Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Namib Desert is a large desert in south western Africa. The name "Namib" is Nama for "enormous" and indeed the desert occupies an area of around 50,000kmē), stretching some 1,000 miles (1,600 km) along the Atlantic Ocean coast of Namibia. Its east-west width varies from 30 to 100 miles (50-160 km).
The area is considered to be the oldest desert in the world, having endured arid or semi-arid conditions for at least 80 million years. Its aridity is caused by the descent of dry air cooled by the cold Benguela current along the coast. It has less than 1 cm (0.4 inches) of rain annually and is almost completely barren.
Although the desert is largely unpopulated and inaccessible, there are year-round settlements at Sossusvlei , close to a huge group of sand dunes, which at up to 340 metres high are the tallest sand dunes in the world. Access is via light aircraft from Windhoek (the capital of Namibia, about 300 miles east of the centre of the desert), or Swakopmund and Walvis Bay at the north end of the desert.
The interaction between the water-laden air coming from the sea and the dry air of the desert causes immense fogs and strong currents, causing sailors to lose their way. Along with the Skeleton Coast further north, it is notorious as the site of many shipwrecks. Some of these wrecked ships can be found as much as 50 metres inland, as the desert is slowly creeping westwards into the sea, reclaiming land over a period of many years.
- National Geographic, January 1992, pp. 54-85.
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