No Nile Floods Versus Mississippi Floods

A huge part of the Mississippi river basin complex has been heavily flooded this spring.  These floods are now the greatest volume of water since 1927.  One of the most irritating things about this news is, we know from history of the Mississippi River that not only does it flood really badly at least every 50-75 years, but also that it always twisted and writhed in its course throughout its history.  Within recorded history, during the New Madrid Earthquake event, it even reversed course as well as dug a series of changes in its course.  The real question is why did humans populating this region absolutely refuse to do any thing sane about this fact?

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This is all about adaptation.  Every river culture has to make choices: do they build high mounds for their homes or passively get flooded and lose everything?  We know from history that sane cultures did the obvious first choice: all permanent housing was built on man-mad mounds and between floods, farm labor would live in various straw huts.  The oldest culture living with floods is ancient Egypt.  The floods came pretty much like clockwork so the living arrangements were done in a sane way…until Egypt foolishly decided to stop the floods.

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This act, the Aswan Dam, has been a farming catastrophe.  But great for producing energy.  Terrible for the Mediterranean fishes.  But great for fishing in the new lake in southern Egypt.  The mighty Nile virtually never deviated from its set course so the floods were useful indeed, unlike the floods last winter in Pakistan, for example.  One of the few places on earth continuously farmed successfully has been Egypt’s Nile valley system.

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First this headline is of interest:  Could flooding change course of Mississippi? | Seattle’s Big Blog – seattlepi.com

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Peter Finocchario of Salon.com reports that in the 1950s, experts feared the river was close to abandoning its sharp turn eastward after it enters Louisiana, opting instead for the more direct route through the Atchafalaya River channel to the Gulf of Mexico.  Such a move would leave Baton Rouge high and dry and effectively end New Orleans’ run as a major trading post, leaving the port to silt up without a constant flow of water.

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The river has gotten so many twists and turns, each time the US tries to control the flow via dikes and diversions, the force of the flow of the river makes each twist tighter and tighter.  Now, thanks to ground saturation coupled with a huge flood cycle, the river will finally try to give it all a big heave-ho and break through somewhere along the areas where I drew in the blue arrows below, to flow down the other side of the Mississippi watershed.

The key issue here is the saturation of the land.  The inside curve of each ‘S’ curve is filled with water from earlier ‘S’ curves.  In between is swamplands.  The Atchafalaya River is much straighter so water will want to move down it, not the loopy Mississippi channel.  All attempts to keep the river on its present course is doomed when the next inevitable New Madrid Fault event happens in the future.

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Here we see in Egypt how dry and high the land is on either side of the Nile river.  It basically has no where to go but where it has gone for eons.

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The Nile culture system began at least 10,000 years ago and has been continuous with no breaks since then.  This culture was so rich in the past, it fed much of the Roman Empire, for example.  The Mississippi river valley is also quite rich.  The various natives who farmed there before European diseases were brought to the New World was leading to the building of a new civilization when that catastrophe hit.  Below is a satellite photo of the lower Mississippi water shed area.  Traditionally, it flooded every 50-100 years.  This, in turn, makes not for disaster but for great agricultural riches since floods generally replenish the soil.

Here is this month’s news about agricultural collapse in post-flood Egypt:  Egypt Tries to Turn Corner After Long Road of Crop Neglect – NYTimes.com

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According to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, the country’s census bureau, Egypt produces only 60 percent of its wheat, about eight million tons a year. The country consumes 16.5 million tons, according to official figures; of that, nine million tons go to making the bread called aish, or life, an indicator of its importance in the Egyptian diet…

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…To further improve Egypt’s wheat security, the government intends to push for a significant reduction in the loss of wheat caused by poor storage and transportation, now estimated at about 20 percent, by building new metal silos and using more professional transportation.

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The Agriculture Ministry’s plan also focuses on sharply increasing the land devoted to cotton, another crop that the government considers strategic, from 150,000 hectares this year to at least 200,000 hectares next year. The move comes amid tough international competition, low prices and a lack of government subsidies, all of which have combined to turn many farmers away from the crop.

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The art of farming is dying in Egypt because the Nile culture was annihilated when the Aswan dam was built.  More than one person was concerned about the dangers of controlling the river and the worst predictions are coming true.  Irrigation is a disaster.  Much of the great Euphrates region soils has been destroyed by irrigation going back to ancient times.  It is mostly a dusty desert today.

Many Muslim watershed conditions are rapidly deteriorating and this is happening in India and China, too, for that matter.  Damming rivers and making them run without floods is killing agriculture in the long run.  Floods are bad for farmers but are a blessing from Nature.  Just as winters enable fields in northern climates to last many generations by forcing farming to cease for nearly half of the year, so it is with river floods: what seems temporarily bad is actually good.

