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Maldives Geography
 
 
 

The smallest country in Asia, the Republic of Maldives consists of an archipelago of nearly 1,200 coral islands and sand banks in the Indian Ocean, some 200 of which are inhabited.

The chain of islands sits astride the equator, south of India and west of Sri Lanka, extending 823 km (511 mi) but occupying an area of just 300 sq km (116 sq mi). The area occupied by Maldives is slightly more than 1.5 times the size of Washington DC. Grouped in 26 atolls, with a total coastline of 644 km (400 mi), the northernmost atoll lies some 110 km (70 mi) south of India's Minicoy Atoll, about 480 km (300 mi) southeast of India's Cape Comorin, and 649 km (400 mi) west of Sri Lanka.

Maldives' capital, Malé, is situated on a 2.5 sq km (1 sq mi) island, the largest in the entire chain, in the Malé Atoll.

The Maldives is the lowest country in the world, with a maximum natural ground level of only 2.3 metres (7 ft 7 in), with the average being only 1.5 metres (4 ft 11 in) above sea level, although in areas where construction exists, this has been increased to several metres. The reef is composed of coral debris and living coral. This acts as a natural barrier against the sea, forming lagoons. Other islands, set at a distance and parallel to the reef, have their own protective fringe of reef. An opening in the surrounding coral barrier allows access to the calmer lagoon waters. The barrier reefs of the islands protect them from the storms and high waves of the Indian Ocean.

A layer of humus 15 centimetres (6 in) thick forms the top layer of soil on the islands. Below the humus layer are 60 centimetres (2 ft) of sandstone, followed by sand and then fresh water. Due to high levels of salt in the soil near the beach, vegetation is limited there to a few plants such as shrubs, flowering plants, and small hedges. In the interior of the island, more vegetation such as mangrove and banyan grow. Coconut palms, the national tree, are able to grow almost everywhere on the islands and are integral to the lifestyle of the population.

The Indian Ocean has a great effect on the climate of the country by acting as a heat buffer, absorbing, storing, and slowly releasing the tropical heat. The temperature of Maldives ranges between 24°C (75°F) and 33°C (91°F) throughout the year. Although the humidity is relatively high, the constant cool sea breezes keep the air moving and the heat mitigated.

The weather in the Maldives is affected by the large landmass of South Asia to the north. The presence of this landmass causes differential heating of land and water. These factors set off a rush of moisture-rich air from the Indian Ocean over the South Asia, resulting in the southwest monsoon. Two seasons dominate Maldives' weather: the dry season associated with the winter northeast monsoon and the rainy season brought the end of April to the end of October and brings strong winds and storms. The shift from the moist southwest monsoon to the dry northeast monsoon occurs during October and November. During this period, the northeast winds contribute to the formation of the northeast monsoon, which reaches Maldives in the beginning of December and lasts until the end of March. However, the weather patterns of Maldives do not always conform to the monsoon patterns of South Asia. The annual rainfall averages 2,540 millimetres in the north and 3,810 millimetres in the south.

Overview

Location
Southern Asia, group of atolls in the Indian Ocean, south-southwest of India

Geographic coordinates
3 15 N, 73 00 E

Map references
Asia

Area
total: 298 sq km
land: 298 sq km
water: 0 sq km

Area - comparative
about 1.7 times the size of Washington DC


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