Official name: Islamic Republic of Mauritania
Area: 1,030,700 square kilometers (397,953 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Mount Ijill (915 meters/3,002 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sebkha de Ndrhamcha (3 meters/10 feet below sea level)
Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern
Time zone: Noon = noon GMT
Longest distances: 1,515 kilometers (941 miles) from northeast to southwest; 1,314 kilometers (816 miles) from northwest to southeast
Land boundaries: 5,074 kilometers (3,153 miles) total boundary length; Algeria 463 kilometers (288 miles); Mali 2,237 kilometers (1,390 miles); Senegal 813 kilometers (505 miles); Western Sahara 1,561 kilometers (970 miles)
Coastline: 754 kilometers (469 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
1 LOCATION AND SIZE
Mauritania is an arid country in western Africa. It forms a transitional zone between the Islamic, Arab-sh2aking countries of North Africa's Maghreb region and the sub-Saharan countries to the south. With an area of 1,030,700 square kilometers (397,953 square miles), it is more than three times the size of the state of New Mexico.
2 TERRITORIES AND DEPENDENCIES
Mauritania has no territories or dependencies.
The northern two-thirds of the country has an extremely hot, arid, Saharan climate. After-noon high temperatures in the hottest months average 38°C (100°F), and often exceed 46°C (115°F) in the interior. The southern part of the country has a semidesert, Sahelian climate. Average summer temperatures at Kifa, in this region, are around 26°C (79°F). The coastal region, although still arid, has the most moderate temperatures due to trade winds blowing in from the Atlantic Ocean. The average temperature in the coastal city of Nouakchott is around 24°C (75°F) during September, which is the hottest month in this region.
Northeasterly winds and the harmattan wind from the east keep Mauritania's climate dry, especially in the north. Rainfall increases gradually from north to south as the rainy season becomes longer. Average annual rainfall at Nouadhibou is between 1 and 2 inches, and rain falls only between September and November. (Farther north and east, rainfall is too rare and sparse to be measured.) At the opposite end of the scale, Sélibaby in the southern Senegal Valley region averages about 64 centimeters (25 inches) of rainfall annually, with a rainy season that lasts from June to October.
4 TOPOGRAPHIC REGIONS
Approximately one-third of the Sahara Desert is in Mauritania. The Saharan region, a generally flat plain with occasional ridges and rocky outcroppings, covers roughly the northern two-thirds of the country. It includes a series of sandstone plateaus spanning the center of Mauritania from north to south. The southern third of the country and the coastal plain to the west are mostly semidesert, and there is a narrow strip of fertile land on the plain of the Senegal River in the southwest.
5 OCEANS AND SEAS
Mauritania borders the North Atlantic Ocean.
Seacoast and Undersea Features
The waters off the coast of Mauritania are among the richest fishing areas in the world.
Sea Inlets and Straits
The Baie de Lévrier lies between Cap Timiris and the long peninsula of Cap Blanc, bordering the northern third of Mauritania's coast. This bay is one of the largest natural harbors on the west coast of Africa.
Islands and Archipelagos
The major island is Île Tidra, which lies close to shore in the Baie de Lévrier.
Mauritania's Atlantic coast is sandy, flat, and dotted with the saltwater pools known as sebkhas. The coastline is smooth south of Cap Timiris, the only significant promontory. Cap Blanc is the northernmost point on the coast.
6 INLAND LAKES
Lake D'Aleg, Lake Rkiz, and a few other salt-water lakes are scattered throughout Mauritania. None are of considerable size, and due to recurrent droughts in recent decades they are even smaller than they once were.
7 RIVERS AND WATERFALLS
Most of Mauritania has little or no drainage to the sea. The Senegal River, which forms the boundary between Mauritania and Senegal, is the only permanent river between southern Morocco and central Senegal. Rising in Guinea, it flows north and west to the sea at Saint-Louis in Senegal. Its tributaries drain the fertile southwestern corner of Mauritania.
The northern two-thirds of Mauritania is true Saharan desert, with vegetation other than cacti found only in oases. Sand dunes cover about half of Mauritania. Many are arranged in long ridges extending from northeast to southwest, with heights of up to 91 meters (300 feet). In the far eastern part of the country, known as El Djouf, the terrain encompasses both rocky and sandy desert.
9 FLAT AND ROLLING TERRAIN
The Banc d'Arguin National Park, Mauritania's only national park, is a wetlands reserve on the coastline bordering the Baie de Lévrier. It is known for the wide array of migratory birds that winter there. Variously known as the Che-mama or the Pre-Sahel is the Senegal River Valley zone on the country's southwestern border. This region consists of a narrow, fertile belt of land which is 400 kilometers (250 miles) long and extends from 16 to 32 kilometers (10 to 20 miles) north of the Senegal River. The Affollé Hills mark the south-central region of Mauritania along the border with Mali.
10 MOUNTAINS AND VOLCANOES
Mauritania is largely flat, but in places its rocky plateaus attain heights of over 457 meters (1,500 feet). Its highest point is an enormous block of hematite (a red mineral), Mount Ijill in the northwest, topping out at 915 meters (3,002 feet).
11 CANYONS AND CAVES
Cave paintings have been found near Chinguetti, in central Mauritania.
12 PLATEAUS AND MONOLITHS
Mauritania is nearly bisected by the sandstone plateaus that extend down the center of the country on a north–south axis, rising to elevations of over 300 meters (1,000 feet).
13 MAN-MADE FEATURES
The Manantali Dam on the Bafing River was constructed in the 1980s for irrigation, navigation, and electric power generation. It is 1,460 meters (4,790 feet) long and 65 meters (213 feet) high.
DID YOU KNOW?
The nineteenth-century shipwreck of the frigate Meduse, immortalized in a famous painting by Théodore Géricault, occurred off the coast of Mauritania. Many of those who did not die aboard the fragile life raft built by the passengers perished onshore during a futile trek across the desert.
14 FURTHER READING
Celati, Gianni. Adventures in Africa . Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
Hudson, Peter. Travels in Mauritania . London: Virgin, 1990.
Morocco Handbook with Mauritania . Footprint Handbooks. Lincolnwood, IL: Passport Books, 1997.
Lonely Planet World Guide: Destination Mauritania. www.lonelyplanet.com/destinations/africa/mauritania/ (accessed April 24, 2003).
Miftah Shamali Mauritania. http://i-cias.com/meters.s/mauritan/ (accessed April 24, 2003).