Atlantropa: Dam in the Straits of Gibraltar and Flood Africa
April 22, 2011 2:45 PM   Subscribe

The Canal des Deux Mers connected the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, the Zuiderzee Works reclaimed part of shallow inlet of the North Sea to expand the Netherlands, so why not try taming the Mediterranean and irrigating Africa? Part ocean reclamation, part power generation (the "white coal" of falling water), Atlantropa wasn't simply the stuff of science fiction. First called Panropa, it was the long-term goal of a German architect and engineer named Herman Sörgel, a dream that lasted until his death in 1952, and the Atlantropa Institute continued on another 8 years.

Sörgel wrote four Atlantropa books and some 1000 publications, and at the peak, his project included designs from many architects, including Peter Behrens, Erich Mendelsohn and Hans Poelzig.

Atlantropa was largely intended to be a development for peace, even called a "technical-architectural utopia" (Google books), other sources list that his aim was to align the Americas with Atlantropa, against "the yellow peril" which "arises from the racial antipathy of India, China and Japan".

According to the Cabinet Magazine article (last link above the break), Atlantropa lives on in an odd way:
in German high schools, where it is still being used as a question on a physics exam in which students are asked to calculate the lowering of the Mediterranean's water level. The test mentions the project as if it was currently being planned and the pupils could contribute to its success by solving a mathematics problem: "How many people could be provided with energy from this power plant?", the test asks.
Atlantropa - Der Traum vom neuen Kontinent (YT playlist) Atlantropa - the dream of the new continent - a German TV documentary from 2005, with computer renderings of the hypothetical Atlantropa.
posted by filthy light thief (17 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Very cool post. For nutty canal projects, the Red-Dead Canal Project, first proposed in 1855, has to be mentioned too. It would utilize the 400 meter drop in elevation between the Red and Dead seas to make hydro power.
posted by norm at 3:31 PM on April 22, 2011

Doesn't the current flowing from the Straits of Gibraltar play a part in the North Atlantic Current and the Gulf Stream system? If I were a european I'd be hesitant to screw with what's already a great climatic bargain.
posted by mullingitover at 4:28 PM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

There have been some interesting water transfer schemes proposed for North America too, for example the Sun Belt Water company, and the GRAND Canal Project.

The grandaddy of them all appears to be the The North American Water and Power Alliance (NAWAPA) project, which would move water from the Arctic circle in Canada and Alaska all the way to California and Mexico. The resulting economic powerhouse would propel North America to heights of capitalist excess undreamed-of in years past, and never to be equaled in the history of, well, the History of the World!!1! I don't see it mentioned on this site, but at one point they were talking about detonating a string of nuclear devices to cut through a mountain range.
posted by sneebler at 4:32 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Things like this make me sad that I missed the halcyon days of mad science-ing, Screw the human genome; I want my superstructures, damnit!
posted by Toby Dammit X at 5:09 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

sneebler: Operation Plowshare looked into using nukes for all kinds of loony operations. My favorite of those involved a new Panama canal, but in Nicaragua.
posted by norm at 7:00 PM on April 22, 2011

It seems all the big powers had to have one of these in the halcyon days of megaengineering. From the early thirties on, the Soviets knocked around the Northern river reversal, which would have rerouted - at the very least - the Pechora, Kama, Tobol, Ishim, Irtysh, and Ob rivers from the Arctic Ocean (where they, uh, uselessly drained) to irrigate central Asia. And unlike the Americans, they put their money where their mouth was (google translated) and actually detonated (one of) the bombs as part of Nuclear Explosions for the National Economy.

(A program which, in turn, you might remember from last spring.)

The thing that's even crazier is that the river reversal idea stuck around until the mid-eighties.
posted by The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal at 7:24 PM on April 22, 2011

posted by LobsterMitten at 8:06 PM on April 22, 2011

I say go for it. What could possibly go wrong? At least some land in the general vicinity will end up habitable, right?
posted by feloniousmonk at 1:40 AM on April 23, 2011

Every man has an idea that will not work. The Soviets were dead serious about that huge, daft river scheme and, of course, when communism and reality clash it's reality that has to go. They'd have been better off trying to save the Aral sea instead of turning it into a pesticide ridden parking lot for rusty boats, dead birds and bits of tractor.
posted by joannemullen at 3:40 AM on April 23, 2011

The soviets were quite keen on peaceful nuclear explosions
posted by adamvasco at 5:31 AM on April 23, 2011

also Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project; a little bit more.
posted by adamvasco at 5:41 AM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Dead Sea / Red Sea canal (or its variations - Dead Sea / Mediterranean and so forth) isn't actually a bad idea. The Dead Sea gets shallower every year because its inflow doesn't match its evaporation rate. The problem is that sea water wouldn't necessarily be good for its mix of salt-tolerant organisms. If nothing's done, however, the Dead Sea will disappear.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:12 AM on April 23, 2011

when communism politics and reality clash it's reality that has to go
posted by sneebler at 10:14 AM on April 23, 2011

the Soviets knocked around the Northern river reversal...and actually detonated (one of) the bombs as part of Nuclear Explosions for the National Economy.--The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal

I'm pretty sure the US experimented with using nuclear explosions for construction. I remember seeing a picture of a canyon cut through some hills created by a series of small nuclear explosions. The idea was abandoned because the explosions were not well controlled and left an expensive mess to clean up. I'll be darned if I can't find it on the web, however.

And there are plenty of things we are doing now (like poring massive amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere and wiping out large portions of the fish in the sea), that, in the long run, will turn out to have larger affects on the world than any of these projects.
posted by eye of newt at 10:54 AM on April 23, 2011

Ah, found it. The Plowshares program (PDF).
posted by eye of newt at 11:11 AM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Anyone else remember
that Julian May series Pliocene Saga.
This, in reverse

(flooding the "Mediterranean Desert" to destroy the "Exotics'" city)
posted by J0 at 12:58 PM on April 23, 2011

If you want to look at a massive project that is actually sane, try the Desert-Tec project. The details are:

1. massive solar plants in the North African deserts, connected to the coast and to Europe. Massive enough to overwhelm the needs of the North African cities.

2. Desalination plants along the coasts, powered by the same. So, whenever the supply from the solar plants doesn't match demand from the residents, water gets desalinated. And then pumped inland.

Key differences: it's the kind of thing the Algerians would be doing if they had the money, anyway. It fills North Africa with fresh water, not sea water. And it doesn't destroy Venice. Overall, I like it.
posted by ocschwar at 3:38 PM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

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