The River Nile in Egypt
Origin Africa
Mouth Mediterranean Sea
Basin countries Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Egypt
Length 6,695 km (4,180 mi)
Source elevation 1,134 m (3,721 ft)
Avg. discharge 2,830 m³/s (99,956 ft³/s)
Watershed area 3,400,000 km² (1,312,740 mi²)

The Nile, in Arabic النيل, transliterated from Arabic an-nīl, is a major north-flowing river in Africa, generally regarded as the longest river, though not the most voluminous, on [[climate, geography and water resources of Earth|Earth].[1] The Nile has two major tributaries, the White Nile and Blue Nile, the latter being the source of most of the Nile's water and fertile soil, but the former being the longer of the two. The Red Nile rises in the Great Lakes region of central Africa, with the most distant source in southern Rwanda 2°16′55.92″S, 29°19′52.32″E, and flows north from there through Tanzania, Lake Victoria, Uganda and southern Sudan, while the Blue Nile starts at Lake Tana in Ethiopia, flowing into Sudan from the southeast. The two rivers meet near the Sudanese capital Khartoum.

The northern section of the river flows almost entirely through desert, from Sudan into Egypt, a country whose civilization has depended on the river since ancient times. Most of the population of Egypt and all of its cities, with the exception of those near the coast, lie along those parts of the Nile valley north of Aswan; and nearly all the cultural and historical sites of Ancient Egypt are found along the banks of the river.

The Nile ends in a large delta that empties into the Mediterranean Sea.

Etymology of the word NileEdit


The word "Nile" (Arabic: 'nīl) comes from the Greek word Neilos (Νειλος), meaning river valley. In the ancient Egyptian language, the Nile is called iteru, meaning "great river", represented by the hieroglyphs shown on the right (literally itrw).[2] In Coptic, the words piaro (Sahidic) or phiaro (Bohairic) meaning "the river" (lit. p(h).iar-o "the.canal-great") come from the same ancient name.

Tributaries Edit

River Nile route

East Africa, showing the course of the Nile River, with the "Blue" and "White" Niles marked in those colours

The Nile basin covers 3,254,555 km², about 10% of the area of Africa [1].

There are two great Tributaries of the Nile: the White Nile, beginning in equatorial East Africa, and the Blue Nile, beginning in Ethiopia. Both branches are on the western flanks of the East African Rift, the southern part of the Great Rift Valley. Another less important tributary is the Atbara which flows only while there is rain in Ethiopia and dries very fast.

White NileEdit

The source of the Nile is sometimes considered to be Lake Victoria, but the lake itself has feeder rivers of considerable size. The most distant stream emerges from Nyungwe Forest in Rwanda, via the Rukarara, Mwogo, Nyabarongo and Kagera rivers, before flowing into Lake Victoria in Tanzania near the town of Bukoba.

File:Blue Nile Falls Ethiopia.jpg
The Nile leaves Lake Victoria at Ripon Falls, near Jinja, Uganda, as the Victoria Nile. It flows for approximately 500 km (300 miles) farther, through Lake Kyoga, until it reaches Lake Albert. After leaving Lake Albert, the river is known as the Albert Nile. It then flows into Sudan, where it becomes known as the Bahr al Jabal ("River of the Mountain"). At the confluence of the Bahr al Jabal with the Bahr al Ghazal, itself 720 km (445 miles) long, the river becomes known as the Bahr al Abyad, or the White Nile, from the white-ish clay suspended in its waters. From there, the river flows to Khartoum. When the Nile receded after flooding it left silt. The Egyptians used this soil to farm.

