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Rising Water Table in Front of the Sphinx
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wysingm
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PostPosted: Tue Apr 08, 2008 4:46 am    Post subject: Rising Water Table in Front of the Sphinx Reply with quote



Rising water table in front of the Sphinx

Al-Ahram Weekly
3 - 9 April 2008
Issue No. 891

The poor drainage system in the suburb of Nazlet Al-Semman and the area surrounding it is the main cause of the rising water table and the accumulation of salt on the surface of the ground facing the Sphinx's Valley Temple.

Culture Minister Farouk Hosni told a press conference held this week at the Ministry of Culture premises in Zamalek that the scientific team had found that filling up a section of the Al-Mansouriya canal was another cause of the raised water level. "The irrigation technique used in cultivating neighbouring areas, such as the public gardens and greeneries in the Hadaaq Al-Ahram residential area and the golf courses of the Mena House Hotel has led to the leakage of water into the Giza Plateau, especially the Valley Temple as it is located on a lower level," Hosni said.

Hawass said that 15 years ago, before the SCA began its 10-year-long restoration of the Sphinx, scientific studies on the level of the water table carried out by the National Research Institute of Astronomy and Geophysics showed that the water level was seven metres high below the base of the Sphinx.

Sabri Abdel-Aziz, head of the Ancient Egyptian Department at the SCA, told the Weekly there were three reasons for the rise of the water table: the increase in the cultivated area around the Giza Plateau; the lack of proper drainage in the shanty housing area near it; and the heightened level of the Nile in July and August.

Indeed, some archeologists point directly to the Aswan Dam. Although Hawass does not deny the role of the High Dam in damaging, or threatening to damage, historic monuments, he defends the policy which led to its being built. "We have noticed that the water table has risen since the High Dam was built," he told the Weekly, "the most serious damage occurs during the Nile's former flood season, since the river continues to adhere to its natural cycle despite being regulated by the dam. But even if the dam is the reason, we had to have it. While antiquities are important, we would have had the worst famine Egypt ever witnessed if we had not built the High Dam." -- Source

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PostPosted: Thu May 08, 2008 11:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm not sure I'm following this.
In fact, I'm very sure I'm not following this.
The way I interpreted the article above is that the dam does not completely regulate the river, because the river tries to adhere to its natural cycle. So apparently, the river still rises in mid-summer, although much less than it did before the dam was built. Is that right?
But the annual outflow of the Nile has to remain the same as it was before the dam was built, otherwise Lake Nasser overflows and there's lots of boating fun, and water damage, downstream in the valley. So the dam must be releasing more water during the eight month down cycle in order to keep the outflow reasonably constant.
So, if any of this is true, we get a higher river in the eight month down cycle than previously and a lower, but still somewhat higher than the modern average river in the normal flood cycle.
Well, here's the question, a three parter: If this is all true, and the water table is rising, then
A) how far did the river flood in antiquity? If I remember correctly, the river bed was further west in the Giza area in antiquity. Could the flood have reached the sphinx, or even have partially covered it? Like Amenhotep III's temple at Thebes;
B) Is there an underground aquifer possibly coming from the Fayum or some other source? Perhaps unlikely.
C) Was the dam built primarily to control the flood, in which case, why isn't it more efficient, or was its main purpose to provide electricity?
D) Or am I all wet? Flood stage! Something we know about in Wisconsin.

Anybody know the hydrology of the place?

Bob
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isisinacrisis
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PostPosted: Fri May 09, 2008 1:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm confused too. I thought the dam completely stopped the Nile from rising and flooding altogether, and that it no longer had it's seasonal cycle? I thought that any variations in Nile level these days were regulated artificially via the dam, for irrigation purposes, when people ask for it. I really don't think the Nile still has natural cycles now that the dam's been built. Though I do think the dam plays a great part in the high water table, because of the constant need for irrigation. I believe some of the crops grown there (rice, I think) nowadays are more water-demanding than the grains grown in antiquity?
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PostPosted: Fri May 09, 2008 1:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The way I read the report wuld suggest that there are a couple of factors that are typically modern:
the increase in the cultivated area around the Giza Plateau;
the lack of proper drainage in the shanty housing area near it;

This is combined with the heightened level of the Nile in July and August.

