Official name: Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
Area: 1,759,540 square kilometers (679,362 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Bīkkū Bīttī (Bette Peak) (2,267 meters/7,438 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sabkhat Ghuzayyil (47 meters/154 feet below sea level)
Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern
Time zone: 2 P.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 1,989 kilometers (1,236 miles) from southeast to northwest; 1,502 kilometers (933 miles) from northeast to southwest
Land boundaries: 4,383 kilometers (2,723 miles) total boundary length; Algeria 982 kilometers (610 miles); Chad 1,055 kilometers (656 miles); Egypt 1,150 kilometers (715 miles); Niger 354 kilometers (220 miles); Sudan 383 kilometers (238 miles); Tunisia 459 kilometers (285 miles)
Coastline: 1,770 kilometers (1,100 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
1 LOCATION AND SIZE
Libya is located in northern Africa on the southern border of the Mediterranean Sea. The country also shares borders with Egyh2, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Algeria, and Tunisia. With an area of about 1,759,540 square kilometers (679,362 square miles), the country is slightly larger than the state of Alaska. Libya is divided into twenty-five administrative municipalities.
2 TERRITORIES AND DEPENDENCIES
Libya has no outside territories or dependencies.
The Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara Desert influence Libya's climate. The ghibli (a hot, dry desert wind that lasts one to four days in both spring and fall) causes temperatures to fluctuate by as much as 17° to 22°C (30° to 40°F) in both the summer (June through September) and winter (October through May). Summer highs along the northwestern coast are from 40°C to 46°C (104°F to 115°F), and temperatures farther to the south reach even higher. In the northeastern region, summer temperatures range from 27°C to 32°C (81°F to 90°F). In January, temperatures average 13°C (55°F) in the northern region.
During the summer months in southern Libya, virtually no rain falls and temperatures quickly climb to over 50°C (122°F). Daytime winter temperatures range between 15°C and 20°C (59°F and 68°F) and fall below 0°C (32°F) at night.
Rainfall varies between the different regions. The northeastern region receives 40 to 60 centimeters (16 to 24 inches) of rain yearly, while other regions receive less than 20 centimeters (8 inches). The Sahara Desert receives less than 5 centimeters (2 inches) of rain annually. A short winter period brings most of the rain, which usually causes floods. Evaporation is high between winters, making severe droughts common.
4 TOPOGRAPHIC REGIONS
More than six hundred million years ago, an enormous mountain range once covered Libya, which lies on the African Tectonic Plate. Over the centuries, the sea advanced, then retreated over the region; the corresponding water, wind, and temperature changes eroded the mountains, leaving behind the sands and plateaus that comprise Libya's landscape.
The fourth-largest country in Africa, Libya is sectioned into three main geographical areas: Tripolitania, Cyrenaica, and Fezzan. Tripolitania covers the northwestern corner of the country and the Fezzan covers the land south of Tripolitania. Cyrenaica, the largest geographic region, covers the entire eastern half of the country. Tripolitania and Cyrenaica are made up of low-lying land and plateaus. Tripolitania contains the Nafūsah Plateau and Cyrenaica houses the Jabal al-Akhdar (Green Mountains). Fezzan is home to desert lands, including the Sahara.
5 OCEANS AND SEAS
Seacoast and Undersea Features
Libya has a northern coast along the Mediterranean Sea. The Mediterranean is an almost completely landlocked sea that lies between southern Europe, north Africa, and southwest Asia. It links to the Atlantic Ocean (at its western point) through the Strait of Gibraltar and to the Red Sea (at its southeastern shore) though the Suez Canal. It also connects to the Black Sea in the northeast through the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmara, and the Bosporus.
Sea Inlets and Straits
The Gulf of Sidra is nestled between the Trip-olitania and Cyrenaica regions. Important ports are located along the coast, including Benghazi, Tobruk, and Darnah.
The coastal plain is often marshy, yet beaches stretch for more than 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) along the Mediterranean Sea. Along the shore of the western region surrounding Trip-oli, coastal oases alternate with sandy beaches and lagoons for more than 300 kilometers (180 miles).
6 INLAND LAKES
Although there are no major lakes in Libya, some small seasonal lakes do spring up during the rainy seasons. One small collection of lakes, Ramlet Dawada (Lakes in the Desert), is situated in the Libyan Sahara. This oasis contains eleven lakes surrounded by sand dunes and palms.