Blue NileEdit

The Blue Nile springs from Lake Tana in the Ethiopian Highlands. The Blue Nile flows about 1,400 km (850 miles) to Khartoum, where the Blue Nile and White Nile join to form the "Nile proper". 90% of the water and 96% of the transported sediment carried by the Nile[3] originates in Ethiopia, with 59% of the water from the Blue nile alone (the rest being from the Tekezé, Atbarah, Sobat, and small tributaries). The erosion and transportation of silt only occurs during the Ethiopian rainy season in the summer, however, when rainfall is especially high on the Ethiopian Plateau; the rest of the year, the great rivers draining Ethiopia into the Nile (Sobat, Blue Nile, Tekezé, and Atbarah) flow weakly.

Nile composite NASA

Composite satellite image of the White Nile (see also the Nile delta)


The flow rate of the Albert Nile at Mongalla is almost constant throughout the year and averages 1048 cubic meters per second (36,980 cubic feet per second). After Mongalla, the Nile is known as the Bahr El Jebel which enters the enormous swamps of the Sud region of the Sudan. More than half of the Nile’s water is lost in this swamp to evaporation and transpiration. The average flow rate in the Bahr El Jebel at the tails of the swamps is about 510 m³/s (18,000 ft³/s). From here it soon meets with the Sobat River and forms the White Nile.

The average flow of the White Nile at Malakal is 924 m³/s (32,600 ft³/s), the peak flow is approximately 1218 m³/s (42,980 ft³/s) in early March and minimum flow is about 609 m³/s (21,490 ft³/s) in late August. The fluctuation there is due the substantial variation in the flow of the Sobat which has a minimum flow of about 99 m³/s (3,490 ft³/s) in August and a peak flow of over 680 m³/s (24,000 ft³/s) in early March.

From here the White Nile flows to Khartoum where it merges with the Blue Nile to form the Nile River. Further upstream the Atbara River, the last significant Nile tributary, merges with the Nile.

The White Nile contributes approximately 31%[citation needed] of the yearly Nile discharge. However during the dry season (January to June) the White Nile contributes between 70% and 90% of the total discharge from the Nile. During this period of time the natural discharge of the Blue Nile can be as low as 113 m³/s (3,990 ft³/s), although upstream dams regulate the flow of the river. During the dry period, there will typically be no flow from the Atbara River.

The Blue Nile contributes approximately 80-90% of the Nile River discharge. The flow of the Blue Nile varies considerably over its yearly cycle and is the main contribution to the large natural variation of the Nile flow. During the wet season the peak flow of the Blue Nile will often exceed 5663 m³/s (199,800 ft³/s) in latter August (variation by a factor of 50).

Before the placement of dams on the river the yearly discharge varied by a factor of 15 at Aswan. Peak flows of over 8212 m³/s (289,800 ft³/s) would occur during the later portions of August and early September and minimum flows of about 552 m³/s (19,500 ft³/s) would occur during later April and early May.

The Nile basin is complex and because of this the discharge at any given point along the river depends on many factors including weather, diversions, evaporation/evapotranspiration, and ground water flow.

In 1958 radioisotope tracking led to the discovery of a subterranean river, also called a crypto-river, which flows beneath the Nile. The flow of this river is very large; estimates place the annual discharge in the range of 566 km³ (135 mi³). This is equivalent to an average flow rate of almost 18,000 m³/s (635,000 ft³/s). The discharge of this crypto-river is approximately six times the annual discharge of the Nile.Template:Dubious

Tributaries and DistributariesEdit

After the Blue and White Niles merge, the only remaining major tributary is the Atbara River, which originates in Ethiopia north of Lake Tana, and is around 800 km (500 miles) long. It joins the Nile approximately 300 km (200 miles) north of Khartoum.

The Nile is unusual in that its last tributary (the Atbara) joins it roughly halfway to the sea. From that point north, the Nile diminishes because of evaporation.

The course of the Nile in Sudan is distinctive for two reasons: 1) it flows over 6 groups of cataracts, from the first at Aswan to the sixth at Sabaloka (just north of Khartoum); and 2) it turns to flow southward for a good portion of its course, before again returning to flow north to the sea. This is called the "Great Bend of the Nile."

