Geography of Ethiopia

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Ethiopia is located in the Horn of Africa and is bordered on the north and northeast by Eritrea, on the east by Djibouti and Somalia, on the south by Kenya, and on the west and southwest by Sudan. The country has a high central plateau that varies from 1,290 to 3,000 m (4,232 to 9,843 ft) above sea level, with the highest mountain reaching 4,533 m (14,872 ft). Elevation is generally highest just before the point of descent to the Great Rift Valley, which splits the plateau diagonally. A number of rivers cross the plateau—notably the Blue Nile rising from Lake Tana. The plateau gradually slopes to the lowlands of the Sudan on the west and the Somali-inhabited plains to the southeast.

Contents

Physical features

Topography

Between the valley of the Upper Nile and Ethiopia's border with Eritrea is a region of elevated plateaus from which rise the various tablelands and mountains that constitute the Ethiopian Highlands. On nearly every side, the walls of the plateaus rise abruptly from the plains, constituting outer mountain chains. The highlands are thus a clearly marked orographic division. In Eritrea, the eastern wall of this plateau runs parallel to the Red Sea from Ras Kasar (18° N) to Annesley Bay (also known as the Bay of Zula) (15° N). It then turns due south into Ethiopia and follows closely the line of 40° E for some 600 km (373 mi). About 9° N there is a break in the wall, through which the Awash River flows eastward. The main range at this point trends southwest, while south of the Awash Valley, which is some 1,000 m (3,281 ft) below the level of the mountains, another massif rises in a direct line south. This second range sends a chain (the Ahmar mountains) eastward toward the Gulf of Aden. The two chief eastern ranges maintain a parallel course south by west, with a broad upland valley in between — in which valley are a series of lakes — to about 3° N, the outer (eastern) spurs of the plateau still keeping along the line of 40° E. The southern escarpment of the plateau is highly irregular, but has a general direction northwest and southeast from 6° N to 3° N. It overlooks the depression in which is Lake Turkana and — east of that lake — the southern Debub Omo Zone (part of the larger Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Region). The western wall of the plateau from 6° N to 11° N is well marked and precipitous. North of 11° N the hills turn more to the east and fall more gradually to the East Sudanian savanna plains at their base. On its northern face the plateau falls in terraces to the level of the eastern Sudan. The eastern escarpment is the best defined of these outer ranges. It has a mean height of 2,100 to 2,400 m (6,890 to 7,874 ft), and in many places rises almost perpendicularly from the plain. Narrow and deep clefts, through which descend mountain torrents that lose themselves in the sandy soil of the Eritrean coast, afford means of reaching the plateau, or the easier route through the Awash Valley may be chosen. On surmounting this rocky barrier, the traveller finds that the encircling rampart rises little above the normal level of the plateau.

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