Blue Nile
ET Bahir Dar asv2018-02 img32 view from Bezawit.jpg
Blue Nile River in Ethiopia
Blue nile map.png
CountriesEthiopia and Sudan
Physical characteristics
 • location
 • location
Confluence with Blue Nile and merges with White Nile in Khartoum, Sudan, forming main branch of Nile River
Length1,450 km (900 mi)
Basin size325,000 km2 (125,000 sq mi)
 • average1,548 m3/s (54,700 cu ft/s)
Basin features
River systemNile

The Blue Nile (Amharic: ጥቁር አባይ, romanized: T’ik’uri Ābayi; Arabic: النيل الأزرق‎, romanized: an-Nīl al-ʾAzraqu), also known as the Abbay River (Amharic: ዓባይ) is a river originating at Lake Tana in Ethiopia. It is the major tributary of the Nile Basin Watershed and is also referred to as the "Blue Nile" once it is in the territory of Sudan. With the White Nile, it is one of the two major tributaries of the Nile. The Blue Nile supplies about 80% of the water in the Nile during the rainy season.


The Abbay River floods during the summer monsoon erode a vast amount of fertile soil from the Ethiopian Highlands and carry it downstream as silt, turning the water dark brown or almost black.[1]

The distance of the river from its source to its confluence has been variously reported as being between 1,460 kilometres (910 mi) and 1,600 kilometres (990 mi). This uncertainty over the length might partially result from the fact that the river flows through a series of virtually impenetrable gorges cut in the Ethiopian Highlands to a depth of some 1,500 metres (4,900 ft)—a depth comparable to that of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River in the United States.

According to materials published by the Central Statistical Agency, the Abbay River (the Blue Nile once in Sudanese soil) has a total length of 1,450 kilometres (900 mi), of which 800 kilometres (500 mi) are inside Ethiopia.[2] The Abbay River flows generally south from Lake Tana and then west across Ethiopia and northwest into Sudan where its name changes to be called the Blue Nile. Within 30 km (19 mi) of its source at Lake Tana, the river enters a canyon about 400 km (250 mi) long. This gorge is a tremendous obstacle for travel and communication from the north half of Ethiopia to the southern half. The canyon was first referred to as the "Grand Canyon" by the British team that accomplished the first descent of the river from Lake Tana to near the end of the canyon in 1968. Subsequent river rafting parties also called this the "Grand Canyon of the Nile". The power of the Abbay may best be appreciated at the Tiss Abbay Falls (Amharic: ጢስ ዓባይ ፏፏቴ), which are 45 metres (148 ft) high, located about 40 kilometres (25 mi) downstream of Lake Tana.

Satellite image of where White and Blue Niles merge

Although there are several feeder streams that flow into Lake Tana, the sacred source of the river is generally considered to be a small spring at Gish Abbay, situated at an elevation of approximately 2,744 metres (9,003 ft). This stream, known as the Gilgel Abbay (Lesser Abbay River), flows north into Lake Tana. Other affluents of this lake include, in clockwise order from Gorgora, the Magech River, the Northern Gumara, the Reb River, the southern Gumara River, and the Kilte.[3] Lake Tana's outflow then flows some 30 kilometres (19 mi) before plunging over the Blue Nile Falls. The river then loops across northwest Ethiopia through a series of deep valleys and canyons into Sudan, by which point it is only known as the Blue Nile.

There are numerous tributaries of the Abbay between Lake Tana and the Sudanese border. Those on its left bank, in downstream order, include the Wanqa River, the Bashilo River, the Walaqa River, the Wanchet River, the Jamma River, the Muger River, the Guder River, the Agwel River, the Nedi River, the Didessa River and the Dabus River. Those on the right side, also in downstream order, include the Handassa, Tul, Abbaya, Sade, Tammi, Cha, Shita, Suha, Muga, Gulla, Temcha, Bachat, Katlan, Jiba, Chamoga, Weter and the Beles.[3]

After flowing past Er Roseires inside Sudan, and receiving the Dinder on its right bank at Dinder, the Blue Nile joins the White Nile at Khartoum and, as the Nile, flows through Egypt to the Mediterranean Sea at Alexandria.