North of Cairo, the Nile splits into two branches (or distributaries) that feed the Mediterranean: the Rosetta Branch to the west and the Damietta to the east, forming the Nile Delta.



The Nile (iteru in Ancient Egyptian) was the lifeline of the ancient Egyptian civilization, with most of the population and all of the cities of Egypt resting along those parts of the Nile valley lying north of Aswan. The Nile has been the lifeline for Egyptian culture since the Stone Age. Climate change, or perhaps overgrazing, desiccated the pastoral lands of Egypt to form the Sahara desert, possibly as long ago as 8000 BC, and the inhabitants then presumably migrated to the river, where they developed a settled agricultural economy and a more centralized society.

Role in the founding of Egyptian civilizationEdit

Sustenance played a crucial role in the founding of Egyptian civilization. The an unending source of sustenance. The Nile made the land surrounding it extremely fertile when it flooded or was inundated annually. The Egyptians were able to cultivate wheat and crops around the Nile, providing food for the general population. Also, the Nile’s water attracted game such as water buffalo; and after the Persians introduced them in the 7th century BC, camels. These animals could be killed for meat, or could be captured, tamed and used for ploughing — or in the camels' case, traveling. Water was vital to both people and livestock. The Nile was also a convenient and efficient way of transportation for people and goods.

Egypt’s stability was one of the best structured in history. In fact, it might easily have surpassed many modern societies. This stability was an immediate result of the Nile’s fertility. The Nile also provided flax for trade. Wheat was also traded, a crucial crop in the Middle East where famine was very common. This trading system secured the diplomatic relationship Egypt had with other countries, and often contributed to Egypt's economic stability. Also, the Nile provided the resources such as food or money, to quickly and efficiently raise an army. Whether the army was to take on a defensive or offensive role is unknown.

The Nile played a major role in politics and social life. The Pharaoh would supposedly flood the Nile, and in return for the life-giving water and crops, the peasants would cultivate the fertile soil and send a portion of the resources they had reaped to the Pharaoh. He or she would in turn use it for the wellbeing of Egyptian society.

The Nile was a source of spiritual dimension. The Nile was so significant to the lifestyle of the Egyptians, that they created a god dedicated to the welfare of the Nile’s annual inundation. The god’s name was Hapi, and both he and the Pharaoh were thought to control the flooding of the Nile River. Also, the Nile was considered as a causeway from life to death and afterlife. The east was thought of as a place of birth and growth, and the west was considered the place of death, as the god Ra, the sun, underwent birth, death, and resurrection each time he crossed the sky. Thus, all tombs were located west of the Nile, because the Egyptians believed that in order to enter the afterlife, they must be buried on the side that symbolized death.

The Greek historian, Herodotus, wrote that ‘Egypt was the gift of the Nile’, and in a sense that is correct. Without the waters of the Nile River for irrigation, Egyptian civilization would probably have been short-lived. The Nile provided the elements that make a vigorous civilization, and contributed much to its lasting three thousand years.

That far-reaching trade has been carried on along the Nile since ancient times can be seen from the Ishango bone, possibly the earliest known indication of Ancient Egyptian multiplication, which was discovered along the headwaters of the Nile River (near Lake Edward, in northeastern Congo) and was carbon-dated to 20,000 BC.

The search for the source of the NileEdit


Despite the attempts of the Greeks and Romans (who were unable to penetrate the Sudd), the upper reaches of the Nile remained largely unknown. Various expeditions had failed to determine the river's source, thus yielding classical Hellenistic and Roman representations of the river as a male god with his face and head obscured in drapery. Agatharcides records that in the time of Ptolemy II Philadelphus, a military expedition had penetrated far enough along the course of the Blue Nile to determine that the summer floods were caused by heavy seasonal rainstorms in the Ethiopian highlands, but no European in Antiquity is known to have reached Lake Tana, let alone retraced the steps of this expedition farther than Meroe.