The water levels may not be as high as in antiquity, but combined with the modern factors of a canal nearby and its associated irrigation system it lead so higher levels for the ground water.

I don't think it really implies that the ground water would have gotten this high in antiquity.

It seems that there are local factors at work that would not have existed back then.

But this is my guess from reading the press statement above Very Happy
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PostPosted: Fri May 09, 2008 2:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I agree with anneke and isisinacrisis.
The rise in groundwater is a huge problem, not only with the Giza plateau but in all areas.
I don't think the dam can be blamed for all of the rising water problems. Cultivation, irrigation, poor drainage practises--all of these are more to blame than the dam.
As far as I know, the dam has completely eliminated the flooding of the river. It is estimated that Lake Nasser will fill with silt (that should have been distributed in the valley) within 50 years.
The dam has brought mixed blessing to Egypt. The river is now controlled; small villages that never had electricity now have tvs! But the ceasation of the flooding has led to vast irrigation and fertilization, which pollutes the river. In the VoK, there are quite a few tombs that have suffered increased water damage. All of the temples along the Nile are percolating water into the inscriptions, salt forms, it flakes off taking the inscriptions with it as it leaves! In the near future, bare temples will still be around, of course. Even the columns of Luxor temple have had to have the bases replaced, due to water damage. The SCA is trying to come up with some sort of solution. I wish them luck!
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PostPosted: Fri May 09, 2008 4:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

This 'heightened level of the Nile in July' that Anneke talks of, is this natural? It surely can't be, if Osiris II says that the dam stopped the flooding completely, but that was the time when the Nile used to flood. So are the dam engineers artificially raising the Nile waters to correspond with the ancient flood season (which in a way is practical since it's also the hottest and driest time of year)?

It's a shame they don't have a way of dredging the silt in the lake for use as a fertiliser. I'd expect that would be too expensive.
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PostPosted: Fri May 09, 2008 6:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

isisinacrisis wrote:
This 'heightened level of the Nile in July' that Anneke talks of, is this natural?


I'm not sure but my guess is that with the rain season the level of water in the lake behind the dam would rise more. So it may be necessary to release more water from the dam in the rainy season? Otherwise the water level in Lake Nasser might get too high?
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PostPosted: Fri May 09, 2008 9:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wikipedia has posted some of the cons concerning the dam:
Damming the Nile has caused a number of environmental and cultural issues. It flooded much of lower Nubia and over 90,000 people were displaced. Lake Nasser flooded valuable archaeological sites such as the fort at Buhen. The silt which was deposited in the yearly floods, and made the Nile floodplain fertile, is now held behind the dam. Silt deposited in the reservoir is lowering the water storage capacity of Lake Nasser. Poor irrigation practices are waterlogging soils and bringing salt to the surface. Mediterranean fishing declined after the dam was finished because nutrients that used to flow down the Nile to the Mediterranean were trapped behind the dam.

There is some erosion of farmland down-river as the river replenishes its sediment load. Erosion of coastline barriers due to lack of new sediments from floods will eventually cause loss of the brackish water lake fishery that is currently the largest source of fish for Egypt, and the subsidence of the Nile Delta will lead to inundation of the northern portion of the delta with seawater, in areas which are now used for rice crops.[citation needed] The delta itself, no longer renewed by Nile silt, has lost much of its fertility. The red-brick construction industry, which used delta mud, is also severely affected. There is significant erosion of coastlines (due to lack of sand, which was once brought by the Nile) all along the eastern Mediterranean.