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The farming revolution which has killed most farms in places like New England means exploiting the land ruthlessly all year round in warmer climates and to enrich the soil mainly via using oil products.  Here is a recent article about how the Aswan Dam is destroying Egypt’s ancient culture:  Lesson 6: The Nile River – Where Does the Water Go?

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The Nile River and the Aswan High Dam are Egypt’s lifelines. About 95% of Egypt’s population lives within twelve miles of the river. The dam benefits Egypt by controlling the annual floods on the Nile and prevents the damage that used to occur along the floodplain. The Aswan High Dam provides about a half of Egypt’s power supply and has improved navigation along the river by keeping the water flow consistent.

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The parasitic disease schistosomiasis has been associated with the stagnant water of the fields and the reservoir. Some studies indicate that the number of individuals affected has increased since the opening of the High Dam. Recall from the Theroux reading (National Geographic) that schistosomiasis has been present in the region for thousands of years, but the reservoir is a huge breeding ground.In some areas, the building of the Aswan dam caused an increased occurrence of schistosomiasis among the population — from 21% to almost 100%.

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Five years after the dam was built, two thousand fishermen managed to catch 3,628 tons annually, while the catch was expected to be around 20,000 tons. Ten years later the catch had dropped to 907 tons, and in 1978 the fisheries were so poor that only a small part of the population was able to live off fishing….Before the High Dam was built, fifty percent of the Nile flow drained into the Mediterranean. During an average flood, the total discharge of nutrient salts was estimated to be approximately 5,500 tons of phosphate and 280,000 tons of silicate. The nutrient-rich floodwater, or Nile Stream, was ~15 kilometers wide; it extended along the Egyptian coast and was detected off the Israeli coast and sometimes off southern Turkey.

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The decrease in fertility of the southeastern Mediterranean waters caused by the High Dam has had a catastrophic effect on marine fisheries. The average fish catch declined from nearly 35,000 tons in 1962 and 1963 to less than one-fourth of this catch in 1969.

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The reduced supply of silt and sediment from the annual flood has caused heavy erosion in the Nile Delta and as far away as Israel…

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The rich nutrients that used to flow into the Mediterranean basin no longer go past the dam.  Nor does this go into the farm soil of the Nile Valley anymore.  This has catastrophic long term effects.  The Mediterranean Sea needs this fresh water!  Or it will turn into a Dead Sea like the Dead Sea!  Too salty, that is.  The Mediterranean Sea has dried out in the past, during Ice Ages, until the Atlantic Ocean suddenly broke through the Pillars of Hercules.

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Zanclean flood -

is a catastrophic flood theorized to have refilled the Mediterranean Sea 5.33 million years ago,[1] at the beginning of the Zancleanage, between the Miocene and Pliocene, which ended the Messinian salinity crisis….The Mediterranean had undergone several cycles of drying out and replenishment… A channel over the modern-day Gibraltar Strait reached a width of 200 km across, filling the Mediterranean Sea over a period of from several months to two years.[3] Sea level rise in the basin may have reached rates at times greater than ten metres per day.[4]

The refill has been envisaged as resulting in a large waterfall higher than today’s Angel Falls (979 m), and far more powerful than either the Iguazu Falls or the Niagara Falls, but studies of the underground structures at the Gibraltar Strait show that the flooding channel descended in a rather gradual way to the dry Mediterranean.[5]

 

This was salt water, not river water, so it didn’t enrich the basin nearly as nicely as the Nile.  Five million years ago, humans were still ‘apes’ in Africa.  This is also a stark reminder that the planet isn’t stationary or always the same, far, far, far from it.  It is a dynamic system that changes in many, many ways over time.  Humans wish it would freeze in place.  But it won’t and we change it all the time and at the same time, demand that it not change at all which is rather an aspect of human madness which would amuse aliens, I suppose.

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Every change we make, something else in nature shifts.  This enrages people who want to change things and then have things go better for us whereas, Nature simply operates in relation to other events.  So, if we want energy and dam a river, then we PAY A PRICE for this.

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Some prices are not so terrible and some are insanely horrible.  Nuclear power, for example, goes into the ‘insanely horrible’ side of the ledger.  We now know the nuclear power plants broke at Fukushima during the earthquake, not the tsunami.  All the nuclear power plants along the Mississippi river will be just as dangerous in an earthquake, too.  And worse than Japan, the polluted water won’t flow in the the world’s deepest ocean but instead, will infiltrate the entire Mississippi river basin water table!

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Finally, an Egyptian study about ancient villages from the flood era of Egyptian farming has a lot to say about how this was an environmentally sensible solution to the flooding problem, that is, build big mounds and live there, and how this is rapidly dying off:  Environmental Transformations in the Egyptian Village التحولات البيئية فى القرية المصرية (Yasser Mahgoub ياسرعثمان محرم محجوب) – Academia.edu

I took two Google Earth shots of this very village in this study.  It is now growing into a Cairo suburb.  The fields are still there but they are under pressure from civilization based on oil, not Nile floods.

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