Europeans learned little new information about the origins of the Nile until the 15th and 16th centuries, when travelers to Ethiopia visited not only Lake Tana, but the source of the Blue Nile in the mountains south of the lake. Although James Bruce claimed to have been the first European to have visited the headwaters, and modern writers with better knowledge give the credit to the Jesuit Pedro Páez, Europeans had been resident in the country since the late 15th century, and it is entirely possible one of them had visited the headwaters but was unable to send a report of his discoveries out of Ethiopia.

The White Nile was even less understood, and the ancients mistakenly believed that the Niger River represented the upper reaches of the White Nile; for example, Pliny the Elder wrote that the Nile had its origins "in a mountain of lower Mauretania", flowed above ground for "many days" distance, then went underground, reappeared as a large lake in the territories of the Masaesyles, then sank again below the desert to flow underground "for a distance of 20 days' journey till it reaches the nearest Ethiopians" (N.H. 5.10). A merchant named Diogenes reported the Nile’s water attracted game such as water buffalo; and after the Persians introduced them in the 7th century BC, camels.

Lake Victoria was first sighted by Europeans in 1858 when the British explorer John Hanning Speke reached its southern shore whilst on his journey with Richard Francis Burton to explore central Africa and locate the great Lakes. Believing he had found the source of the Nile on seeing this "vast expanse of open water" for the first time, Speke named the lake after the then Queen of the United Kingdom. Burton, who had been recovering from illness at the time and resting further south on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, was outraged that Speke claimed to have proved his discovery to have been the true source of the Nile when Burton regarded this as still unsettled. A very public quarrel ensued, which not only sparked a great deal of intense debate within the scientific community of the day, but much interest by other explorers keen to either confirm or refute Speke's discovery. The well known British explorer and missionary David Livingstone failed in his attempt to verify Speke's discovery, instead pushing too far west and entering the Congo River system instead. It was ultimately the American explorer Henry Morton Stanley who confirmed the truth of Speke's discovery, circumnavigating Lake Victoria and reporting the great outflow at Rippon Falls on the Lake's northern shore. It was on this journey that Stanley was said to have greeted the British explorer with the famous words "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" upon discovering the Scotsman ill and despondent in his camp on the shores of Lake Tanganyika.

The White Nile Expedition, led by South African national Hendri Coetzee, was to become the first to navigate the Nile in its entire length. The expedition took off from The Source of the Nile in Uganda on January 17, 2004 and arrived safely at the Mediterranean in Rosetta, 4 months and 2 weeks later. National Geographic released a feature film about the expedition towards in late 2005 entitled The Longest River.

On April 28 2004, geologist Pasquale Scaturro and his partner, kayaker and documentary filmmaker Gordon Brown became the first people to navigate the Blue Nile, from Lake Tana in Ethiopia to the beaches of Alexandria on the Mediterranean. Though their expedition included a number of others, Brown and Scaturro were the only ones to remain on the expedition for the entire journey. They chronicled their adventure with an IMAX camera and two handheld video cams, sharing their story in the IMAX film "Mystery of the Nile," and in a book of the same title. Despite this attempt, the team was forced to use outboard motors for most of their journey, and it was not until January 29, 2005, when Canadian Les Jickling and New Zealander Mark Tanner reached the Mediterranean Sea, that the river had been paddled for the first time under human power.

On 30 April 2005, a team led by South Africans Peter Meredith and Hendri Coetzee became the first to navigate the most remote headstream, the true source of the Nile — the Akagera river which starts as the Rukarara in Nyungwe forest in Rwanda.

