Nouakchott, Mauritania Geography

By | October 23, 2023

Nouakchott is the capital and largest city of Mauritania, a vast and sparsely populated country located in North West Africa. This coastal city sits on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean and is known for its unique geography, which is characterized by a combination of sandy dunes, rocky plateaus, and occasional wadis, along with a flat and often arid terrain. While Nouakchott itself may not be a city that boasts an abundance of natural landmarks like prominent rivers and mountains, its geography is interesting and plays a significant role in the life of its residents.

Coastal Location: According to, Nouakchott’s most prominent geographical feature is its coastal location. Situated on the west coast of Mauritania, the city stretches along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. The city’s development and existence are closely tied to its coastal geography, as the ocean provides not only a source of natural beauty but also opportunities for economic activities such as fishing and trade. The coast’s moderate climate also contributes to the city’s appeal as it influences the weather patterns in Nouakchott, making it milder compared to the arid interior of the country.

Sandy Terrain and Dunes: The majority of Nouakchott’s terrain is characterized by a flat, sandy landscape. The city is situated in a region that is part of the Sahara Desert, and as such, large stretches of sand dunes and desert plains surround the city. These dunes are a prominent geographical feature of Nouakchott and its outskirts. The vast expanse of sand contributes to the arid climate of the region and has led to challenges related to desertification and sand encroachment.

Rugged Plateaus and Uplands: While the city itself is primarily on flat terrain, the outskirts of Nouakchott are dotted with rugged plateaus and uplands. These geological features are more prominent as one moves away from the city center and into the hinterlands of Mauritania. These plateaus and uplands can rise several meters above the surrounding plains and are often composed of rocky outcrops, which contrast sharply with the sandy landscape. They also influence the flow of water in the region, leading to the formation of occasional wadis during the rainy season.

Wadis: Nouakchott, like much of Mauritania, experiences a pronounced wet and dry season. During the rainy season, which typically occurs from July to October, the city may see sporadic but heavy rainfall. This can lead to the formation of temporary riverbeds or wadis, which serve as natural drainage channels for the rainwater. The geography of Nouakchott includes some wadis that traverse the city during these brief periods of increased precipitation. While not permanent rivers, they are an essential part of the city’s landscape, and their paths are often incorporated into urban planning to manage stormwater runoff.

The Sebkha: One of the most distinctive geographic features near Nouakchott is the Sebkha. A Sebkha is a type of saline depression or salt flat that is a common feature in arid regions. The Nouakchott Sebkha is a vast, shallow, and sometimes marshy depression that extends into the city. It is located to the east of the city center and is an essential part of the region’s geography. During the wet season, the Sebkha may fill with water, providing a temporary habitat for various bird species and a unique landscape.

Atlantic Ocean: Nouakchott’s proximity to the Atlantic Ocean is a crucial part of its geography. The coastline, with its sandy beaches and the Atlantic Ocean itself, offers both economic opportunities and recreational spaces. Fishing is a significant industry in Nouakchott, with local fishermen heading out to sea daily in colorful pirogues to catch a variety of fish and seafood. The ocean’s cooling influence also helps moderate the city’s temperature, making it more habitable, especially compared to the extreme desert heat further inland.

Seasonal Climate Influence: Nouakchott’s geography has a substantial impact on its climate. The city experiences a hot desert climate with distinct wet and dry seasons. The coastal location moderates temperatures, resulting in milder conditions than what might be expected in a desert city. Summers are warm, with average highs in the 80s and 90s Fahrenheit (27-35 degrees Celsius), while winters are cooler, with average highs in the 70s Fahrenheit (20-27 degrees Celsius). The geography, with its proximity to the ocean, plays a significant role in these temperature variations.

Sand Encroachment: Nouakchott, like many cities in the Sahel region, faces the challenge of sand encroachment. The city’s sandy geography and the strong desert winds occasionally lead to sand dunes advancing into urban areas. Efforts are made to combat this issue through tree planting and other measures, but the ever-present threat of encroachment remains a part of the city’s geography.

Limited Vegetation: The geography of Nouakchott is not conducive to lush vegetation. The arid conditions and sandy soil make it difficult for plants to thrive, especially within the city itself. However, you can find some hardy desert vegetation such as acacia trees and grasses, especially in the surrounding areas and near wadis where water is available.

In conclusion, Nouakchott’s geography is shaped by its coastal location, sandy terrain, rugged plateaus, and occasional wadis. The city’s proximity to the Atlantic Ocean plays a vital role in its climate and economy, while the Sebkha, a unique saline depression, adds to the area’s distinct geography. While Nouakchott may lack prominent rivers and mountains, its geography is nonetheless fascinating and integral to the way of life in this coastal Mauritanian city.