The increased use of artificial fertilizers in farmland below the dam has caused chemical pollution which the traditional river silt did not. Indifferent irrigation control has also caused some farmland to be damaged by waterlogging and increased salinity, a problem complicated by the reduced flow of the river, which allows salt water to encroach further into the delta.
A wall commemorating the completion of Aswan High Dam. Coat of arms of the Soviet Union is on the left and Coat of arms of Egypt is on the right.
A wall commemorating the completion of Aswan High Dam. Coat of arms of the Soviet Union is on the left and Coat of arms of Egypt is on the right.

Mediterranean fish stocks are also negatively affected by the dam. The eastern basin of the Mediterranean is low in fertility, and traditionally the marine ecosystem depended on the rich flow of phosphate and silicates from the Nile outflow. Mediterranean catches decreased by almost half after the dam was constructed. The dam has been implicated in a rise in cases of schistosomiasis (bilharzia), due to the thick plant life that has grown up in Lake Nasser, which hosts the snails who carry the disease.

The Aswan Dam tends to increase the salinity of the Mediterranean Sea, and this affects the Mediterranean's outflow current into the Atlantic Ocean (see Strait of Gibraltar). This current can be traced thousands of kilometers into the Atlantic.

Some of the pros:
The dam powers twelve generators each rated at 175 megawatts, producing a hydroelectric output of 2.1 gigawatts. Power generation began in 1967. When the dam first reached peak output it produced around half of Egypt's entire electricity production (about 15% by 1998) and allowed for the connection of most Egyptian villages to use electricity for the first time. The dam mitigated the effects of dangerous floods in 1964 and 1973 and of threatening droughts in 1972–73 and 1983–84. A new fishing industry has been created around Lake Nasser, though it is struggling due to its distance from any significant markets.
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PostPosted: Sat May 10, 2008 10:18 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

BobManske wrote:

A) how far did the river flood in antiquity? If I remember correctly, the river bed was further west in the Giza area in antiquity. Could the flood have reached the sphinx, or even have partially covered it? Like Amenhotep III's temple at Thebes;


I used to believe that the disappearance of mortuary temple of Amenhotep III at Thebes, leaving only the mysterious ‘singing Memnon’ and its silent companion, was the result of poor planning by 18th dynasty engineers. However, Nicholas Reeves (2001/2005) Akhenaten Ch. 3 p.66, says:

“The temple for which these statues were originally commissioned was one of the greatest Egypt had ever seen, enormous in its physical scale (occupying an area of around 37ha (91 acres), much of it intended to flood during the annual, rejuvenating inundation) and embellished with an immense range of the most refined sculptures, carved at every scale and in every stone then known to man – from limestone to obsidian – and cast from every precious metal.” (italics mine)

If this is accurate, then it seems to me unlikely that the flood waters ever reached the sphinx in antiquity, given that it was probably intended they should not.
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PostPosted: Sat May 10, 2008 5:57 pm    Post subject: hmm Reply with quote

Dunno... Just curious, does anyone know if the sphinx has ever been thought of as sort of a protector of all the burial.... stuff.... in the vicinity, *from* the nile?
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PostPosted: Sun May 11, 2008 5:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
Dunno... Just curious, does anyone know if the sphinx has ever been thought of as sort of a protector of all the burial.... stuff.... in the vicinity, *from* the nile?


I don't think the Sphinx was ever viewed as a guardian against Nile waters--unless it was supposed to lap them up before they flooded the pyramids. Razz

A couple of years ago I attended a lecture at the Oriental Institute given by Ray Johnson, director of the Chicago House in Luxor. He spoke a bit on the climatological and ecological difficulties Egypt is facing throughout the river valley, and not all of it is due to the dam.

Johnson remembers first working in the Luxor area some twenty years ago, and the chuckles he and his colleagues shared over a local painter who liked to paint big, fluffy, white clouds in the skies of his paintings. In those days it was rare to see big, fluffy, white clouds in the skies of Egypt, but he related that nowadays it's common. The overall climate in Egypt is becoming more humid--not drastically, mind you, but it's noticeable.