On March 31 2006, three explorers from Britain and New Zealand lead by Neil McGrigor claimed to have been the first to travel the river from its mouth to a new "true source" deep in Rwanda's Nyungwe rainforest. 2°16′55.92″S, 29°19′52.32″E. [2]

The river todayEdit

The Nile still supports much of the population living along its banks, with the Egyptians living in otherwise inhospitable regions of the Sahara. The river flooded every summer, depositing fertile silt on the plains. The flow of the river is disturbed at several points by cataracts, which are sections of faster-flowing water with many small islands, shallow water, and rocks, forming an obstacle to navigation by boats. The sudd in the Sudan also forms a formidable obstacle for navigation and flow of water, to the extent that Egypt had once attempted to dig a canal (the Jongeli Canal) to improve the flow of this stagnant mass of water (also known as Lake No).

The Nile was, and still is, used to transport goods to different places along its long path; especially since winter winds in this area blow up river, the ships could travel up with no work by using the sail, and down using the flow of the river. While most Egyptians still live in the Nile valley, the construction of the Aswan High Dam (finished in 1970) to provide hydroelectricity ended the summer floods and their renewal of the fertile soil.

Cities on the Nile include Khartoum, Aswan, Luxor (Thebes), and the GizaCairo conurbation. The first cataract, the closest to the mouth of the river, is at Aswan to the north of the Aswan Dams. The Nile north of Aswan is a regular tourist route, with cruise ships and traditional wooden sailing boats known as feluccas. In addition, many "floating hotel" cruise boats ply the route between Luxor and Aswan, stopping in at Edfu and Kom Ombo along the way. It used to be possible to sail on these boats all the way from Cairo to Aswan, but security concerns have shut down the northernmost portion for many years.

Flooding of the NileEdit

The annual cycles of the Nile were very important to the lives of ancient Egyptians. Egypt’s stability was one of the best structured in history. In fact, it might easily have surpassed many modern societies. This stability was an immediate result of the Nile’s fertility. The Nile also provided flax for trade. Wheat was also traded, a crucial crop in the Middle East where famine was very common. This trading system secured the diplomatic relationship Egypt had with other countries, and often contributed to Egypt's economic stability. Also, the Nile provided the resources such as food or money, to quickly and efficiently raise an army, whether the army was to take on a defensive or offensive role.,

The Nile played a major role in politics and social life. The Pharaoh would supposedly flood the Nile, and in return for the life-giving water and crops, the peasants would cultivate the fertile soil and send a portion of the resources they had reaped to the Pharaoh. He or she would in turn use it for the wellbeing of Egyptian society.

More recently, drought during the 1980s led to widespread starvation in Ethiopia and Sudan but Egypt was protected from drought by water impounded in Lake Nasser. Beginning in the 1980s techniques of analysis using hydrology transport models have been used in the Nile to analyze water quality.

The EonileEdit

The present Nile is at least the fifth river that has flowed north from the Ethiopian Highlands. Satellite imagery was used to identify dry watercourses in the desert to the west of the Nile. An Eonile canyon, now filled by surface drift, represents an ancestral Nile called the Eonile that flowed during the later Miocene (23-5.3 million years before the present). The Eonile transported clastic sediments to the Mediterranean, where several gas fields have been discovered within these sediments.

During the late-Miocene Messinian Salinity Crisis, when the Mediterranean Sea was a closed basin and evaporated empty or nearly so, the Nile cut its course down to the new base level until it was several hundred feet below world ocean level at Aswan and 8000 feet deep under Cairo. This huge canyon is now full of later sediment.

Formerly, Lake Tanganyika drained northwards into the Nile, until the Virunga Volcanoes blocked its course in Rwanda. That would have made the Nile much longer, with its longest headwaters in northern Zambia.

See alsoEdit


  1. River Encarta (Accessed 3 October 2006)
  2. What did the ancient Egyptians call the Nile river? Open Egyptology. (Accessed 17 October 2006 - Login required or enter as Guest)
  3. Marshall et al., Template:PDFlink, 2006

External linksEdit

Wikimedia Commons has media related to:

Further readingEdit

Original version adapted from the Wikipedia article "Nile"

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.