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Geography of Cape Verde

This article describes the geography of Cape Verde.

The Cape Verde Islands are located in the mid-Atlantic Ocean some 620 kilometers (385 mi.) off the west coast of Africa. The archipelago consists of 10 islands and 5 islets, divided into the windward (Barlavento) and leeward (Sotavento) groups. The six islands in the Barlavento group are Santo Antão, São Vicente, Santa Luzia, São Nicolau, Sal, and Boa Vista. The islands in the Sotavento group are Maio, Santiago, Fogo, and Brava. All but Santa Luzia are inhabited.

Three islands--Sal, Boa Vista, and Maio--generally are level and lack natural water supplies. Mountains higher than 1,280 meters (4,200 ft.) are found on Santiago, Fogo, Santo Antão, and São Nicolau.

Sand carried by high winds has caused erosion on all islands, especially the windward ones. Sheer, jagged cliffs rise from the sea on several of the mountainous islands. The lack of natural vegetation in the uplands and coast also contributes to soil erosion. Only the interior valleys support natural vegetation.

Rainfall is irregular, historically causing periodic droughts and famines. The average precipitation per year in Praia is 24 centimeters (9.5 in.). During the winter, storms blowing from the Sahara sometimes form dense dust clouds that obscure the sun; however, sunny days are the norm year round.

The ocean near Cape Verde is an area of tropical cyclone formation; since these storms have the whole Atlantic to develop as they move westward, they are among the most intense hurricanes, and are called Cape Verde-type hurricanes.

 Cape Verde satellite image
Cape Verde satellite image
Western Africa, group of islands in the North Atlantic Ocean, west of Senegal
Geographic coordinates
Map references
  • Total: 4,033 km²
  • Land: 4,033 km²
  • Water: 0 km²
Area - comparative
Slightly larger than Rhode Island
Land boundaries
0 km
965 km
Maritime claims
  • Measured from claimed archipelagic baselines
  • Contiguous zone: 24 nm
  • Exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
  • Territorial sea: 12 nm

Temperate; warm, dry summer; precipitation meager and very erratic
Steep, rugged, rocky, volcanic
Elevation extremes
  • Lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m
  • Highest point: Mount Fogo 2,829 m (a volcano on Fogo Island)
Natural resources
Salt, basalt rock, pozzuolana (a siliceous volcanic ash used to produce hydraulic cement), limestone, kaolin, fish
Land use
  • Arable land: 11%
  • Permanent crops: 0%
  • Permanent pastures: 6%
  • Forests and woodland: 0%
  • Other: 83% (1993 est.)
Irrigated land
30 km² (1993 est.)
Natural hazards
Prolonged droughts; harmattan wind can obscure visibility; volcanically and seismically active
Environment - current issues
Overgrazing of livestock and improper land use such as the cultivation of crops on steep slopes has led to soil erosion; demand for wood used as fuel has resulted in deforestation; desertification; environmental damage has threatened several species of birds and reptiles; overfishing
Environment - international agreements
Geography - note
Strategic location 500 km from west coast of Africa near major north-south sea routes; important communications station; important sea and air refueling site

See also: Cape Verde

Last updated: 08-27-2005 10:34:01