PROGRAM TITLE: 	Nile Delta Subsidence and Sea Level Rise
ACTIVITY STREAM:	Process Studies
SCIENCE ELEMENT: 	Solid Earth Processes , Earth System History 

 SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY (NMNH)

SCIENTIFIC MERIT:  The Nile Delta Project, a multi-disciplinary and 
international program, was initiated at the Smithsonian's National Museum 
of Natural History in l985 to measure recent, and predict future, changes in 
Nile Delta coastal plain subsidence, sea level rise, coastal retreat, wetland loss, 
saline ground water intrusion and impact on Egypt's population of 55 
million.  The program also to identifies paleoclimatic changes and their 
effects on the Nile drainage system in East and Central Africa, and 
desertification effects on the Nile Delta. 

Major ecological changes are modifying the delta, due in part to (l) man 
(Aswan High Dam, intensified irrigation, drainage of lagoons, etc.) and to 
natural factors that are (2) inducing salt water incursion and coastal and 
wetland losses (sea level rise due in part to land subsidence) and (3) 
desertification (recording part climate changes in Northeastern Africa, Sahel).  
By focusing on the sediment record in the Nile Delta we are now formulating 
a means to recognize how sea level and climates have changed during the 
past l0,000 years.  Predicting future changes cannot be done unless we 
comprehend both natural and human factors that have modified this region 
in the recent past.

The investigation in the northern Nile Delta is coupled with data collected 
offshore in the Mediterranean on the Nile Cone (studies at Smithsonian to 
the early l980's).  Present studies plan field work in the central and southern 
Nile Delta and Upper Egypt and, subsequently, in Sudan and Ethiopia, to 
identify changes in climate and sources of sediment fed by the Nile to the 
Mediterranean coast.  In addition to drilling, on-going studies include 
sedimentary petrology, organic and inorganic geochemistry,  radiocarbon-
dating, faunal and floral studies, satellite imagery/remote sensing, and high-
resolution subsurface seismic profiling.  The data-base provides  increasingly 
precise correlations to measure changes of land subsidence, sea level rise (and 
coastal and wetland losses) and desertification with time, and to allow 
reasonable predictions. 

Field study during 5 field seasons of the entire northern Nile Delta coast and 
delta plain was initiated in l985 (includes collection of about l00 long 
sediment borings, to 60 m, and surficial sediments).  The major result to date 
is recognition of rates of subsidence locally to 0.5 cm per year, and a projected 
minimal incursion of the sea to 30 km inland by the year 2100 in the 
northeastern Delta.  Coring, mapping and laboratory analyses of surface and 
subsurface samples will provide rates of subsidence across the delta plain, 
from east to west of Alexandria.

The program involves the efforts of several disciplines: geology (primarily 
sedimentology, paleontology, geochemistry), remote sensing, physical 
geography, archaeology, zoology and botany.  The study is being undertaken 
and coordinated with scientists in Egypt and other foreign organizations.  All 
data, entered and archived (software storage) is being analyzed at the 
Smithsonian's NMNH and in 12 other laboratories in North America, Egypt, 
and Europe.

STAKEHOLDERS:  The project at the Smithsonian is a multi-disciplinary 
effort in collaboration with 12 other laboratories in North America, Egypt and 
Europe, and interacts with complementary projects sponsored in the 
Mediterranean basin (UNESCO, World Bank and others).   Data sets are made 
available to collaborators within the Smithsonian and in laboratories and 
organizations associated with the Mediterranean Basin Program. 

Inundation and massive salt incursion are directly affecting the lives of the 55 
million Egyptians tightly concentrated in only 4% of their country's area.  
Both man's influence (Aswan High Dam) coupled with natural effects (land 
subsidence and sea level rise) are having catastrophic impacts on this, one of 
the politically stable regions in the Middle East.  The Nile Delta Project is 
identifying those sectors of the Delta that can still reasonably be protected by 
man as these changes occur.

POLICY RELEVANCE:  Until initiation of this program in l985, virtually no 
direct refined measurements had been made of land subsidence and sea level 
rise rates in the northeastern African sector. Crustal subsidence and climatic 
changes both affect sea level in this low-lying region that is of less than l m 
elevation.  Additional problems of ground water salinization affecting 
agriculture and changes in lagoons vital to fishing affect the well-being of 
Egypt's growing millions.  Of particular urgency are changes being induced by 
the closure of the Aswan High Dam.  The effects of climatic changes during 
the recent past are now being correlated with archaeological sites and earlier 
geographic studies; desertification in the Delta is also related to changes in the 
Sahel.

The investigation meets several top priority objectives of the U.S. Global 
Change Research Program.  Measurements of subsidence of the low-lying 
Nile Delta plain bear directly on predicting rising sea level and its effects on 
one of the world's highest concentrated populations.  Rapid salt water 
incursion, lagoon modification, coastal erosion and wetland loss together 
constitute a very high priority issue specifically relating to Solid Earth 
Processes (primary) and climatic change in Earth System History (secondary) 
elements.  In addition to loss of wetlands (there are 4 major lagoons along the 
delta margin) and very rapid coastal retreat (locally to l00 meters per year or 
more) in conjunction with sea level rise, there are problems of desertification 
in conjunction with climate change in the northeastern African sector.

PROGRAM CONTACTS:

SI SGCR Representative:	Ted A. Maxwell
		NASM MRC 315
		Smithsonian Institution
		Washington, D.C.  20560
		202 357 1424
		FAX:  202 786 2566
		Email: tmaxwell@ceps.nasm.edu
	
Bureau Representative:	Marsha Sitnik
		NMNH MRC 106
		Smithsonian Institution
		Washington, D.C.  20560
		202 357 2670
		FAX: 202 786 2934
		Email: nmhod004@sivm.si.edu