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Atlantropa (wikipedia.org)
238 points by smacktoward on July 8, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 118 comments

I was very excited about this project when I was a teenager - another was a "simple" dam just at Marmara/Black sea / Istanbul.

However, as any adult can see the financial impact vastly supersedes the potential benefits.

Besides the obvious impact to the local seaside communities in Southern Europe, you would have to deal with unstable regimes in northern Africa and Turkey and the geopolitical side of things. Wars have been fought for much less important things than land and resources.

Moreover the ecological effects would be impossible to calculate. There are other seemingly less important issues such as immigration.

So, in all, ok - the central planning from a German scientist does get some creativity points, but we are not in Mars, trying to terraform it; we are in a heavily populated part of Earth which has civilisations at its shores for the last 4000 years.

There's a new novel called 'The Atlantropa Articles' written by Cody, who has a popular youtube channel.

Something similar has been done. The Three Gorges Dam in China. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Gorges_Dam It caused huge ecological change and Chinese government force relocated numerous residents.

There are 3 huge dams like that on the Dnieper river in Ukraine, with similar ecological and population displacement impacts. Gotta tame that nature, comrade.

Becoming an adult doesn't give you the power to do a cost-benefit analysis for a continent-wide megascale project in your head. You can reject this proposal out of hand for rights-based reasons, but you have no idea whether the costs outweigh the benefits.


Unsurprisingly I agree with your first sentence. But, I do disagree on your second: I, and others, can see the costs, and I am not referring solely to the financial costs:

It absolutely means risk of war in the Balkans, Greece/Turkey, N Africa.

Elimination of most of the tourist income on the Med coasts

Endangerment of the biodiversity and ecological balance of the sea

Cause for droughts/flooding seen with other dams https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aswan_Dam

Massive population dislocation in the region of tens of millions

I can go on but the point is what would the benefit need to be to consider this project as net positive?

These are all good arguments for now, but if climate change progresses as feared at least some of them might become moot. Once sea levels have risen a few metres, say in a century or two, being able to lower the sea level in the Med might be seen as a positive. Changing environmental conditions could change the calculation in favour of plans like these.

One could then put a hydroelectric power plant between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea - the influx of water through the damn could probably be balanced by evaporation in the Mediterranean Sea... I haven’t done the math on it though.

Additional land and power, shorter transit time, a closer connection between Europe and Africa. Maybe the latter slightly increases the immigration rate from Africa, lifting millions out of poverty over a few decades. Maybe it decreases the risk of war in these places you list. Maybe the carbon-free hydropower averts a catastrophic negative feedback loop from climate change.

Neither of us have any idea, and listing the first thing that comes to our head hardly gets us closer.

As a Greek person who grew up in the region, this conversation has an eerie tone, like hearing two plastic surgeons discussing whether I'd be better with higher cheekbones or with an aquiline nose and how much such surgery would improve my chances to find a mate.

So, could we focus on the fact that this was designed by a man who never lived in the region he wanted to terraform? I have no business advising German people how to change their countryside and that goes the other way too.

I don't really care about a cost-benefit analysis, either. This is just an uncalled for intervention that, er, that nobody called for.

I specifically mentioned rejecting this proposal out of hand for rights-based reasons earlier. You don't have to read our further cost-benefit discussion if you don't care about it or it makes you feel uncomfortable. I prefer not to focus on the things you would like us all to focus on.

>> I prefer not to focus on the things you would like us all to focus on.

You mean, like what the people who live in the Mediterrannean actually think of this plan?

But, there is no realistic prospect to initiate this project unless those very people agree to it. So what is the point of discussing cost-benefit analyses, if that agreement is almost guaranteed to not be forthcoming?

I mean, it's not even a rights issue. If the people who live in the Mediterrannean don't want it terraformed, then it's not getting terraformed. Realistically speaking.

It is obvious that no one in this thread has any real-world influence on this plan being carried out. The discussion is purely academic, and is driven by the questions that are interesting to the people doing the discussing.

