Nile river is millions of years older than previously thought, according to University scientists

Mariane Gutierrez

University scientists have discovered the true age of the Nile River to be millions of years older than previously thought.

Lead author Claudio Faccenna said geoscientists from the Roma Tre University and UT published a study last week in the Nature Geoscience journal that estimates the age of the Nile to be 30 million years. The river, which stretches through eastern Africa and flows into the Mediterranean Sea, was previously thought to have been six times younger, according to a University press release.

The team of researchers used geological evidence and computer models to determine why the Nile has persisted for millions of years, said Petar, research fellow at the department of geological sciences. 

“The slow movement of the mantle is one of the key forces that shapes Earth’s landscape,” Glišović said. “Our numerical models allow us, for the first time, to map the mantle flow and structure to … explain the history of Nile river drainage into the Mediterranean through the last 30 million years.”

Glišović said he developed a method for time-reversed modeling to observe the past landscape of the river. He said he used computer simulations to recreate up to 40 million years of plate tectonic activity.

“This method sweeps back and forth in small time windows, checking for errors and making tiny corrections in past predictions,” Glišović said. “Eventually, one of the predictions from the past matches our present Earth.”

Geological sciences professor Faccenna said the Nile has been sustained by a mantle convection cell, produced by a flood of molten metal and a downward movement of cooler material. He said this occurred in Ethiopia and the Egypt-Levant Basin, producing landmasses at or below sea level.

“You have to have some area that is more elevated,” Faccenna said. “With this, we have the confirmation that mountain convection is indeed the propelling and driving force that is producing this topography.”

Eric Kirby, chair of earthquake geology and active tectonics at Oregon State University, said the study tries to understand geological history in a way scientists were previously unable to.

“The path of the Nile has been a source of interest,” Kirby said. “What I think is really interesting about the study is not only the implications for the Nile itself, but potential for this type of research to shed light on the evolution of other river systems.”