The Vanishing Nile


The Nile river and its fertile delta were long the source of Egypt’s wealth and greatness. Today, they face relentless assault from both land and sea. (Yale Environment 360)

Navigate the anatomy of the Nile with our video and map resource.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources, including today’s MapMaker Interactive map.

Navigate the Nile with our interactive map! All markers have both media and reference information.
The “Lower Nile” is the northernmost stretch of the river, including the dazzlingly fertile delta. The Lower Nile flows almost entirely through Egypt.
Photograph courtesy Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC

Discussion Ideas


  • What features threaten the Nile from the sea?
    • sea level rise. The Mediterranean Sea may swallow as much as a third of the Nile delta. This would be catastrophic for Egypt’s population and economy.
    • land subsidence. The lowering of land elevation in the Nile delta can be attributed to two phenomena. The first is seismic activity—earthquakes and other interactions between the African, Arabian, and Eurasian tectonic plates. The second is a lack of nutrient-rich flood sediments from the river. (Dams such as the Aswan Dam prevent the Nile from predictably overflowing its banks and depositing silt on the delta.)
    • saltwater intrusion. Saltwater from the Mediterranean may jeopardize a third of freshwater volume in the Nile delta.


  • How might Egypt mitigate threats to the Nile?
    • war. Egyptian leaders have warned that “all options are open”, but despite this incendiary rhetoric, few critics think a violent conflict with Ethiopia is likely.
    • diplomacy. Some experts think Egypt may be able to negotiate with Ethiopia to lengthen the time to fill the GERD reservoir. While benefitting Egypt, this would mean Ethiopians would have to wait for benefits (water, electricity) of the dam.
    • desalination. Many experts are advising Egypt to imitate its neighbor, Saudi Arabia, and invest in costly desalination plants on its Mediterranean and Red Sea coasts.
    • drip irrigation. Egypt will almost certainly have to invest in drip irrigation methods for agriculture. Drip irrigation conserves water by reducing runoff and evaporation.
    • family planning. Egypt’s water crisis is exacerbated by its “contraception crisis,” in which family planning medications are increasingly unavailable. A smaller population would put less stress on the Nile.



Yale Environment 360: The Vanishing Nile

Nat Geo: Anatomy of the Nile study guide

Nat Geo: Anatomy of the Nile map

Nat Geo: Egyptians Oppose Ethiopian Dam

(extra credit!) GSA Today: Increased Land Subsidence and Sea-Level Rise are Submerging Egypt’s Nile Delta Coastal Margin

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