The Great Sahara Sea

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A report was published in 1927 telling how to create a new sea. Dr. John Ball detailed how carving a canal up to 50 miles into the Egyptian desert would flood the Qattara Depression (which lies beneath sea level). By controlling the flow of water, they could harvest hydroelectricity. Although the initial calculations were made by Dr. Ball in 1927, some scientists are looking at its viability to this day.

A map of the Qattara Depression with proposed routes for channels.
A map of the Qattara Depression with proposed routes for channels.

An international “Board of Advisers” was developed in 1964, with Professor Friedrich Bassler in the lead. Bassler and his team presented a plan to Egypt in 1975 that would provide constant energy generation for generations to come, but this would not be an easy task. They had to face digging the largest channel of all time, the evaporation of water once it hit the Sahara, and the eventual over-saturation of salt in the manmade lake.

Illustration of the Panama Canal being dug. Charles Graham (1885)
Illustration of the Panama Canal being dug.
Charles Graham (1885)

By carefully regulating the amount of water entering the lake, the evaporation could actually become a positive. As water entered the lake, it would evaporate at the same rate as it is filled staying at 60m below sea level. At the beginning, such a plan would generate 670 megawatts, but at its peak an astounding 6800 megawatts. But they would still have to dig a massive channel.

The Sir Adam Beck Hydroelectric Generating Station
The Sir Adam Beck Hydroelectric Generating Station

Digging it mechanically would be much too expensive, so their solution? Nuclear bombs. 213 explosions from the coast with 1.5 megatons of power each. For reference, Little Boy (dropped on Hiroshima) was 15 kilotons; 100 times smaller than needed here. This, of course, would lead to a small issue of nuclear radiation. There would be problems beyond nuclear fallout as well.

"Little Boy"
“Little Boy”

25,000 people would need to be evacuated due to flooding alone. The nearby tectonic rift may become affected and earthquakes would wreak havoc among other areas. Groundwater would be contaminated with huge amounts of salt. Coastal areas would erode very rapidly near the channel meaning a lot of upkeep. On top of all that, millions of land mines from WWII would have to be removed before any significant work is completed. In the end, the Egyptian government decided against the plan and we may never see the creation of a Sahara Sea. But that doesn’t mean people aren’t pulling for it to this day.

Music: Cello Concerto in D minor by Édouard Lalo

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