUS AND MONOLITHS
Eritrea shares the northeast section of the Ethiopian high plateau, which in appearance looks more like a set of rugged uneven mountains. The plateau, also known as the Northwestern Highlands, rises up on the western scarp of the Great Rift Valley and projects northward from Addis Ababa in Ethiopia to the Red Sea coastline in Eritrea. It descends to the Red Sea coast in a series of hills.
13 MAN-MADE FEATURES
There are over one hundred small dams built along the rivers of Eritrea, used primarily for irrigation.
DID YOU KNOW?
The Great Rift Valley, which passes just outside the western border of Eritrea, is a massive fault system that stretches over 6,400 kilometers (4,000 miles) from the Jordan Valley in Israel to Mozambique. In general, the Great Rift Valley ranges in elevation from 395 meters (1,300 feet) below sea level at the Dead Sea to 1,830 meters (6,000 feet) above sea level in south Kenya. A large number of volcanoes lie along this rift, which was created by the violent underground activity of the African Plate (Nubian) to the west and the Eurasian, Arabian, Indian, and Somalian Plates to the east.
14 FURTHER READING
Africa South of the Sahara 2002. "Ethiopia." London: Europa Publishers, 2001.
Ellingson, L. The Emergence of Eritrea, 1958-1992. London: James Currey Publishers, 1993.
Killion, Tom. Historical Dictionary of Eritrea. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1998.
NgCheong-Lum, Roseline. Eritrea . New York: Marshall Cavendish, 2001.
Papstein, Robert J. Eritrea: A Tourist Guide. Lawrenceville, NJ: Red Sea Press, 1995.