The Nile sediment-routing system from equatorial Africa to the Mediterranean Sea

Since the launch of the Science and Technology for Exploration and Production Solutions (STEPS) outreach program by Landmark at LIFE 2016, a series of Distinguished Lectures have taken place around the world, which have all followed the theme of source-to-sink analysis. These lectures have been delivered by leading geoscience experts, including John Snedden (University of Texas, Austin), Dr. Ole Jacob Martinsen (Statoil), Prof. Mike Stephenson (British Geological Survey) and Prof. Joseph Lambiase (Chulalongkom University in Bangkok). Through these lectures and other STEPS initiatives, Landmark aims to bring the academic and wider E&P community together so they might collaborate and collectively help drive our knowledge and understanding forward towards future exploration success.

The fifth and final lecture in the series will take place on 11th May in Milan and will be given by Prof. Eduardo Garzanti, Professor of Geology and Sedimentology and Vice-Director of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Milano-Bicocca. His talk is titled “The Nile sediment-routing system from equatorial Africa to the Mediterranean Sea”.
Abstract: Compositional changes of Nile sediments are traced for 7400 km, from their sources in equatorial rift highlands of Burundi and Rwanda to their sink in the Mediterranean Sea. All chemical and physical controls on sediment petrography, mineralogy and geochemistry, including weathering, grain-size, hydraulic sorting, mechanical breakdown, anthropic impact, mixing and recycling are investigated in detail. The Nile course is controlled along its entire length by the East African-Red Sea Rift. In this anorogenic setting, detritus is derived in various proportions from volcanic fields associated with tectonic extension (Anorogenic Volcanic provenance) and from igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rocks uplifted on the rift shoulders or exposed on the craton (Continental Block provenance). The entire spectrum of such detrital signatures is displayed in the Nile catchment. Volcaniclastic Atbara sand is generated by focused erosion of the Ethiopian basaltic plateau in semiarid climate, whereas quartzose White Nile sand reflects low erosion rates, extensive weathering and sediment trapping in lakes and swamps at equatorial to subequatorial latitudes. In the main Nile, as in its main tributary the Blue Nile, suspended load is volcaniclastic, whereas feldspatho-quartzose bedload is derived largely from basement sources, with fine to medium-grained eolian sand added along the lower course. Mixing of detrital populations with different provenance and grain size is reflected in diverse violations of settling-equivalence relationships in fluvial and deltaic sediments. Sediment delivery from Sudan has been cut off after closure of the Aswan High Dam and accelerated erosion of deltaic cusps is leading to local formation of placer lags dominated by ultradense Fe-Ti-Cr oxides, but mineralogical changes caused by man's radical modification of fluvial regimes have been minor so far. In beaches of Sinai, Gaza and Israel, the Nile volcaniclastic trace gets progressively diluted by quartzose sand recycled from eolian coastal deposits and carbonaticlastic detritus eroded from the Levant rift shoulder. Studying the compositional variability of modern sediments in big-river systems allows us to appreciate the richness of natural processes occurring in the vast drainage basin, and provides us with a key to understand the information stored in sedimentary archives and to reconstruct the evolution of the Earth's surface from the recent to the less recent past.


This Distinguished Lecture will be hosted by Eni in Milan. Online joining instructions for the live broadcast can be found here.

Details on how to access the subsequent recording will be made available on the iEnergy®  University Hub after the event.

If you are interested in the STEPS initiative please register your interest at and join our growing iEnergy Community.