Official name: Gabonese Republic
Area: 267,667 square kilometers (103,347 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Mt. Iboundji (1,575 meters/5,167 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sea level
Hemispheres: Northern, Southern, and Eastern
Time zone: 1 P.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 717 kilometers (446 miles) from north-northeast to south-southwest; 644 kilometers (400 miles) from east-southeast to west-northwest
Land boundaries: 2,551 kilometers (1,585 miles) total boundary length; Cameroon 298 kilometers (185 miles); Republic of the Congo 1,903 kilometers (1,182 miles); Equatorial Guinea 350 kilometers (217 miles)
Coastline: 885 kilometers (550 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
1 LOCATION AND SIZE
Gabon is located on the equator in western Africa. It shares borders with Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea to the north and with the Republic of the Congo to the south and east. The country's western coast lies along the South Atlantic Ocean. With an area of 267,667 square kilometers (103,347 square miles), the country is slightly smaller than the state of Colorado. Gabon is divided into nine provinces.
2 TERRITORIES AND DEPENDENCIES
Gabon has no outside territories or dependencies.
Gabon has the hot and humid climate typical of tropical regions. The hottest month is January; at Libreville, the average high is 31°C (88°F) and the average low is 23°C (73°F). Average July temperatures in the capital city range between 20 and 28°C (68° and 82°F).
From June to September, virtually no rain falls but high humidity prevails. There is occasional rain in December and January. During the remaining months, rainfall is heavy. The excessive rainfall is caused by the condensation of moist air resulting from the meeting of two Atlantic Ocean currents: the cold Benguela Current from the south and the warm Guinea Current from the north. At Libreville, the average annual rainfall is more than 254 centimeters (100 inches). Farther north on the coast, it is 381 centimeters (150 inches).
4 TOPOGRAPHIC REGIONS
The low-lying coastal plain of Gabon is narrow in the north (approximately 29 kilometers/18 miles wide) and broader in the estuary regions of the Ogooué River. Much of the coastal area is wooded, with savannah (grassland) separating the wooded coast from the rainforest of the interior. The rainforest includes some unique plants, such as climbing vines and hardwood tree species.
The land in the interior is not strictly flat plains; it is more complex, but not dramatic. In the north, mountains enclose the valleys of the Woleu and Ntem Rivers and the Ivindo Basin. In southern Gabon, the coastal plain is dominated by granitic hills. Between the Ngounié and the Ogooué Rivers, the Chaillu Massif rises to 915 meters (3,000 feet). Almost the entire country is contained in the basin of the Ogooué River and its two major tributaries. Within the rain-forests grows an encyclopedic range of flora, including climbing palms, rubber vines, liana, and hardwood trees such as purpleheart, ebony, and mahogany. The hardwoods, including the okoumé (unique to central Africa) and Ozigo tree, are harvested for their timber—a cash crop of significant value to Gabon's economy.
Besides plant life, the rainforests' floors and canopies also provide habitats for all sorts of animals. Snakes such as vipers and pythons slither around hunting for their prey—insects, field mice, and other unlucky small animals. Hedgehogs, porcupines, and tortoises lumber around on the forest floor, while squirrels, monkeys, baboons, lemurs, toucans, and African parrots occupy the trees. Crocodiles and hippopotamuses claim the riverbanks, and big game animals such as antelope, buffalo, and elephants roam the grasslands. Even gorillas, endangered in most other parts of Africa, are so numerous in Gabon that they have become an environmental nuisance.
5 OCEANS AND SEAS
Seacoast and Undersea Features
Gabon borders the South Atlantic Ocean south of the Bight of Biafra and the Gulf of Guinea.
Sea Inlets and Straits
The northern coastline is deeply indented by bays, estuaries, and deltas as far south as the mouth of the Ogooué River, featuring Cape Santa Clara in the north, and Cape Lopez, the country's westernmost point, just north of the Ogooué River mouth. These bays and estuaries form excellent natural shelters, thus providing ports and harbors. Numerous lagoons, such as Ndogo and Nkomi, line the coastline south of the Ogooué River. Much of this coastal area contains mangrove swamps as well. Corsica Bay is located along the northern coast.
6 INLAND LAKES
In the west of Gabon, near the city of Lamberene, are most of the country's lakes, which were formed by crisscrossing rivers. Lake Onangue, an offshoot of the Ogooué River, is one of the largest.
7 RIVERS AND WATERFALLS
Virtually the entire territory of Gabon is contained in the basin of the Ogooué River. It is Gabon's longest river—about 1,100 kilometers (690 miles) long and navigable for about 400 kilometers (250 miles). It flows from the southeastern point of Gabon and winds its way up through the center of the country, turning west and cutting through the Crystal Mountains to reach its mouth on the Atlantic Ocean at Port-Gentil. Its two major tributaries are the Ivindo and the Ngounié, which are navigable for 80 to 160 kilometers (50 to 100 miles) into the interior. The Ivindo drains the northeastern part of Gabon, and the Ngounié runs parallel to the Crystal Mountains along their western face. In the east, the Sébé River also joins the Ogooué. The relatively short Gabon River rises just inside Equatorial Guinea and flows southwest into Gabon, over the Kinguélé Falls, then dumps into the Atlantic Ocean at Kango.
There are no major desert regions in Gabon.
9 FLAT AND ROLLING TERRAIN
There are no major prairie regions within the country of Gabon. Only about 1 percent of the land is arable, with permanent crops. About 18 percent of the terrain is considered to be permanent pasture.
10 MOUNTAINS AND VOLCANOES
Rivers descending from the interior have carved deep channels in the face of the escarpment, dividing it into distinct blocks and separating the Crystal Mountains from the Chaillu Massif. The Crystal Mountains run roughly north to south across the country, just west of the center. The highest point in Gabon is the peak of Mount Iboundji, which reaches an altitude of 1,575 meters (5,167 feet). It is located in the northern Crystal Mountains.
11 CANYONS AND CAVES
The Oklo Uranium mine in Gabon is an important research site for nuclear physicists. In 1972, researchers discovered that the mine had been the site of a natural fission reaction that occurred at least 1.5 billion years ago. The chain reaction may have continued intermittently for hundreds of thousands of years before becoming inactive. This natural nuclear reaction created radioactive wastes that have been buried there for centuries. Scientists are studying the area to develop safer methods of nuclear waste disposal.
12 PLATEAUS AND MONOLITHS
Plateaus cover the north and east and most of the south of the country. They rise from the coastal lowlands, which range in width from 30 to 200 kilometers (20 to 125 miles), to form a rocky escarpment which is more than 96 kilometers (60 miles) wide, and which ranges in height from 450 to 600 meters (1,480 to 1,970 feet).
13 MAN-MADE FEATURES
There are no major man-made structures affecting the geography of Gabon.
14 FURTHER READING
Brokken, Jan C. The Rainbird: A Central African Journey . Melbourne, Australia: Lonely Planet, 1997.
Gardinier, David. Gabon . Santa Barbara, CA: Clio Press, 1992.
Gardinier, David. Historical Dictionary of Gabon . 2nd ed. Scarecrow Press, 1994.
American Nuclear Society. http://www.ans.org/pi/np/oklo/ (accessed May 10, 2003).