Furthermore, if you look at my comments, you will see that I don't actually care about the plan, and I don't have a position on whether the costs of the plan outweigh the benefits. The only point I am making is that the outcome of a cost-benefit analysis cannot be reliably guessed by appealing to one's intrinsic wisdom and listing some possible negative consequences in a grave voice.

I don't have any interest in discussing this further with you.

>> The discussion is purely academic, and is driven by the questions that are interesting to the people doing the discussing.

I think you're saying I butted in to the conversation you were having with the other poster. If so, that's very surprising, given the venue.

Anyway, yes, I understand that the discussion is "purely academic". But that doesn't change the fact that the plan is unrealistic. Why is that not of "purely academic" interest?

That is not what I'm saying.

Lots of land and electricity. That is something huge in densely populated europe.

But I also think the costs are bigger.

Electricity, sure. Land, no. The reclaimed land will be highly salinated and unusable on top of the climate being very hot and very dry meaning the salinity level will be unlikely to change in the near future.

> The reclaimed land will be highly salinated

The dutch I thought have done quite well with lots of land reclaimed from the sea. Why does it work for them, but not here?

Dutch plans relied on pumping out those areas, not letting them dry out.

Not too sure about the difference. The water level would just drop, and the water simply flow away from the shallow coastal areas. I don't know what would salinity the water would have reached after dropping 200 meters but it's not the one you get if you simply let a volume of water to evaporate completely, which would be 100%.

How is that relevant with respect to salinity?

It's how the Great Salt Lake and the Dead Sea got super salty? The salt doesn't evaporate away with the water, leaving a higher concentration of salt in the remaining water. If it all evaporates away, you wind up with a salt flat.

Land, I'm not sure is at such a premium Europe-wise. There are vast swathes of unpopulated land in France, typically.

To be fair, this project is so far beyond anything that’s been done that nobody is capable of doing an accurate cost-benefit analysis of it.

The water wouldn't just disappear though, how much global sea level rise would this cause?

The salt would not evaporate, how much would this affect the salinity of the Med? What would be the impact on wildlife?

Every costal city in the Med would no longer be a costal city. I wonder how the population would feel about that.

The dam across the Gibraltar strait would be the mother of all single points of failure and a breach, through human error, natural disaster, terrorism or war would presumably kill millions if not tens of millions. How would that risk be addressed?

This is just off the top of my head, has there been any serious analysis of these concerns? It would be interesting to read about how they would play out!

I doubt it would hypothetically kill many at all. The refilling of a body of water that huge would take days even weeks given the size of the strait. Likely a child could crawl out of the danger zone faster than the water would rise.

Good point! Sounds like it took months to fill originally. It would be no Mosul Dam.


Likely could, but the few that would be killed would more probably be those who refused to leave - ignoring the warnings and staying when their town and house on a hill became a house on an island, until eventually they are trapped on the roof.

To their credit, though, if the dam failed and began flooding the many billions of dollars of infrastructure below, there would be tons of heavy construction equipment working around the clock to try to restore it. Just a betting game of how fast you think that equipment would get its job done.

Xkcd made a comic/animation about this scenario!


There's a Wikipedia article about that comic


That link alone only help insiders ... As it is a static image.

There used to be a player to play it like a movie, I just found this:


The image is a link to that site.

Forgive me if I’m mistaken, but wouldn’t shrinking the Mediterranean decrease (possibly a lot) the amount of evapotranspiration, drying out the climate of Southern Europe and North Africa? I can’t imagine how any amount of energy and waterfront property justifies this. Drought causes war. As they say, we owe our existence to a six-inch layer of topsoil and the fact it rains. I am in favor of rain.

What's caused the death of the megaproject in the last 50 years? Even if they weren't realized (and most weren't), all these megaprojects were fascinating exercises in creativity and sheer ambition.

Cost-benefit studies and the desire to privatise everything? Most of the proposed megaprojects were, like the Space Race, more demonstrations of national power than coherent plans. It's not a coincidence how China and the Soviet Union were big fans of megaprojects.

Not to mention climate change. If there is to be a megaproject, it has to be an anti-climate-change one. Otherwise we're engaged in the worldwide megaproject of making earth slightly less habitable.

