Lesson 4: The Nile River - An Overview


Today we begin our voyage along the Nile River. You will study the Nile from many different perspectives - its impact on political history, its seasonality, its flood and flow regimes. Our journey is focused on two questions that are fundamental to the Nile, and also to rivers around the world:

  1. Where does the water come from?
  2. Where does the water go?

We won't arrive at complete answers to these questions today, because each question has many levels of understanding. To answer where the water comes from we will learn the 3-dimensonal shape of the huge Nile River basin, evaluate seasonal patterns of rainfall throughout the basin, and follow the history of Nile exploration from the ancients through the Victorian era. To understand where the water goes we must learn the flooding patterns along each portion of the Nile, recreate the 1959 bilateral water treaty between Egypt and the Sudan, and address the environmental and social impacts of building the Aswan Dam.

We're going to start with a series of maps, because geologists always start with maps. We need to get our bearings and understand the location and scale of our questions before we can tackle them.

Learning Objectives

By the end of Lesson 4, successful students should be able to...

  • Identify flow and flood levels on the Nile and its tributaries using data files and charts.
  • Locate the Nile River, its headwaters and its tributaries - and their drainage basin - on a map of Africa.
  • Describe various early interpretations for understanding the annual Nile floods in Egypt.

Reading Assignment from e-Reserves

Electronic course reserves, or "e-Reserves," are articles that are available online through the University Libraries. You can access our course reserves by clicking on the Resources tab in ANGEL and then clicking on the "Library Reserves" link within the "Penn State Library Tools" box. E-Reserves directions are also available to help you learn how to use the online system.

  • Theroux 1997. The imperiled Nile delta, National Geographic, January 8-35.
    READING GUIDE: As you read this paper, think about the sources of water for your own community. What sort of physical and managerial infrastructure is needed to maintain a clean water supply for a major city? Note the description of blood-tinged urine from ancient drawings; the disease that causes this symptom (schistosomiasis) is still rampant today in central and northern Africa.

Other readings for the lesson are linked in the lesson pages.


The following items are due by the end of this lesson (see the Calendar tab in ANGEL for specific due dates). Detailed information about each assignment and submission directions are included in this lesson.

  1. Discussion Forum: The Meeting of the Niles in Khartoum
  2. Topic-Specific Assignment: Nile Basin Geography
  3. Thought-Provoking Assignment: Rains and Rivers
    1. Part A - Virtual River Discharge and River Flooding
    2. Part B - River Hydrographs


If you have any questions now or at any point during this week, please feel free to post them to the Lesson 4 Discussion Forum. (That discussion forum can be accessed at any time by clicking on the Communicate tab in ANGEL and then looking in the Discussion Forums box.)