Physical Features

Physical Features

The nation consists of a large plateau rising gradually from sea level to almost 500 meters altitude in the north. Vegetation changes from lagoon and semitropical growth in the south to savanna grassland and scrub in the north. Mountain ranges extend along the western border and a few peaks dot the northeast corner. Four major river systems flow southward forming parallel drainage basins. Cutting across these basins are three geographic regions roughly parallel to the coast--the lagoon region, the forest region, and the savanna region.

The Lagoon Region

The lagoon region (zone lagunaire) is a narrow coastal belt extending along the Gulf of Guinea from the Ghana border to the mouth of the Sassandra River. It consists of a strip of low, sandy islands and sandbars built by the combined action of heavy surf and ocean currents. These sand barriers, known as the cordon littoral, have almost closed the rivers flowing into the gulf. The resulting series of lagoons ranges in width from about a hundred meters to seven or eight kilometers and seldom rises more than thirty meters above sea level, leaving the area subject to frequent flooding during rainy seasons.

Most of the lagoons are narrow, salty, and shallow and run parallel to the coastline, linked to one another and the gulf by small watercourses or canals. Where large rivers empty into the gulf, broad estuaries extend as much as ten to twenty kilometers inland. The sandy soil supports the growth of coconut palms and salt-resistant coastal shrubs. The dense rain forest that once came down to the water's edge along the continental side of the lagoons has been largely supplanted by clearings for farms and towns and by second-growth woodlands. In the few remaining undisturbed areas, dense mangrove thickets appear along the edges of marshy inlets.

The Forest Region

A broad belt of dense forest covers nearly one-third of the country, extending north of the lagoon region in the east and reaching down to the coastline in the west between the Sassandra River and the mouth of the Cavally River. Its northern boundary stretches from the city of Man in the west to Bondoukou in the east, dipping down in the center of the country to the confluence of the Bandama Blanc and Bandama Rouge rivers. This boundary marks the transition from forest to grassy woodlands where plantation agriculture and burning have encroached on the forest. From the border with Ghana west to the Sassandra River, the gently rolling relief of the forest region is broken by small hills. West of the Sassandra, the Dan Mountains and the Toura Mountains reach 1,300 meters elevation. Mt. Nimba, near the border with Liberia and Guinea, reaches 1,752 meters.

The Savanna

The northern half of the nation is generally characterized as savanna--a large plateau consisting primarily of rolling hills, low-lying vegetation, and scattered trees. Vegetation varies from woodlands to grasslands and occasional patches of dry scrub in the far north. Some narrow strips of forest extend toward the north along watercourses and drainage lines. The southern portion of the savanna is sometimes referred to as the transition zone (zone de transition) and the northern portion as the sudanic zone (zone soudanienne), although the entire region is transitional between the narrow belt of forest paralleling the coastline and the Sahara Desert. The gently rolling plains are broken occasionally by granite domes or small hill masses, the most extensive being the Komonos Hills. In the northwest, a number of peaks exceeds 800 meters elevation.

A major divide extends across the northeastern corner of Côte d'Ivoire near Burkina Faso, separating the main southward drainage system from the Volta River Basin, which drains to the north. Near Bondoukou, where the divide crosses the Ghana border, Mt. Bowé de Kiendi reaches 725 meters elevation. In the north, Mt. Yélévé reaches an altitude of 685 meters.

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