I guess megaprojects need a strong economy, a high birth rate and low wages. This provides an environment and culture where many people will work for cheap under often tough and dangerous circumstances, for a long period of time.

These days labour is expensive and the stock market needs success every quarter, so products are rushed to the market and everything is leveraged through mass production, outsourcing and automation. Our economies are not able to do megaprojects anymore.

Unintended ecological catastrophes like the disappearing of the Aral Sea?

The Soviets were really big into mega-projects (e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_river_reversal, they actual wanted to reverse the Aral Sea shrinking with that too).

Thankfully they came to their senses (and probably also ran out of money anyway).

A lot of them just aren't great ideas to start with.

This for example would create a lot of land but much of it would be pretty salty so wouldn't grow food very well. In addition the remaining water would slowly get saltier and saltier eventually probably dying similar to the Dead Sea, granted this would take a while but it's a definite negative, the Med is already saltier than most of the ocean because it's relatively isolated from the larger circulation of the Atlantic and Indian oceans with a large surface area where evaporation takes place.

Then there are some like the city mega-projects that require a huge amount of social infrastructure that's hard to build, take a look at some of China's mega construction where they've tried to build cities out of whole cloth but the people haven't really come so they're just empty.

Until the 80s we believed that we had unlimited supply of cheap energy. We no longer believe that.

This affected a lot of thinking, planning, and creativity. In the 50s-60s people dreamed of megaprojects. Now we look at a megaproject and go: "well, no. it will take too much effort and power with no tangible benefit".

"Now we look at a megaproject and go: «well, no. it will take too much effort and power with no tangible benefit»."

My thought about this was that we ceased the rush for bigger and went looking for smarter.

> Until the 80s we believed that we had unlimited supply of cheap energy. We no longer believe that.

Atlantropa would have helped there a lot :)

Is the ISS not a megaproject?

Not really. It's a difficult project though. A mega project would be a self sustained colony on a bigger ISS. Something like Elysium.

The ISS is the most expensive project ever, it surely qualifies. A space colony would be more like a gigaproject.

One more reason, given the huge amounts of salt all the new area would be a wasteland, and quite honestly just more space to fight

Megaprojects are alive and well, just not in the West.

Could you give examples of megaprojects happening outside of the west?

The Three Gorges Dam certainly qualifies. I'd also count Chinese cities, even if not a single entity: China has used as much concrete in a few years as the US used in the whole 20th century. What has been happening on the Arabian peninsula is also pretty ridiculous as far as urban development goes.

There are the various megaskyscrapers; the top ten tallest buildings in the world are all built in the 2010s, six of them are in China and only one in the West. Of the top 20 tallest buildings, all but one are built in this millennium.

Another project that probably deserves a mention is the ongoing effort to reclaim land from the sea in Singapore.

One Western example is a planned railway tunnel under the Gulf of Finland connecting Helsinki and Tallinn, the capitals of Finland and Estonia respectively. It would be the longest undersea tunnel in the world if ever built.

We're probably going to see quite a few megaprojects related to climate change in the future. Assuming we actually want to stop it and not just talk about it.

Could you give an example of something you consider a megaproject in the past? Chances are similar projects are underway

Can you define a megaproject?

Tom Scott has a great video[0] about a similar attempt to dam the San Francisco Bay that got a lot closer to actually happening. So see if it was practical, the US Army Corps of Engineering built a giant scale model of the SF bay and put a dam on it to see what would happen.

[0]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i70wkxmumAw

Awesome. It looks like the scale model discussed in the video is free to visit at the Bay Model Visitor Center in Sausilito.

Seems like something there should be a 99pi episode about (maybe there is?)...

You’re effectively turning the entire meditatarian (sp) into a giant solar panel.

The sun evaporating all that water makes way for new water to flow through the dams turbines.

"Mediterranean": "Medi" = middle, "terra" = land/earth. It's the sea in the middle of the land.

Thanks. Good pnumnomic (sp)!

Not sure if joking, but "mnemonic", from Greek mnēmōn "mindful". Then there's "pneumonic" which is something else entirely.

