A large semi-arid sandy savanna in Southern Africa

Large basin-like plain in Southern Africa’s central plateau known as the Kalahari Desert. It encompasses practically the entire country of Botswana, the eastern third of Namibia, and the farthest north of the South African province of Northern Cape. It combines with Namibia’s Namib, a coastal desert, in the southwest. The Kalahari’s greatest east-west distance is about 600 miles, while its longest north-south reach is roughly 1,600 kilometers. Its area has been calculated to be over 930,000 square kilometres.

Physical features

At 3,000 feet (900 meters) or more above sea level, the Kalahari Desert is a featureless, gradually sloping plain covered in sand. Only the low, vertical-walled hills, or kopjes, that occasionally but noticeably rise above the surrounding surface have exposed bedrock. Sand sheets, longitudinal dunes, and vleis are the three main surface types that make up the majority of the Kalahari, aside from the kopjes (pans).

The Pleistocene Epoch (between 2,588,000 and 11,700 years ago), when the sand sheets are believed to have been developed, is when they have remained in their current location. Even though the majority of them were wind-formed, some regions where they were found appear to have been fluvial in origin, the result of sheet flooding during periods of significantly greater precipitation.

The eastern Kalahari is covered by sheets. Their relief is measured in tens of feet per mile, and their surface height changes just slightly. There is typically more sand than 200 feet deep. A thin layer of iron oxide that covers the sand grains in numerous places causes the sand to be red.

Long, typically north- or northwest-oriented chains of dunes make up the entire western Kalahari Desert. The dunes are at least one mile long, several hundred feet wide, and between 20 and 200 feet tall. Because they individually make up the most convenient route for travel, each dune is divided from its neighbor by a large parallel depression known locally as a straat (street, or “lane”).

Climate of the Kalahari Desert

In the past, a region was categorized as a desert if it received fewer than 10 inches (250 millimeters) of rain per year. A place where the potential evaporation rate is twice as high as the precipitation rate is a better way to describe a desert. The southwest portion of the Kalahari meets both of these requirements. Although the northeastern part of the region has far more rainfall and, therefore, cannot be considered a desert, it is completely devoid of surface water. Rain rapidly drains through the region’s deep sands, resulting in an edaphic drought (i.e., soil completely devoid of moisture).

Precipitation is highest in the northeast (with a mean annual precipitation of more than 20 inches) and decreases in the southwest due to moisture-bearing air that originates from the Indian Ocean (less than 5 inches on the southern fringe of the Kalahari). However, precipitation is very erratic. Summer thunderstorms, which vary greatly from location to location and year to year, bring the most rain. Winters are exceptionally dry, with little humidity and no rain for six to eight months.

Due to the relatively high altitude and primarily clean, dry air in the Kalahari, large variations in daily and seasonal temperatures are the norm (allowing strong insolational heating in daytime and great radiational heat loss at night). Because of this, summer shade temperatures frequently reach 110–115 °F (43–46 °C) but drop to 70–80 °F (21-27 °C) on the same nights; winter nighttime temperatures sometimes dip near freezing and may even go as low as 10 °F (12 °C).

The Wildlife in the Kalahari

The Kalahari Desert’s animal life is also more abundant and diverse in the north than it is in the south. Despite the lack of surface water, many members of various species continue to live in the desert south for extended periods of time. The main species that can be found in the southern hemisphere are the springbok, gnu (wildebeest), and hartebeest, all of which can occasionally be seen in large herds, the gemsbok (oryx), the eland, and numerous smaller, nongregarious species like the kudu (in areas with denser brush), steenbok, and duiker.

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