The Nile River has fertilized valleys along its winding path through northeastern Africa for thousands of years, anchoring ancient civilizations and still serving today as a major transportation and irrigation route.
But the age of its venerable waters, stretching over 6,800 kilometers (4,225 miles), has been debated, with one group of experts claiming that the river was born about 6 million years ago when a drainage system changed course, while another claims that the river is five times older.
A recent study found evidence to support the latter theory: The Nile River may have emerged about 30 million years ago, driven by the movement of Earth’s mantle — the thick layer of rock between the Earth’s core and crust, a group of researchers reported in Nature Geoscience on November 11.
The Nile River is thought to have formed at the same time as the Ethiopian highlands, said lead author Claudio Faccenna, a professor at the University of Texas ‘ Jackson School of Geosciences. The highlands of Ethiopia is where one of the main tributaries or branches of the Nile River, called the Blue Nile, starts. The Blue Nile brings most of the water of the Nile River — and most of the sediments therein — together with the other tributary of the river (the White Nile) in Sudan, before emptying out into the Mediterranean Sea.
Previously, Faccenna and his team studied sediments collected from the land of the Nile Delta produced as sediments where the river meets the Mediterranean and contrasted their composition and age with the ancient volcanic rock found on the Ethiopian plateau.
They discovered the sediments and rocks matched, ranging from 20 million to 30 million years old, suggesting that the river was formed at the same time as the plateau.
So then the researchers were interested in seeing how the river was possibly connected to Earth’s mantle, as the theory suggested, Faccenna told Live Science.
Faccenna and coworkers created a computer simulation in the new study which replayed 40 million years of Earth’s plate tectonics — a theory that implies the outer shell of Earth is cut into pieces that pass around and glide over the mantle.
Faccenna stated. Their simulation showed that a hot mantle plume an upsurge of extremely hot rock in the mantle pushed the ground upward, creating the Ethiopian highlands and also activated a still-existing mantle “conveyor belt” that pushes upward on the Ethiopian highlands in the south and pulls the ground down in the north. This creates a northward slope, on which the Nile still runs.
It’s uncertain whether, just marginally, the Nile River has ever changed its course throughout its life, and that’s something Faccenna and his team intends to find out in the future. I also want to use this approach to examine how the mantle could have changed the course of other rivers around the world as well.


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