A smaller version of the same idea was Qattara Depression Project which has more chances of being built https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qattara_Depression_Project

That is a neat way of looking at it. I wonder what the efficiency of this would be compared to photovoltaics.

Very poor. The collector surface is just free.

The congo-chad canal part of the project could be built independently from the rest http://www.globalconstructionreview.com/news/italy-china-pon... https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Chad_replenishment_proj...

I... Would not move into a house that depends upon 4 separate dams to not be a death trap.

I have some faith in humanity and engineering, but not that much.

Youtube channel RealLifeLore has a video on it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQh0CPNzSmY

They suggest that the climate change effects would be awful - the evaporated water from the Med would raise global sea levels by ~10 metres, the Med sea floor would be uninhabitable, a salt covered death valley temperature desert. The rain fall in nearby regions like Balkans would ruin them and affect agriculture all over Europe. The coastal cities on the edge of the Med. would become cliff-top cities with their views and trade options ruined.

Plus there isn't enough concrete on the planet to build the damn to do it.

As so often, there’s a related XKCD, but not of the usual type: Time[1]. It’s probably the most ambitious XKCD project so far, with thousands of thoroughly researched panels.[2]

1: https://xkcd.com/1190/ and http://geekwagon.net/projects/xkcd1190/mobile/

2: https://blog.xkcd.com/2013/07/29/1190-time/

Similar to the Reber plan to get more land in SF by filling in the bay https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reber_Plan

> Asia would forever remain a mystery to Europeans, and the British would not be able to maintain their global empire in the long run—hence a common European effort to colonise Africa was necessary.

This seems to be an outcome of "Scramble for Africa" to colonize and divide Africa to avoid intra-European wars [0].

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scramble_for_Africa

or a way for Germany to eliminate British sea power in Mediterranean, and provide convenient German land route to Africa

Africa was already divided by that time maybe even more divided than it is now.

Different meaning of “divide.”

Looks like the biggest soft target in the world and destroying the dam would make it possible to wipe out millions upon millions of lives in a single action.

The Mediterranean Sea has a surface area of 2.5 million sqkm, while the Strait of Gibraltar is only 14 km wide. If the Med were an Olympic-sized swimming pool, the strait would be hose 4cm in diameter[1]. Even if the dam were built such that the entire structure could be destroyed at once in a terrorist attack, the flooding would be gradual and there would be time for people to evacuate to higher ground.

1. Assuming 200m elevation difference between the two bodies of water

The sheer panic and economic meltdown would mean deaths. Also imagine new mega cities, maybe New Paris and new London, disappearing under water. Sounds stupid.

Given these calculations, I guess you're right. The surface area facing the Atlantic with air on other side would be 200m x 14000m which would probably require such a width of concrete to be structurally sound that only the largest payloads would make so much as a relative dent in it.

It naturally happened about 6-7 million years ago when the Straight of Gibraltar was naturally dammed then reconnected. It took an estimated 10,000 years to refill the Mediterranean. [0] From that we do know that it's probably not the best plan though. The water in the Med would become even saltier and might eventually completely stop supporting life.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zanclean_flood

And those payloads (likely nukes or orbital bombardment) could kill far more people by being aimed at a city.


We saw in 9/11, though, that raw death toll really isn't the thing that matters. Having to evacuate hundreds of millions of people from the entire Mediterranean would cost trillions; even a couple million Syrians relocating has caused political upheaval.

It's a shame we cannot consider megaprojects like these because of concerns like that.

You could nuke the Straits of Gibraltar from below the water to create a crater that formed a double dam, closing the Mediterranean sea for the water levels to rise and to flood all the coastal cities.

Admittedly the nuclear weapon would have to be pretty big but the USA has thousands of the things as does Russia.

So as we speak, right now, and for the last few decades, you could say that the area already is 'the biggest soft target'.

was thinking the same. would need to build a redundant second dam.

Not really. This project kind of happened naturally millions of years ago and when it refilled it's estimated it took on the order of 10000 years [0] to refill. The Straight isn't big enough to get the giant wave of water it'd be more like a long slow flood for most of the people living along the new shoreline.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zanclean_flood

edit: added link for [0] I missed initially.

