How can a sea be made of sand? And how can a desert — one of the driest places on Earth — be foggy? There are lots of strange things about the Namib Sand Sea, which is why it was made a World Heritage Site! Let’s find out more about this beautiful and desolate place.
The Namib Desert runs along the southwestern coast of Africa from the country of Angola, through Namibia, ending in South Africa. It’s long and narrow — it's 1,900 kilometres from end to end and only about 160 kilometres across at the widest point. For much of the desert, there are rugged mountains on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other.
The Namib Sand Sea is thought to be the oldest desert in the world at around 55 to 80 million years old! It’s also what’s known as a coastal desert. Like the name suggests, this kind of desert is found next to a large body of water. The ocean currents draw rain away from Namib, while the winds coming from the Atlantic blow sand into huge dunes. The name Namib (say: nah-mib) means “area where there is nothing” in the local Nàmá language, and the desert is definitely a place where very few people live. But there are still lots of things to see there.
The Namib Sand Sea is home to some of the biggest sand dunes on Earth. Some dunes are 300 metres tall and 32 kilometres long. One dune, nicknamed “Big Daddy” by hikers, is 325 metres high, and the even taller Dune 7 is 383 metres. The sand of many of the dunes has a deep reddish colour because of iron oxide particles.
The Namib Desert is dry even for a desert! So why is it known for its foggy mornings, when fog is made up of water droplets in the air? That’s because cold currents in the Atlantic cool the air just above the water, and then winds blow the fog inland over the desert. The fog burns away as the day gets warmer, but that brief time is enough for certain plants and animals that live in the desert. They’ve evolved ways to use the fog to provide necessary water.
Among the creatures that have figured out how to get a drink out of the fog are the well-named fog-basking beetles. These insects use their own bodies to collect condensation — little drops of water — and then tilt their backsides up so that the water rolls into their mouths. There are bigger animals, too, like lizards, oryx (a type of antelope), meerkats and ostriches. Lions and elephants that have adapted to desert conditions can be found here, too. And the critically endangered black rhinoceros still roams in the wild in protected areas of the Namib Desert.