The Nile Delta Where the River Doesn’t Meet the Sea

April 6, 2010 at 6:50 pm 1 comment

The Nile river is one of the longest on the planet and its annual floods are etched deeply into Western culture. Who isn’t familiar with the pyramids, and the biblical story of Joseph and his dreams of seven years of feast followed by seven years of famine? Ancient history, but a new disaster of biblical proportions is headed towards the Nile unless we can take sensible action on climate change.

The following picture, taken from a new article, “The Nile Delta’s Sinking Future” (Science, March 19, 2010, p. 1444), vividly reveals the narrow band of green created by the Nile river as it winds through the Egyptian desert on its way to the delta and the sea.

Nile River and Delta (Science, 19 Mar '10, p 1444)

Nile River delta

The article also lists some of the key parameters that define life in the region:

  • Egypt’s population inhabits only 5% of its land mass because most of the country is desert.
  • Egypt’s population is large. 50 million people live in Cairo and in the delta region to its north and this number is growing by 1 million every year.
  • Because of intensive irrigation by Nile delta farmers, the Nile river no longer reaches the sea.
  • Dams on the river, mainly the Aswan High Dam, have regulated the river’s flow so that it no longer floods while still providing water during periodic droughts. These dams also provide electricity for the nation.

Because of these factors, plus global warming, Egypt has a huge problem on its hands. First, since the river no longer floods, fresh sediment no longer reaches the delta. This (together with some other factors) is causing the delta to subside. Only 30% of the delta is currently above sea level.

At the same time, global warming is expected to raise the level of the Mediterranean Sea. Estimates vary, but the middle-of-the-road prediction is for a 1 m rise over the next 40 years. The combination of sinking delta plus rising sea could lead to a loss of so much delta land that Egypt would be devastated. In fact, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) identified the Nile delta in 2007 as one of the three areas on the globe most vulnerable to climate change.


Entry filed under: In the News.

Fooling Yourself with Statistics? Eric Schlosser on Sustainability & Food, 4/22

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Rashid Faridi  |  August 29, 2010 at 6:46 pm

    Very Insightful piece.
    Keep it up.


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