Official name: Republic of Sierra Leone
Area: 71,740 square kilometers (27,699 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Loma Mansa (1,948 meters/6,391 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sea level
Hemispheres: Northern and Western
Time zone: Noon = noon GMT
Longest distances: 338 kilometers (210 miles) from north to south; 304 kilometers (189 miles) from east to west
Land boundaries: 958 kilometers (595 miles) total boundary length; Guinea 652 kilometers (405 miles); Liberia 306 kilometers (190 miles)
Coastline: 402 kilometers (250 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 370 kilometers (200 nautical miles)
Slightly smaller than the state of South Carolina, Sierra Leone, which is roughly circular in shape, is a compact country in the southwestern part of West Africa. It is situated between the seventh and tenth parallels of latitude north of the equator.
Sierra Leone has no territories or dependencies.
Because it is so close to the equator, Sierra Leone has a tropical climate; temperatures stay fairly constant throughout the year. The mean temperature is about 27°C (81°F) on the coast and almost as high on the eastern plateau. The dry season lasts from November to April, with a wet season occurring during the rest of the year. The prevailing winds from the southwest monsoon characterize the rainy season. Rainfall is greatest along the coast, especially in the mountains, which receive more than 580 centimeters (230 inches) of rainfall annually, compared to an average of approximately 315 centimeters (125 inches) in the rest of the country. During the dry season, harmattan winds blow from the Sahara Desert, bringing sandstorms but little rain.
Sierra Leone's varied terrain includes the striking, mountainous Sierra Leone Peninsula; a zone of low-lying coastal marshland along the Atlantic Ocean; and a wide plains area extending inland to about the middle of the country. East of the plains, the land rises to a broad, moderately elevated plateau interspersed with occasional hills and mountains.
Sierra Leone is bounded on the southwest and west by the Atlantic Ocean; the country is located northwest of that part of the Atlantic Coast known as the Grain Coast, which borders Liberia.
There are oil and gas reserves under the ocean floor off the coast of Sierra Leone.
Sherbro Island is separated from the mainland by Sherbro River on the north and Sherbro Strait on the east.
There are three major island groups off the coast of Sierra Leone: the Banana Islands, the Turtle Islands, and Sherbro Island. Sherbro Island is by far the largest. The city of Bonthe is located on this island.
The coast is very irregular, forming many bays, inlets, and peninsulas. The most significant features are the Sierra Leone Peninsula, where Freetown is located, and Yawri Bay, which is located in the center of the coast just south of the peninsula. The coastal plain has numerous estuaries whose river channels, like that of the Sierra Leone River, continue to flow under the sea. Mangrove swamps line much of the coast, and behind the trees, marine and freshwater swamps occupy large areas.
Most of the small lakes in Sierra Leone are located in the south. The three largest and most important are Lake Sonfon, Lake Mabesi, and Lake Mape.
Most of the rivers of Sierra Leone drain into the Atlantic Ocean; a few, however, terminate at inland lakes. Of the numerous rivers, the most important ones are the Great and Little Scarcies in the north and the Rokel in the central region. The Great Scarcies forms part of the northern border with Guinea. The Rokel River originates in the Loma Mountains and flows west to the Atlantic Ocean near Freetown. At 440 kilometers (270 miles), the Rokel is the longest river in the country. Also important are the Mano and Moro Rivers, which form the southern border with Liberia. Other major rivers include the Jong, Sewa, Soa, and Moa.
There are no deserts in Sierra Leone.
The coastal plain covers a zone varying in width from about 8 to 40 kilometers (5 to 25 miles). In the southern section of the plateau region, erosion has formed a large area of rolling terrain, which is 64 kilometers (40 miles) wide at certain points and reaches elevations between 152 and 304 meters (500 and 1,000 feet).
The mountainous Sierra Leone Peninsula, on which Freetown is located, is 40 kilometers (25 miles) long and about 16 kilometers (10 miles) wide. The highest point in Sierra Leone, Mount Loma Mansa (Bintimani), rises to a height of 1,948 meters (6,391 feet) in the Loma Mountains, which span the northeastern part of the country.
There are no well-known named caves or canyons in Sierra Leone.
The plateau region, which encompasses roughly the eastern half of the country, has elevations ranging from roughly 304 meters (1,000 feet) to about 608 meters (2,000 feet).
The most significant dam in Sierra Leone is the Guma Valley Dam, which is 68 meters (223 feet) high and supplies water to an area that includes the capital city of Freetown.
Ferme, Mariane. The Underneath of Things: Violence, History, and the Everyday in Sierra Leone . Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001.
Hirsh, John. Sierra Leone: Diamonds and the Struggle for Democracy. ( International Peace Academy Occasional Paper Series ) . Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2000.
Richards, Paul. Fighting for the Rain Forest: War, Youth, and Resources in Sierra Leone (African Issues Series). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1996.
GlobalGeografia.com . http://www.globalgeografia.com/africa_eng/sierra_leone.htm (accessed April 10, 2003).
Sierra Leone Web. http://www.sierra-leone.org/index.html (accessed April 10, 2003).