A large but very sparsely populated country of West Africa, Mauritania occupies the western part of the Sahara desert with a coastline on the Atlantic Ocean and land borders with Western Sahara (former Spanish Sahara) on the northwest, Algeria on the northeast, Mali on the east and south, and Senegal on the southwest.
Situated between 15° and 27°N it has a very hot, dry climate for most of the year. The southern half of the country has some unreliable and sparse rainfall between June and October, when southwesterly winds (the West African monsoon) bring moisture-laden air from the South Atlantic.
At this time of year there is more cloud and the air is rather humid. During the rest of the year the prevailing winds are from the northeast, bringing very dry and sometimes dusty, hazy air from the northern Sahara. This is the harmattan of West Africa, which has a very low humidity.
The north of the country is virtually rainless but occasional downpours can occur at any season. As the table for Nouakchott shows, there is some rain between July and October; this table is representative of the Atlantic coast of Mauritania.
In the extreme south of the country annual rainfall averages between 300 mm/12 in and 375 mm/15 in but is very variable from year to year. This is insufficient for cultivation as it comes at the hottest time of the year.
Sunshine amounts are high throughout the year, averaging from eight to ten hours a day. They are least in midwinter when the days are shorter, but are also reduced in midsummer since this is the season when there is more cloud in the humid southwesterly winds.
For much of the year the climate is too hot and dry by day to be pleasant. The slightly cooler conditions on the coast are a result of daily sea breezes, but this is partly offset by the higher humidity.
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