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Western Desert (North Africa)

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Western Desert (North Africa)

The Libyan Desert covers an area of approximately 1,100,000 km2, it extends approximately 1100 km from east to west, and 1,000 km from north to south, in about the shape of a rectangle. Like most of the Sahara, this desert is primarily sand and hamada or stony plain.

Sand plains, dunes, ridges and some depressions (basins) typify the endorheic region, with no rivers draining into or out of the desert. The Gilf Kebir plateau reaches an altitude of just over 1000 m, and along with the nearby massif of Jebel Uweinat is an exception to the uninterrupted territory of basement rocks covered by layers of horizontally bedded sediments, forming a massive sand plain, low plateaus and dunes.

The desert features a striking diversity of landscapes including mountains such as Jebel Uweinat (1980 m), the Gilf Kebir plateau, and sand seas (see below). The Libyan Desert is barely populated apart from the modern settlements at oases of the lower Cyrenaica region in southeastern Libya. The indigenous population is Berber. In most of Upper Egypt, the desert is close to the Nile River, with a seasonal floodplain only a few kilometers wide between river and desert. Where the Desert extends into Egypt, no longer in Libya, it is generally known as the Western Desert. The term Western Desert contrasts with the Eastern Desert, to the east of the Nile, which lies between the Nile and the Red Sea.

North of the Gilf Kebir plateau, among the shallow peripheral dunes of the southern Great Sand Sea, is a field of Libyan desert glass. A specimen of the desert glass was used in a piece of Tutankhamun's ancient jewelry.

Gilf Kebir

Three sand seas

The three sand seas, which contain dunes up to 512 meters in height, cover approximately one quarter of the region. They include:


Further information: Berdoa, Marmarica, Leo Africanus and Toubou people

Modern exploration

World War II

Further information: Western Desert Campaign

In 1935, the famous French aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry crashed in the northern Libyan Desert.[1] After miraculously surviving, he and his plane's mechanic nearly died of thirst before being rescued by a nomad. This event is described in Exupéry's book Wind, Sand and Stars.

The wreck of the B-24 bomber Lady Be Good—discovered 200 km (120 mi) north of Kufra 15 years after it was reported missing during WWII—had a less happy ending. The crew bailed out believing they were over the sea, when their plane ran out of fuel, and they became lost. When they landed in the Libyan Desert they could feel a northwesterly breeze. Thinking they were near the Mediterranean, they headed into the wind hoping it would lead them to safety. However, they were more than 640 km inland from the Mediterranean, and slowly died from dehydration after covering 130 km with minimal water in a place so dry even the desert Bedouins refuse to enter.

See also


Further reading

External links

  • The Libyan Desert
  • The complete text and photos of the discoveries of Ahmed Pasha Hassanein in the Libyan Desert, National Geographic Magazine, September 1924

Coordinates: 24°N 25°E / 24°N 25°E / 24; 25

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