Libyan Desert

Libyan Desert

The Libyan Desert, also known as the Western Desert, forms the northern and eastern part of the Sahara Desert and covers an area of approximately 1,100,000 km2. The desert extends approximately 1100 km from east to west, and 1,000 km from north to south, in about the shape of a rectangle. Like most of the Sahara, this desert is primarily sand and Hamada (stony plain).

Sand plains, dunes, ridges and some depressions (basins) typify the endorheic region, with no rivers draining into or out of the desert.


There is sparse xeric vegetation.

Gilf Kebir plateau

The Gilf Kebir plateau reaches an altitude of just over 1000 m, and along with the nearby massif of Jebel Uweinat is an exception to the uninterrupted territory of basement rocks covered by layers of horizontally bedded sediments, forming a massive sand plain, low plateaus and dunes.

The desert features a striking diversity of landscapes including mountains such as Jebel Uweinat, the Gilf Kebir plateau, and sand seas. North of the Gilf Kebir plateau, among the shallow peripheral dunes of the southern Great Sand Sea, is a field of Libyan desert glass. A specimen of the desert glass was used in a piece of Tutankhamun’s ancient jewelry.

Gilf Kebir

The Gilf Kebir plateau rises to around 1100 metres in the south and lies in the southwest corner of Egypt. It is similar in structure to the other sandstone plateaus of the central Sahara, with its southern rim rising in sheer cliffs separated by wadis. The northern part is more broken and supports three large wadis of which Wadi Hamra and Adb el Malik are the most distinctive.

There is a profusion of Neolithic artifacts and rock art. The southern Gilf Kebir and Uweinat are among the richest troves of rock art in the Sahara. The ‘Cave of the Swimmers’ petroglyphs featured in The English Patient film are in Wadi Sora, discovered by the non-fictional László Almásy in the 1930s.

Three sand seas

The three sand seas, which contain dunes up to 512 meters in height, cover approximately one quarter of the region. They include:

  • Great Sand Sea
  • Calanshio Sand Sea
  • Rebiana Sand Sea


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