Africa

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AFRICA AFRICA, the name of a continent representing the largest of the three great southward projections from the main mass of the earth's surface. It includes within its remarkably regular outline an area, according to the most recent computations, of 11,262,000 sq. m., excluding the islands.1 Separated from Europe by the Mediterranean Sea, it is joined to Asia at its N.E. extremity by the Isthmus of Suez, 80 m. wide. From the most northerly point, Ras ben Sakka, a little west of Cape Blanc, in 37 deg. 21' N., to the most southerly point, Cape Agulhas, 34 deg. 51' 15'' S., is a distance approximately of 5000 m.; from Cape Verde, 17 deg. 33' 22'' W., the westernmost point, to Ras Hafun, 51 deg. 27' 52'' E., the most easterly projection, is a distance (also approximately) of

4600 m. The length of coast-line is 16,100 m. and the absence of deep indentations of the shore is shown by the fact that Europe, which covers only 3,760,000 sq. m., has a coast-line of 19,800 m. I. PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY The main structural lines of the continent show both the east-to-west direction characteristic, at least in the eastern hemisphere, of the more northern parts of the world, and the north-to-south direction seen in the southern peninsulas. Africa is thus composed of two segments at right angles, the northern running from east to west, the southern from north to south, the subordinate lines corresponding in the main to these two directions. Main Geographical Features.—The mean elevation of the continent approximates closely to 2000 ft., which is roughly the

elevation of both North and South America, but is considerably less than that of Asia (3117 ft.). In contrast with the other continents it is marked by the comparatively small area both of very high and of very low ground, lands under 600 ft. occupying an unusually small part of the surface; while not only are the highest elevations inferior to those of Asia and South America, but the area of land over 10,000 ft. is also quite insignificant, being represented almost entirely by individual peaks and mountain ranges. Moderately elevated tablelands are thus the characteristic feature of the continent, though the surface of these is broken by higher peaks and ridges. (So prevalent are these isolated peaks and ridges that a special term [Inselberg-landschaft] has been adopted in

Germany to describe this kind of country, which is thought to be in great part the result of wind action.) As a general rule, the higher tablelands lie to the east and south, while a progressive diminution in altitude towards the west and north is observable. Apart from the lowlands and the Atlas range, the continent may be divided into two regions of higher and lower plateaus, the dividing line (somewhat concave to the north-west) running from the middle of the Red Sea to about 6 deg. S. on the west coast. We thus obtain the following four main divisions of the continent:—-(1) The coast plains—-often fringed seawards by mangrove swamps—never stretching far from the coast, except on the lower courses of streams. Recent alluvial flats are found chiefly in the delta of the

more important rivers. Elsewhere the coast lowlands merely form the lowest steps of the system of terraces which constitutes the ascent to the inner plateaus. (2) The Atlas range, which, orographically, is distinct from the rest of the continent, being unconnected with any other area of high ground, and separated from the rest of the continent on the south by a depressed and desert area (the Sahara), in places below sea-level. (3) The high southern and eastern plateaus, rarely falling below 2000 ft., and having a mean elevation of about 3500 ft. (4) The north and west African plains, bordered and traversed by bands of higher ground, but generally below 2000 ft. This division includes the great desert of the Sahara. The third and fourth divisions may be again subdivided. Thus the