The Sahara is the largest hot desert and the third largest desert in the world after Antarctica and the Arctic. Its area of 9,200,000 square kilometres is comparable to the area of the United States. The desert comprises much of North Africa, excluding the fertile region on the Mediterranean Sea coast, the Atlas Mountains of the Maghreb, and the Nile Valley in Egypt and Sudan. It stretches from the Red Sea in the east and the Mediterranean in the north to the Atlantic Ocean in the west, where the landscape gradually changes from desert to coastal plains. To the south, it is bounded by the Sahel, a belt of tropical savanna around the Niger River valley. The Sahara can be divided into several regions including, the western Sahara, the central Ahaggar Mountains, the Tibesti Mountains, the Aïr Mountains, the Ténéré desert, the name Sahara is derived from ṣaḥārā, the plural of the Arabic word for desert. The Sahara covers large parts of Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Western Sahara, Sudan and it covers 9 million square kilometres, amounting to 31% of Africa. If all areas with an annual precipitation of less than 250 mm were included. It is one of three physiographic provinces of the African massive physiographic division. The Sahara is mainly rocky hamada, Ergs form only a minor part, wind or rare rainfall shape the desert features, sand dunes, dune fields, sand seas, stone plateaus, gravel plains, dry valleys, dry lakes, and salt flats. Unusual landforms include the Richat Structure in Mauritania, several deeply dissected mountains, many volcanic, rise from the desert, including the Aïr Mountains, Ahaggar Mountains, Saharan Atlas, Tibesti Mountains, Adrar des Iforas, and the Red Sea hills. The highest peak in the Sahara is Emi Koussi, a volcano in the Tibesti range of northern Chad. The central Sahara is hyperarid, with sparse vegetation, the northern and southern reaches of the desert, along with the highlands, have areas of sparse grassland and desert shrub, with trees and taller shrubs in wadis, where moisture collects. In the central, hyperarid region, there are subdivisions of the great desert, Tanezrouft, the Ténéré, the Libyan Desert, the Eastern Desert. These extremely arid areas often receive no rain for years, the northern limit also corresponds to the 100 mm isohyet of annual precipitation. To the south, the Sahara is bounded by the Sahel, the southern limit of the Sahara is indicated botanically by the southern limit of Cornulaca monacantha, or northern limit of Cenchrus biflorus, a grass typical of the Sahel. According to climatic criteria, the limit of the Sahara corresponds to the 150 mm isohyet of annual precipitation. The Sahara is the worlds largest low-latitude hot desert and this steady descending airflow causes a warming and a drying effect in the upper troposphere
The top image shows the Safsaf Oasis on the surface of the Sahara. The bottom (using radar) is the rock layer underneath, revealing black channels cut by the meandering of an ancient river that once fed the oasis.
A geographical map of Africa, showing the ecological break that defines the Saharan area.