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Cabo Verde / Cape Verde - Geography

The Republic of Cape Verde is an island country, spanning an archipelago located in the Macaronesia ecoregion of the North Atlantic Ocean, off the western coast of Africa, opposite Mauritania and Senegal. It is slightly more than 4,000 km (1,540 square miles) in area.

The Cape Verde Islands are located in the mid-Atlantic Ocean some 450 kilometers (about 300 mi.) off the west coast of Africa. The archipelago includes 10 islands and 5 islets, divided into the windward (Barlavento) and leeward (Sotavento) groups. The main islands in the Barlavento group are Santo Antao, Sao Vicente, Santa Luzia, Sao Nicolau, Sal, and Boa Vista; those of the Sotavento group include Maio, Santiago, Fogo, and Brava. All islands but Santa Luzia are inhabited.

Among the nine inhabited islands, population distribution is variable. Islands in the east are very dry and are only sparsely settled to exploit their extensive salt deposits. The more southerly islands receive more precipitation and support larger populations, but agriculture and livestock grazing have damaged the soil fertility and vegetation. Three islands--Sal, Boa Vista, and Maio--generally are level and very dry. Mountains higher than 1,280 meters (4,200 ft.) are found on Santiago, Fogo, Santo Antao, and Sao Nicolau.

Sand carried by high winds has created spectacular rock formations on all islands, especially the windward ones. Sheer, jagged cliffs rise from the sea on several of the mountainous islands. Natural vegetation is sparse in the uplands and coast, but interior valleys support denser growth.

A volcano, located on Fogo erupted in 1995 and on November 23, 2014. Like Hawaii, Fogo is a "hot-spot" volcanic island. It last erupted in 1951. It is the youngest and most active volcano in the Cape Verde Islands. The Cape Verde Islands, a short chain of volcanic islands that generally are younger at the western end, formed as the African Plate moved towards the east over the hotspot in much the same way that the Hawaiian Ridge formed as the Pacific Plate moved west-northwestward over a hotspot.

Unlike the island of Hawaii, Fogo consists of a single volcano, so the island is nearly round and about 25 kilometers (15 miles) in diameter. The large summit caldera (about 10 kilometers in the north-south direction and 7 kilometers in the east-west direction) is not located in the center of the island, but rather towards its northeastern corner. The caldera is bounded by steep near-vertical fault scarps on the north, west, and south sides but is breached to the east where lava can flow to the coast. The current north-northeast-trending eruptive fissures are located along the western flank of a large cone named Pico, which formed inside the caldera between about 1500 and 1760.

The structure of Fogo, with the caldera open to the sea on the east side, is caused by processes similar to those that shape Hawaiian and other basaltic volcanoes. The structure results from the sliding of the east flank of the volcano in much the same way that the south flank of Kilauea slides towards the ocean. In Hawaii, the most similar stucture can be seen on Kohala Volcano, where a landslide structure has moved the northeastern side of the volcano down and away from the summit.

Rainfall is irregular, and the archipelago suffers periodic droughts and consequent food shortages. The average precipitation per year in Praia is 24 centimeters (9.5 in.). During the winter, storms blowing from the Sahara sometimes cloud the sky, but sunny days are the norm year round.

The Cape Verde Islands are important to hurricane researchers because tropical cyclones often form in the vicinity of those islands and have a reputation of making landfall in the US. They usually develop from tropical waves that form in the African savanna during the wet season and then move into the African steppes. Those waves that move off Africa's west coast can develop into tropical cyclones, usually in August or September. Some tropical cyclones however, have formed as early as July or as late as October.

The average Atlantic Hurricane season brings with it approximately two Cape Verde hurricanes. These hurricanes are usually the most intense and the biggest storms of the season because they develop so far to the east and can travel over a large area of warm, open ocean waters that help power them. There are also no land forms in the way to slow tropical cyclones if they form near the Cape Verde Islands. Cape Verde tropical cyclones also tend to be the longest-lived storms, because of the huge area of open ocean they have to move through. Some have even moved into the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico.

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