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Geography of Algeria


Location: Northern Africa, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, between Morocco and Tunisia

Geographic coordinates: 28 00 N, 3 00 E

Map references: Africa

total: 2,381,740 kmē
land: 2,381,740 kmē
water: 0 kmē

Area - comparative: slightly less than 3.5 times the size of Texas

Land boundaries:
total: 6,343 km
border countries: Libya 982 km, Mali 1,376 km, Mauritania 463 km, Morocco 1,559 km, Niger 956 km, Tunisia 965 km, Western Sahara 42 km

Coastline: 998 km

Maritime claims:
exclusive fishing zone: 32-52 nm
territorial sea: 12 nm

Climate: arid to semiarid: although Algeria enjoys a warm climate, the temperature varies considerably in different parts, according to the elevation and configuration of the country. Along the coast the weather is very mild, the thermometer rarely falling to freezing-point even in winter. The coldest month is January, the hottest August. The mean annual temperature in the coast plains is 66 degrees Fahrenheit. Heavy rains prevail from December to March, and rain is not uncommon during other months, except for June, July, August and September, which are both hot and rainless. The average annual rainfall is 29 inches. On the mountains and the high plateaus the winter is often very severe; snow lies for six months on the higher peaks of the al-Quabail Mountains. On the plateaus the temperature passes from one extreme to the other, and rain seldom falls. Throughout Algeria, especially in the summer, there is a great difference between day and night temperature, notably in the inland districts. Between May and September the sirocco, or hot wind of the desert, sweeps at intervals over the country, filling the air with fine sand.

Terrain: mostly high plateau and desert; some mountains; narrow, discontinuous coastal plain

Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Chott Melrhir -40 m highest point: Tahat 3,003 m

Natural resources: petroleum, natural gas, iron ore, phosphates, uranium, lead, zinc

Land use:
arable land: 3.12%
permanent crops: 0.21%
other: 96.58% (1998 est.)

Irrigated land: 5,600 kmē (1998 est.)

Natural hazards: mountainous areas subject to severe earthquakes; mud slides

Environment - current issues: soil erosion from overgrazing and other poor farming practices; desertification; dumping of raw sewage, petroleum refining wastes, and other industrial effluents is leading to the pollution of rivers and coastal waters; Mediterranean Sea, in particular, becoming polluted from oil wastes, soil erosion, and fertilizer runoff; inadequate supplies of potable water

Environment - international agreements: party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands signed, but not ratified: Nuclear Test Ban

Geography - note: second-largest country in Africa (after Sudan)

Physical Features.--The character of the Algerian coast is severe and inhospitable. The western half is bordered by a hilly rampart, broken only here and there, in the bays where the larger streams find their outlet, by flat and sandy plains. Between Dellys and Skikda (formerly "Phillippeville"), high mountains rise almost sheer from the sea, leaving only a narrow strip of beach. East of Skikda the mountains recede from the coast, and the rampart of hills reappears. Only between Bona and La Calle is the general character of the sea-board low and sandy. Save near the towns and in the cultivated district of Kabylia, the coast is bare and uninhabited; and in spite of numerous indentations, of which the most important going from west to east are the Gulf of Oran, the Gulf of Arzeu, the Bay of Algiers, and the gulfs of Bougie, Stora and Bona, there are few good harbours. From time immemorial, indeed, this coast has had a bad reputation among mariners, quite apart from the pirates who for centuries made it the base of their depredations. A violent current, starting from the Straits of Gibraltar, rushes eastward along the shore, and, hurled back from the headlands, is deflected to the West. In summer the east wind brings dense and sudden fogs; while in winter the northerly gales blow straight into the mouths of the harbours. In these circumstances navigation is especially perilous for sailing craft. The terrors of this "savage sea and inhospitable shore," once described by Sallust, have, however, been greatly mitigated, first by the introduction of steam, the improvement of the harbours, and the establishment by the French government of an excellent system of lighthouses, and, more recently, by the invention of radar, radio communications, and GPS.