Water flowEdit

Confluence of Blue and White Nile near Khartoum

The flow of the Abbay reaches maximum volume in the rainy season (from June to September), when it supplies 80–86% of the water of the Nile proper. The Abbay River was a major source of the flooding of the Nile that contributed to the fertility of the Nile Valley and the consequent rise of Ancient Egypt and Egyptian mythology. With the completion in 1970 of the Aswan Dam in Egypt, the Nile floods ended for lower Egypt.

The Abbay River is vital to the livelihood of Egypt. The Abbay River, the most significant tributary of the Nile, contributes over 85% of the Nile's streamflow.[4] Though shorter than the White Nile, 59% of the water that reaches Egypt originates from the Ethiopian highlands as a form of Abbay River then as the Blue Nile branch of the great river. The river is also an important resource for Sudan, where the Roseires Dam and Sennar Dams produce 80% of the country's power. These dams also help irrigate the Gezira Scheme, which is most famous for its high quality cotton. The region also produces wheat and animal feed crops.

In November 2012, Ethiopia began a six-year project for the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, a 6000-megawatt hydroelectric dam on the river. The dam is expected to be a boost for the Ethiopian economy. Sudan and Egypt, meanwhile, voiced their concern over a potential reduction in water available.[5]

European explorationEdit

Men pull each other across the Blue Nile by rope prior to the building of a new bridge
New Blue Nile River suspended bridge completed in 2009. It is the only pedestrian cable bridge over the Blue Nile in Ethiopia.
Blue Nile Gorge in Ethiopia.

The first European to have seen the Abbay River in Ethiopia and the river's source was Pedro Páez, a Spanish Jesuit who reached the river's source 21 April 1618.[6] Nevertheless, the Portuguese João Bermudes, the self-described "Patriarch of Ethiopia," provided the first description of the Tiss Abbay River Falls in his memoirs published in 1565, and a number of Europeans who lived in Ethiopia in the late 15th century such as Pêro da Covilhã could have seen the river long before Páez, but not reached its places of source.

The source of the greater Nile was also reached in 1629 by the Portuguese Jesuit missionary Jerónimo Lobo and in 1770 by the Scottish explorer James Bruce.

Although a number of European explorers contemplated tracing the course of the Nile towards the Abbay from its confluence with the White Nile to Lake Tana, its gorge, which begins a few kilometres inside the Ethiopian border, has discouraged all attempts since Frédéric Cailliaud's attempt in 1821. The first serious attempt by a non-local to explore this reach of the river was undertaken by the American W.W. Macmillan in 1902, assisted by the Norwegian explorer B.H. Jenssen; Jenssen would proceed upriver from Khartoum while Macmillan sailed downstream from Lake Tana. However, Jenssen's boats were blocked by the rapids at Famaka short of the Sudan-Ethiopian border, and Macmillan's boats were wrecked shortly after they had been launched. Macmillan encouraged Jenssen to try to sail upstream from Khartoum again in 1905, but he was forced to stop 500 kilometres (300 mi) short of Lake Tana.[7] R.E. Cheesman, who records his surprise on arriving in Ethiopia at finding that the upper waters of "one of the most famous of the rivers of the world, and one whose name was well known to the ancients" was in his lifetime "marked on the map by dotted lines", managed to map the upper course of the Abbay River between 1925 and 1933. He did this not by following the river along its banks and through its impassable canyon, but following it from the highlands above, travelling some 8,000 km (5,000 mi) by mule in the adjacent country.[8]

In the 1950s-1960s several kayakers paddled parts of the Abbay River's canyon. In 1968, at the request of Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, a team of 60 British and Ethiopian servicemen and scientists made the first full descent of the Abbay River from Lake Tana to a point near the Sudan border led by the explorer John Blashford-Snell.[9] The team used specially-built Avon Inflatables and modified Royal Engineers assault boats to navigate the formidable rapids. Subsequent rafting expeditions in the 1970s and 1980s generally only covered parts of the river canyon.

