When people talk about the desert, Sahara will immediately come to your mind. Sahara is the most famous because it is the world’s largest and hottest desert. It is often depicted in movies and documentaries as a harsh yet mystical place.
Because of its super large size, Sahara is located in a few countries in Africa. Although the weather is scorching there, millions of tourists are always interested in visiting and feeling the different vibes.
It must be fun to ride the camel, find the oases, and meet the nomad people there. Visiting the Sahara will become the most memorable and unforgettable memory you’ve ever had. But, before going there, let’s check out the hottest facts about the Sahara Desert first!
1. The Name “Sahara” Derives From the Arabic Word Which Simply Means “Desert”
Sahara got its name from the Arabic noun “ṣaḥrāʾ” which means “desert” and its plural form, “ṣaḥārāʾ”. The word “ṣaḥrāʾ” shares its roots with the Arabic word aṣḥar, which translates to “desert-like” which also describes the characteristics of the red-yellowish sand of the Sahara.
It is a fact that the internationally used term, the Sahara Desert, didn’t exist before the 19th Century. Before, the Sahara was called “the Great Desert” by Medieval Europeans or “al-Kubrā”, which means the great space, by Arabians.
2. The Age of the Sahara Desert is Still Controversial, At Least 4.6 Million Years Old
There is still no substantial evidence to tell how old the Sahara Desert is. Hence the age of the Sahara is still controversial, ranging from the Miocene epoch (23-5.3 million years ago) to the Holocene era (11,650 years ago-present).
However, researchers are examining the Fuerteventura and Gran Canaria Islands that seasonally pour windblown dust off of Sahara and across the Atlantic Ocean. They want to find, identify and date any layers of ancient African dust in paleosols (ancient soils).
Fortunately, their hard work pays off because it provides the first direct evidence that the desert’s age matches those found in deep-sea sediments. It is at least 4.6 million years old!
3. Hundreds of Teeth and Most-Complete Tail of Aquatic Dinosaurs Were Unearthed by Paleontologist
Sahara is widely known as one of the most significant sources of various dinosaur fossils, including aquatic dinosaurs. In fact, there are hundreds of teeth of swimming dinosaurs unearthed in the Sahara Desert. Paleontologists also found a mostly-complete tail of the first-known aquatic dinosaur, Spinosaurus aegyptiacus. It became one of the region’s most significant intact dinosaur fossils unearthed.
4. Sahara Was Once an Ocean
Contrasting to its current appearance, an immense desert, the Sahara desert was, in fact, once an ocean. This fact is supported by the fossil discovery of aquatic creatures. Some gigantic sea snakes and catfish fossils were unearthed from the deep sand layers.
There are also remains of extinct giant fishes, whose size was significantly larger than their modern-day relatives. Phalentologist also found mollusk-crushing fishes, tropical invertebrates, long-snouted crocodiles, early mammals, and mangrove forests.
Furthermore, the previous point also shows that in the Sahara desert once lived Spinosaurus. This titan-sized aquatic dinosaur would make both T-rex and Giganotosaurus look like a tiny lizards.
5. Sahara is Growing Larger Over Years
Did you know that the Sahara Desert is expanding as time goes by? The analysis of rainfall data shows that the Sahara had grown about 10% larger than it was when the records began around 1920.
Scientists believe that climate change plays a role in this phenomenon. The growth of the Sahara desert is, in fact, influenced by the season. For the last 100 years, it grew by as much as 18 percent during the driest summer months and slightly shrunk when rains happened.
6. Humans Helped to Keep Sahara Desert Green For At Least 500 Years Longer Than Expected
According to researchers for the University College London and King’s College London, the North African region was lush and green, a vibrant ecosystem 8000 years ago. It supported hunter-gatherers and fisherfolk. Evidence of this dense vegetation can still be seen in the oases that dot the arid landscapes today.
Previous studies have said that the change from the “Green Sahara” into a desert was caused by humans. However, this theory is contradicted by recent studies, which say nomadic herding people used techniques such as seasonal movement and selective grazing. It helped protect the region’s resources.
As the Earth’s orbit changed slowly over millennia, rainfall decreased. The land started to dry up, which made researchers determine that the end of the African Humid Period came some 500 years earlier than previously believed if humans weren’t there.
