Infotainment

River Nile is 30 million years old

River Nile is 30 million years old
Jan 7 (Agencies) | Publish Date: 1/7/2020 12:53:13 PM IST

 River Nile has been flowing across Africa for 30 million years, making it six times older than was previously thought, geologists have found.

From studying rocks along the river and simulations, experts determined that the Nile’s northward flow is maintained by movements in the Earth mantle beneath.

Upwelling magma has been pushing up the Ethiopian Highlands, helping to keep the river flowing northward rather than wending its way westwards. Through its watering of North Africa’s valleys, the Nile — considered to be the source of all life by the ancient Egyptians — has shaped the course of human civilisation.

Long-lived rivers usually move over time — making the Nile’s stability over time something of a mystery.

‘One of the big questions about the Nile is when it originated and why it has persisted for so long,’ said geologist Claudio Faccenna of Italy’s Roma Tre University.

‘Our solution is actually quite exciting,’ he added. To solve the puzzle of the Nile’s unchangeability, Professor Faccenna and colleagues set out to trace the river’s history.

To do this, they analysed ancient, volcano-derived rocks in the Ethiopian highlands, matching these to the deposits of sediments carried down the river and ultimately buried under the Nile Delta.

The researchers determined that after rising rapidly,  the Ethiopian Highlands have remained a relatively similar height for millions of years, supported by rock in the Earth’s mantle, beneath. According to the researchers, however, it had not previously been clear how this topography was maintained over such a length of time. 

To verify their findings, the team turned to computer simulations, which modelled around 40 million years of the Earth’s plate tectonic activity.

The team found that the arrival of a so-called mantle plume — an upwelling of hotter rock from deep within the Earth — likely provided the lava which generated the Ethiopian Highlands.

This plume would also have forged a sort-of conveyor belt of magma in the mantle that persists, supporting the highlands, up to the present day. 

This mantle activity — lifting up the south and pulling the north down at the same time — would have kept the Nile on a gentle gradient that maintained its consistent, northward-wending course. 

The simulation was also able to reproduce changes in the African landscape almost exactly as the team expected — even down to such tiny aspects as the whitewater rapids that can be found along the length of the Nile. (Ian Randall for Mailonline)

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