Further, a common crop in modern Egypt is sugar cane; in fact it's the main sugar crop grown in Upper Egypt (sugar beets are more commonly grown in the Delta). Sugar cane requires a lot of water, so I wouldn't be surprised if more water is allowed into the valley from the dam during the growing season. This also requires a good deal of irrigation up and down the valley, and as Osiris II's Wikipedia article notes, erosion can be a big problem.

I'm not sure myself if the dam can be completely blamed for it, but we've all heard of the rising water table throughout the valley in Egypt. The big problem here is that the limestone bedrock that constitutes so much of the Nile Valley and environs, contains huge amounts of natural salt deposits from the ancient past when Egypt was once the bottom of an ocean. Johnson explained to us that as the water table rises, it pushes up these salts, which subsequently leach into the foundation stones of many of the monuments--and eats them away.

As for the Giza Plateau, I have read that there might be natural aquifers in the limestone substrata, but I don't know how reliable this information is. I question whether it's true because I've never seen mention of such aquifers in geological reports I've read concerning the Plateau, but I'm hardly an expert on that topic. As the article quoted in wysingm's original post clearly states, the standing water seen in that photograph comes from the "poor drainage system in the suburb of Nazlet Al-Semman and the area surrounding it." Smile
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PostPosted: Sun May 11, 2008 12:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think the rising water table is mainly to do with badly-planned irrigation, poor drainage systems in populated areas (like with the Sphinx), and to some extent the dam's control over how much water crops should get...maybe a bit of climate change too? Did the actual river's course change slightly after the dam was built as well? I could be wrong though on some of those guesses. Most of the pictures I see from Luxor these days still look as sunny as I expect them too, but it's funny you should mention clouds/humidity because I read somewhere that recently, Luxor got rained on really badly, I think in January or February, for the first time in a decade. I would have expected current climate change to make Egypt drier (like it did in the past) but maybe the reverse is happening? It's not good news for the monuments if this is the case. (Or maybe this humidity increasing in Egypt is a temporary thing...)

This salting of the monuments is one of the main reasons I want to visit Egypt asap. I've heard reports of people seeing ancient temple inscriptions crumble before their very eyes because of it. I hope they can find some way of stopping it before it's too late.
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PostPosted: Sun May 11, 2008 5:22 pm    Post subject: Ahh ok! Reply with quote

Tanx, was just curious.... I have never been really sure what to think of that massive sphinx.... It seems to be sooooo large, it imust have been something somehow viewed as a sacred and hmmm necesary? Or maybe that isn't the right word... perhaps the better way to say it would be 'that it served some purpose' or had some meaning.... I just have not yet read about it and i have no information what so ever, so when the proximity to nile flooding was brought up.... I thought asking the question was atleast somewhat in order. Sorry, for taking away from the interesting conversation.... And thank you for answering my rather idiotic question. Embarassed
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PostPosted: Tue May 13, 2008 1:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
Did the actual river's course change slightly after the dam was built as well? I could be wrong though on some of those guesses.


You're right about the river's course, as far as I understand it. I am certainly no expert on the geographical forces of Egypt, but I'm quite certain the Nile continues to creep eastward. Note how far away pyramids such as those at Abusir are from the Nile now. I bet an ancient Egyptian from that time wouldn't even recognize the landscape today.

Quote:
This salting of the monuments is one of the main reasons I want to visit Egypt asap. I've heard reports of people seeing ancient temple inscriptions crumble before their very eyes because of it.


In the lecture he gave, Johnson witnessed that very thing. He related how one small stone they had set aside for conservation, literally crumbled into dust before their eyes. They couldn't save it. He also showed numerous signs of dismantled stones so encrusted with salt, you could barely make out the inscriptions underneath. The salt is eating them away. Sad
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 09, 2009 3:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

When the water is hold by the dam it will press itself into deeper layers of rock in the earth. When u have much denser rock downstream the water will appear at some point to the surface through the rock. The salt could indicate that salty water have been present in the past before people start making wall paintings and hieroglyphics. Add the water to the salt in the rock and u have the destruction.
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