Could be wrong, but I first learned of this from watching Amazon's Man in High Castle TV series.

It's discussed, but not by name, in the book.

Would there be locks on the main dam? A 600 ft drop seems like a lot for a lock to handle.

I imagine you go for something more like the Falkirk wheel: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falkirk_Wheel

Yet another progressive Utopia that would result yet again in millions of deaths.

Hmm... So we're talking about a dam to close the Black Sea, which is collecting the water of Europe's the biggest two rivers. Where all that cumulated water is supposed to go?

The level of the Black Sea is determined by the water flowing in from the Mediterranean through the Dardanelles and the Bosporus which replaces the evaporated water. A few rivers do not make much of a difference.

As a software developer, this looks to me like multiple single points of failure, thus a very bad idea -- if any of the dams fails, all development on reclaimed land will be flooded.

Bad idea for a geoengineering project (due to the potential for harm at scale), great idea for a simulation game about geoengineering.

Well, you wouldn't have to worry about Venice flooding...it'd be a couple of hundred miles from the sea.

Part of the plan was to connect Venice to the remaining Mediterranean via a canal.

Good idea.

The author seems to have assumed that Europe will be a united country which is a major oversight. Even if the UK lost its empire it didn't loose its desire to be "great again". France and Italy seem to lean on the same side.

I don't know, that could go (for France at least, but prob Italy as well ?) in one or two generation. A growing number of kids feel European and feel that being part of Europe is great enough (esp. compared to the US and China, national pride is still here of course, just shifted).

EDIT: more and more kids -> a growing number of kids

Replying to kinda everyone at the same time: I was talking more about feeling European in a cultural way, rather than political. A "national pride" kind of feeling, just transnational. Nothing to do with a shared army or fiscal policy.

I think Europeans have always felt close in a cultural way(more or less) but that alone doesn't make us united and part of a bigger thing(i.e like the Americans feel in the US). Of course you can talk about a common cultural transnational pride but how much does it help?

Without a close political union there is no reason to be more proud to be European than is for any random Asian citizen to be proud of being part of Asia or for an African to be proud of being part of the African continent.

History shows us that this cultural pride / union is weak and pretty useless when money/business/power is involved.

Fair enough !

Though you raise a point: I'm curious if such a thing indeed exists in Africa and Asia. Africa (and South America actually) I suspect yes, Asia I've got no idea really.

And I still think this belonging feeling is stronger in Europe due to the open borders, and the sheer number of your fellow Euro-citizen you interact with in your day to day life in some cities (but I probably have a twisted view because Dublin is crazy in that regard).

There is an Asian culture[0] so I'm pretty sure Asians relate more to themselves than to residents of a foreign continent though the bond is definitely weaker than in Europe as they have no "pan-asian rights".

>> And I still think this belonging feeling is stronger in Europe due to the open borders

That's indeed the case and the open borders, free flow of capital, labour etc exist because we have a political union. That's why you can't really talk about transnational European pride without talking about federalisation and sovereignty .

The financial crisis, Brexit and Trump put EU in a tough spot. Greece shows us that we need a fiscal and banking union if we want to talk about financial solidarity, Brexit proves that some countries don't want to be states of a United Europe, Trump made it clear that US's protection will not last forever. Even worse, it sees a United Europe as a foe and threat to its supremacy.

Now the question about how European you feel is not just an abstract question. You can vote for closer or lesser integration or a total exit.

You have to give some national sovereignty to get transnational sovereignty.

I believed the European dream, that in time EU cohesion policies lead to a single stronger and united country but now I'm not so sure...looks more like everyone for themselves.

[0] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_of_Asia

What about eastern EU?

Hungary and few others seem quite against the federalisation/unification of Europe as well. They would rather "take back" their empires and dominate others within Europe.

It depends I think ? Like yeah Poland and Hungary are not big fans these days, but I think Romania has this feeling a bit more ?

Support for EU is very high there. There are some voices, usually with nationalistic tendencies crying about te loss of sovereignty to the "new evil union", but they are mostly ignored.