In 1999, writer Virginia Morell[10] and photographer Nevada Wier made the journey by raft from Lake Tana to the Sudan, afterwards publishing a documentary about their journey.[11] In 2000, American and National Geographic reader, Kenneth Frantz, saw a photo taken by Nevada Wier for National Geographic which would lead him to found the charity Bridges to Prosperity. This photo showed a bridge broken during World War II, with 10 men on either side of the broken span pulling each other across the dangerous gap by rope. This historic bridge was built by Emperor Fasilides in approximately 1660 with Roman bridge technology brought to Ethiopia by Portuguese soldiers during the battle with the Muslim invaders in 1507.[12] In both 2001 and 2009, Bridges to Prosperity volunteers travelled from the United States to repair the broken bridge across the Abbay River and later build a new suspension bridge not susceptible to flood.[13]

On 28 April 2004, geologist Pasquale Scaturro and his partner, kayaker and documentary filmmaker Gordon Brown, became the first known people to navigate the Abbay River. Though their expedition included a number of others, Brown and Scaturro were the only ones to remain on the expedition for the entire journey. They chronicled their adventure with an IMAX camera and two handheld video cams, sharing their story in the IMAX film Mystery of the Nile and in a book of the same title.[14]

On 29 January 2005, Canadian Les Jickling and his teammate New Zealander Mark Tanner completed the first fully human-powered transit of the entire Abbay River and Nile in the Sudan and Egypt. Their journey of over 5,000 kilometres (3,100 mi) took five months and travelled through the countries of Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt. They recount that they paddled through civil war conflict zones, regions known for bandits, and encountered multiple hazards and rapids.[15]

See alsoEdit


  1. "Its Origin, Falls, and Gorge". Dinknesh Ethiopia Tour. Archived from the original on 20 August 2015. Retrieved 11 October 2015.
  2. "Climate, 2008 National Statistics (Abstract)" Archived 13 November 2010 at the Wayback Machine, Table A.1. Central Statistical Agency website (accessed 26 December 2009)
  3. 3.0 3.1 These lists are based on the compilation in G.W.B. Huntingford, Historical Geography of Ethiopia from the first century AD to 1704 (London: British Academy, 1989), p. 34
  4. Mohamed Helmy Mahmoud Moustafa ElsanabaryTeleconnection, Modeling, Climate Anomalies Impact and Forecasting of Rainfall and Streamflow of the Upper Blue Nile River Basin, Canada: University of Alberta, 2012, hdl:10402/era.28151
  5. Ethiopia: Nile Dam Project a Hydropower Hope, but Regional Sore Point, Africa: Thomson Reuters Foundation, 2012, archived from the original on 14 July 2015, retrieved 9 July 2015
  6. R. E. Cheesman, Geographical Journal, 71 (1928), p. 361
  7. Alan Moorehead, The Blue Nile, revised edition (New York: Harper and Row, 1972), pp. 319f
  8. Cheesman, pp. 358–374.
  9. Snailham, Richard. 1970. The Blue Nile Revealed. London: Chatto and Windus.
  10. "Blue Nile: Ethiopia's River of Magic and Mystery -". Archived from the original on 8 June 2011. Retrieved 3 May 2018.
  11. "Blue Nile @". Archived from the original on 6 October 2012. Retrieved 27 January 2013.
  12. Baynes, Thomas Spencer (1838). "Abyssinia". The Encyclopædia Britannica: A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and General Literature, Volume 1 (Ninth ed.). Henry G. Allen and Company. p. 65.
  13. "Envisioning a world where poverty caused by rural isolation no longer exists". Bridges to Prosperity. Archived from the original on 12 January 2013. Retrieved 27 January 2013.
  14. Richard Bangs and Pasquale Scaturro, Mystery of the Nile. New York: New American Library, 2005
  15. "Department - Alumni Association". Archived from the original on 2 February 2018. Retrieved 1 August 2018.

External linksEdit

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