7 RIVERS AND WATERFALLS
In Libya there are no permanent rivers—only wadis (riverbeds that are seasonally or permanently dry). They catch the infrequent runoff from rainfall during the rainy season, which commonly causes flash floods in the surrounding areas. The wadis then dry out during the hot summer months.
The southern portion of Libya lies within the Sahara Desert. The part of the Sahara located in eastern Libya, western Egypt, and Sudan is known as the Libyan Desert. Agriculture is possible only in a few scattered oases, which include Jalu and Jaghbub. The three largest oases in Libya's desert region are Al-Kufrah, Ghāt, and Ghadāmis.
The Fezzan, in the southwestern region, is also a desert, with ergs (vast sand dunes) that reach several hundred feet high and change shape slowly in the shifting wind. They cover about one-fifth of the land. Also in this area are sabkhas (depressions on the desert floor) that contain water underground, creating occasional oases. Most of the Fezzan is flat, except for the area along the southern border near Chad, where the rugged mountain range, Tibesti Massif, is located. The range contains Libya's highest point, Bīkkū Bīttī (Bette Peak), at 2,267 meters (7,436 feet).
9 FLAT AND ROLLING TERRAIN
In the northeastern area of Cyrenaica (the region that covers almost half of Libya), the land rises from a coastal plain to the Jabal alAkhdar (Green Mountains) with a height of just under 915 meters (3,000 feet). The lower slopes are covered with flowers, and at the higher elevations there are shrubs and juniper. In the southern region, a pastoral zone of sparse grassland gives way to the vast Sahara Desert.
DID YOU KNOW?
The Sahara Desert covers an area of 9,065,000 square kilometers (3,500,000 square miles) and is the largest desert in the world. The Sahara covers the entire region of North Africa, from the Atlantic coast in the west to the Red Sea in the east. It borders the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlas Mountains in the north and extends into a southern region known as the Sahel and the Sudan. Scientists believe that during the Ice Age (about fifty thousand to one hundred thousand years ago), the Sahara was once covered with shallow lakes that provided water for large areas of lush vegetation. Now, it is a vast and barren wasteland of rocky plateaus and sand.
10 MOUNTAINS AND VOLCANOES
The Tibesti Massif, a rugged mountain range, runs along the southern border near Chad and houses Libya's highest point, Bīkkū Bīttī (Bette Peak), at 2,267 meters (7,438 feet). The Al-Akhdar Mountains run along the northeastern Mediterranean coast. In the center of the country are the lower Al-Harūj Al-Aswad Hills. These basaltic hills include a series of volcanoes called Qarat as-Sab'ah, which have elevations of up to 1,189 meters (3,900 feet).
11 CANYONS AND CAVES
There are no major caves or canyons in Libya.
12 PLATEAUS AND MONOLITHS
In the northwest region of the country, Tripolitania is home to a series of terraces that rise slowly from sea level along the coastal plain of Al-Jifarahh until they reach the Nafūsah Plateau. This upland plateau is made of limestone and contains sand, shrubs, and scattered masses of stone. Elevations reach 1,000 meters (3,300 feet). Southward from the Nafūsah Plateau is the Al Hamādah Al Hamrā' (the Red Desert), a rocky plateau comprised of red sandstone. Its flat landscape stretches hundreds of miles to the southwest Fezzan Desert region. The rocky plateaus of the Fezzan Desert have been shaped by wind and extreme temperature changes.
13 MAN-MADE FEATURES
The discovery of vast aquifers in the south and southeast regions of Libya prompted the building of an enormous water pipeline to bring water from 225 underground wells to an 880,000-gallon reservoir in the coastal area for use in agriculture and industry. Called the Great Man-made River project, as of 2001 it was still under development. It is among the largest and most expensive engineering projects ever undertaken.
14 FURTHER READING
Brill, M. Libya . Chicago: Children's Press, 1987.
Lawless, Richard I. Libya . Santa Barbara, CA: Clio Press, 1987.
Malcolm, Peter. Libya . New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1999.
Metz, Helen Chapin, ed. Libya, a Country Study . 4th ed. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1989.
ArabNet. Libya: Geography. http://www.arab.net/libya/geography/libya_geography.html (accessed April 14, 2003).
"Libya." Virtual Dimensions Inc. http://www.libyaonline.com/libya/index.html (accessed April 14, 2003).