Coming from that part, I wouldn't say that. Definitely nothing about "feeling European".

That's sad. Why not?

What does "feeling European" even means?

Eastern EU doesn't have many reasons to be optimistic: the top 5 positions on the top are taken by Westerners after recent elections (German, Belgian, Dutch / German - each for 2,5 year, Spanish, French); out of all European institutions, only one is headquartered in the east (GNSS - Galileo - in Prague). Etc, etc.

Yes but this is in a huge part self-inflicted; with thugs like Orban, Kaczynski, Babis and their idea of the EU as a source of money without any conditions attached and their destructive behavior towards institutions both national and supra-national, it's little wonder they could not get their people to the top posts.

Babis even explicitly said they could find anyone to suggest for the top posts and Kaczynski's party tried to sabotage Tusk at every possible turn in the last term.

Point is, many people in their countries feel very differently to the leaders about the EU. Many work and marry abroad, there are lots of people from other EU-countries in eastern Europe etc. We are indeed growing together even if it doesn look like it on the surface.

The eastern states came a bit later in the union so that could be a reason for the lack of EU institutions hosted in their country. But I don't think that's the issue. The vast majority of the US gov institutions are hosted in Washington D.C and I don't think this makes Texas residents feel less American.

As far as the top positions are concerned I believe it's an issue of candidates and the policy of the host country. Here is a good read about this: https://www.politico.eu/article/brussels-overlooks-central-e...

"Feeling European" for me means that I'm able to go wherever I want on this continent. Without border checks, customs, something else than my national passport. Being able to use the same currency all over Europe (almost). It also means not thinking about "we" and "them" when thinking about European countries and their people. I value French, Polish, Italians, whatever people just like I "value" somebody from Germany. I even went to a German university with lots of those nationalities, because Europe managed to unifiy academic degrees. Feeling European also means feeling safe because without this union of states we would most probably have wars or aggressions between some of the European countries.

I can understand that east european countries might not yet feel or experience that way. I think that might be due to the fact that right-wing nationalists are still in power and might try to benefit heavily out of the union.

As some eastern european countries are also not members of the EU for that long, structures (and power) were built or distributed around those member states, too. I hope this will change in the future and new members will also get their fair share.

We still feel like the EU is a close cooperation of countries, not a federation. Our ideas about social system are different, our economies are at a different state of development and have contrasting needs. We fear that with federalization, we might become locked in being suppliers of low-tech parts etc for the more developed regions. It is important to know that almost all big corporations and crucial infrastructure (water supply, etc) are owned by foreign parties from these more developed countries.

>> We still feel like the EU is a close cooperation of countries, not a federation.

That's because EU is exactly that at this time: a close cooperation of countries and a bit more(i.e the cohesion policy).

Without a fiscal union and a common army you cannot talk about a federalisation. Just look how the Greek financial crisis was handled. Greece was pretty much regarded as a stand alone country that needs to pay alone for its mistakes or leave the union. In a federalisation the burden would be shared like it happened in the U.S. We would talk about european citizens not greek citizens.

The pros and cons of federalisation can be debated but I'm not sure if the poor states of the US would do better on their own.

Unless they have very limited power, political unions which seek to unify peoples with significant cultural differences, such as the people of Europe, will always fail.

How about the United States of America?

excluding #44, do you see much cultural differences here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Presidents_of_the_Unit... ?

They're about as similar as the majority of recent European heads of state, so I don't think that by itself proves that the US is more culturally homogeneous.

Eh, whatever ambitions for greatness France has, they are in the context of the hypothetical European Federation. The same goes for Germany.

It wasn't an assumption, it was a goal. The project was supposed to encourage peaceful cooperation by giving everyone more land and a constructive project to cooperate on. Which is naive, yeah, but he wasn't unaware of the current political situation.

The UK is on the verge of getting a dose of reality in that regard.

> that Europe will be a united country which is a major oversight

It might not look like an oversight in 1930s Germany…

> Sörgel's 1938 book Die Drei Grossen A has a quote from Hitler on the flyleaf, demonstrating that the concept was not inconsistent with Nazi ideology. (from the Wikipedia article)

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