7. Around 2 Million People Live in Sahara
All of us must wonder about who lives in the Sahara. Are there people who survive in that desert? And how they live there since what they see is only the desert. The fact is, yes, some people live in the Sahara.
They mostly live as nomads, but some communities stay near the water source. There are around 2 million people who live there. People who live in Sahara include several tribes such as Sahrawi, Berber, and Isehrawiyen.
8. Sahara Had Snowfall Over the Decades
Although most of the weather and climate of this desert is extremely dry and hot, snowfall is not an impossible thing anymore in the Sahara.
In fact, Sahara had snowfall over the decades, including in January 2022. It is such an unusual weather phenomenon that the ice comes to the hottest desert in the world.
People believe that snowfall in the Sahara relates to climate change since it is unpredictable, uncommon, and unusual. But still, it needs to be researched more to understand the reason.
9. A Prehistoric Megalake Existed Beneath Sahara Desert
Have you ever wondered what is underneath the world’s largest hot desert? Scientists have discovered evidence of a prehistoric mega lake beneath the dunes of Sahara. It was formed about 250,000 years ago when the Nile River flooded the eastern Sahara through a low duck near Wadi Tushka.
The spread of human settlements near the Selima and Tarfavid areas of Egypt also corresponds to a lake with about 42,000 square miles. This is because humans need water, so they choose to place the settlements near water regions to live.
10. Oasis in Sahara
There are about 90 oases in the Sahara Desert. It really helps the people to transit for a while, take a break, and prepare water supplies to continue traveling. Most oases in the Sahara are the world’s largest water supply underground. Oases in the Sahara are not only used as a water source but also as an exciting area in the economy, military, and political view.
11. There Are Lots of Variety of Animals in Sahara
Animals in the Sahara are not only camels. Because there are 70 mammalian species, 90 bird species, 100 species of reptiles, and other insects. Oh, don’t forget about the deadly scorpion and sand viper!
Although the weather is sweltering, many animals are living there. So, don’t ever think that animals won’t survive in this place. Reptiles like crocodiles will appear when the rain is coming.
12. You Need About 40 to 60 Days to Cross Sahara
It usually takes around 40 to 60 days to cross the Sahara. Saharawi uses camel caravans for transport. Back in the era before the 9th century BCE, transporting using camel caravans was uncommon. People tend to use horses or donkeys as their favorite animals to accompany them in moving from one place to another. Arabia introduced camels as the transportation into Egypt and became the most popular until now.
13. Sahara Meets the Sea
You will probably think that there will be just sand dunes and cacti in the Sahara. Yet, Sahara meets the sea since it is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the west. It meets the Red Sea to the east, and to the north, there is the Mediterranean Sea.
The desert is beautiful to see the border between the sand dune and the sea. Also, there are Nile and Niger rivers as the primary water source in this hottest desert in the world.
14. Though It Is Incredibly Hot During the Day, Sahara Becomes Cold at Night
It is because of the ecosystem in the Sahara. During the day, when the sun hits the sand, then the sand will absorb in the desert’s top layer and release the heat back into the air.
Then when the night comes, the sun starts to set, and all the heat released by the sand is not added by the sunlight anymore. Hence, the cold temperature drops quickly and causes Sahara to become colder at night.
Also, the sky is cloudless. The colder weather that has reached the Sahara is minus 14 Celsius. This is why it is challenging to survive in this desert.
15. Installing Solar Panels in Sahara Could Damage the Global Climate
Maybe you’ve thought about why we don’t install solar panels in the Sahara desert, considering that this place has a great potential to take solar, increasing renewable energy. Sahara is the largest hot desert in the world that is never short of sunlight, so why don’t we turn it into a giant solar farm since it can meet four times the world’s current energy demand?
The model from a 2018 study revealed that when the size of the solar farm reaches 20% of the total area of the Sahara, it triggers a feedback loop. It creates a steep temperature difference between the land and the surrounding oceans. And when it happens, there will be more monsoon rains in the Sahara, making plants grow, and the desert reflects less of the sun’s energy. It is only about time that the Sahara will become green again.