Southward from the sea the country falls naturally into three divisions, clearly distinguished by their broad physical characteristics. The healthy, and on the whole fertile coast region, about 500 miles in width, is known, as in Morocco and Tunisia, as the Tell (Arabic for "hill"). It is a mountainous country intersected with rocky canons and fertile valleys, which occasionally broaden out into alluvial plains like that of the Chelif, or the Metija near Algiers, or those in the neighbourhood of Oran and Bona. Behind the Tell is a lofty table-land with an average elevation of 3000 ft., consisting of vast plains, for the most part arid or covered with esparto grass, in the depressions of which are great salt lakes (Tunisian Arabic, chotts) and swamps fed by streams which can find no outlet to the sea through the encircling hills. To the south this region is divided by the Great Atlas from the deserts of the Sahara, with its oases, in which the boundary of Algeria is lost.

The country is traversed by lofty ranges of the Atlas system, which run nearly parallel to the coast, and rise in places over 7000 ft. These are commonly divided into two leading chains, distinguished as the Great1 and Little Atlas. The Great, or Saharan Atlas contains some of the highest points in the country. The chief ranges are Ksur and Amur in the west and the Aures in the east. The peak of Shellia, the highest point in Algeria, in the Aures range, has a height of 7611 ft. In the Amur are Jebel Ksel (6594 ft.) and Tuila Makna (6561 ft.). The Little Atlas, otherwise the Tell or Maritime Atlas, lies between the sea and the Saharan Atlas, and is composed of many distinct ranges, generally of no great elevation and connected by numerous transverse chains forming extensive table-lands and elevated valleys. The principal ranges of the Little Atlas--from west to east--are the Tlemcen (5500 ft.); the Warsenis (with Kef Sidi Omar, 6500 ft.); the Titeri (4900 ft.); the Jurjura, with the peak of Lalla Kedija (7542 ft.) and Mount Babor (6447 ft.); and the Mejerda (3700 ft.), which extends into Tunisia. The Jurjura range, forming the background of the plains between Algiers and Bougie, extends through the district of Kabylia, which is known for its impressive scenery. South of the Jurjura and separated from it by the valley of the Sahel, is the Biban range with a famous double pass of the same name, through which alone access is gained to the highlands beyond. The Bibans or Portes de fer (Iron Gates) consist of two defiles with stupendous walls of rock, which by erosion have assumed the most fantastic shapes. In the case of the Petite porte the walls in some places are not more than twelve feet apart. The Dahra range overlooks the sea, and is separated from the Warsenis by the valley of the Chelif.

The rivers are numerous but the majority are short. Most of them rise in the mountains near the coast, and rush down through deep and rocky channels. During the rainy season they render communication between different parts of the country extremely difficult. The most important river, both from its length and volume, is the Chelif. It rises on the northern slopes of the Amur mountains and flows northeast across the high plateau, piercing the little Atlas between the Warsenis and Titeri ranges. It then turns west and reaches the Mediterranean at the eastern end of the Gulf of Arzeu. The Chelif, which has many tributaries, is about 430 m. long.

Algeria abounds in extensive salt lakes and marshes. Of the lakes in the northern part of the country near the coast the principal are,--the Fezara, 14 miles southwest of Bona; Sebkha and El Melah, south of Oran; and three small lakes in the immediate vicinity of La Calle. South of the Jebel Aures is another series of salt lakes closely connected with the Chott el-Jerid (of Tunisia). The chief of these is the Chott Melrir. There are a number of warm mineral springs containing salts of lime.

One of the most remarkable groups of springs is near Guelma. There are two principal sources. Their waters unite in one stream whose course is marked by gigantic limestone cones, some of which are 36 ft. high. The water, which is at boiling point, falls into natural basins of a creamy white colour, formed by the deposit of carbonate of lime. The springs are known to the Arabs as Hamam Meskutin (the "accursed baths"). The name and the cones are accounted for by a legend which represents that at this spot lived a sheikh who, finding his sister too beautiful to be married to anyone else, determined to espouse her himself. Whilst the marriage festivities were being celebrated the judgment of Heaven descended on the guilty pair; fire came from below; the water became hot and the sheikh and his sister were turned into stone. Within a mile of Hamam Meskutin are ferruginous and sulphureous springs.


Much of the material in this article comes from the CIA World Factbook 2000 and the 2003 U.S. Department of State website.

See also : Algeria