In this blog we have already talked about some environmental disasters caused by the lack of planning, such as the drying up of the Aral Sea, which had serious and lethal consequences for biodiversity and the population of the Karakalpakistan region (Uzbekistan).

Fortunately, this time we will not have to regret a new atrocity against the planet, since this plan was never carried out. But who knows what would be the world today if the Atlantropa project had been launched?

The Atlantropa project

Everything begins in Germany, during the interwar period, where the Germans tried to recover from the severe sanctions imposed by the victors of the First World War, in the Treaty of Versailles (1919). It is a period of reflection for both sides, and the scars of the war remain open, with the ghost of a new armed conflict just around the corner.

Given this scenario, the idea of maintaining peace is the main concern for many. Herman Sorgel, Munich architect, meticulously planned a possible solution in 1928 to maintain peace in Europe, supply energy to the entire continent, and solve the labor crisis of the 20s.

The creation of a new continent

His idea was to unify the continents of Europe and Africa through the partial evaporation of the Mediterranean Sea, thus establishing a new continent called Atlantropa (or EurAfrica). For this, the placement of three gigantic dams was planned, located in the key points: the Strait of Gibraltar, the Strait of the Dardanelles, and the space that separates the island of Sicily with the north of Tunisia.

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1. Modeling of the Mediterranean Sea according to the Atlantropa project. Source: aquarianagegm.blogspot.co.uk

The basin of the Mediterranean Sea is hydrologically deficient, which means that it loses more water by evaporation than it gains by the contribution of rivers. If the Mediterranean has not lowered its level, it is simply because it is connected to the Atlantic Ocean through the Strait of Gibraltar. That is why Sorgel knew that once that flow was cut off, the evaporation of the sea would be a matter of time.

It was planned to divide the Mediterranean into two basins, separated by the Tunisian-Sicilian dam. The western basin would lose 100 m. of depth, while the eastern one would see its level reduced by 200 m. This difference in level between the two basins would allow the generation of hydroelectric power on a large scale.

Planned infrastructures

Apart from the 3 large dams we have mentioned, the new continent of Atlantropa would be connected from north to south by rail from Berlin, through Rome, Sicily and Tunisia, to Cape Town in South Africa. In addition, given the importance of connecting Europe with Africa, large motorways and a tunnel under the Strait of Gibraltar were also planned.

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2. The Gibraltar Strait Dam. Source: blogs.elpais.com/mundo_insolito

But the project does not end in the Mediterranean basin. There were great plans for the Sahara desert and the Congo basin. Mainly, it would be to build a third dam on the Congo River to dam a large amount of water and thus generate more energy.

These kilowatts would be brought to Europe through an extensive high voltage network, which, together with the other hydroelectric plants, would allow the new continent of Atlantropa to be supplied.

The rebirth of the Sahara

Another really important aspect of the Atlantropa project is the flooding of a part of the Saharan desert in the almost disappeared Lake Chad. This reactivation of the lake would suppose the irrigation of the surrounding areas and the modification of the climate towards one more rainy, according to Sorgel’s affirmations, although this point is certainly arguably.

According to the plan, the continents of Europe and Africa would benefit in terms of employment, energy and climate. In view of this perspective, it is normal that the Atlantropa project generated a great impact in the 1930s. However, the aspirations of continental reunification and the theoretical prosperity that it would achieve, never got underway, given that German National Socialism was not interested in undertaking such a project. Rather, they had their eyes set on eastern Europe.

The implications of Atlantropa

Now that we know the details of the project, we could make an assessment of the possible consequences that would bring.

The most positive would be several, as Sorgel intended:

  • The massive creation of employment in Europe, thanks to the construction of all infrastructures.
  • The territorial expansion of the countries thanks to the lands that emerged after the desiccation of the Mediterranean.
  • The energy self-sufficiency that the new hydroelectric plants would bring.
  • The opportunity to turn the Sahara into a more fertile and prosperous region.
  • The rapprochement between European and African states thanks to greater cooperation.

On the other hand, it is inevitable to raise the negative aspects:

  • The hypersalination of the Mediterranean Sea would be assured, which would end almost all the biodiversity of the already battered inland sea.
  • The cost of the project would be excessive. The amount of material needed to build the levees would be impossible to achieve.
  • International cooperation between European states would be essential, and taking into account the diplomatic tension between countries after the First World War, that would be little more than a chimera.
  • The coastal cities would lose access to the sea and the functionality of their ports. Although it is true that there was a plan to maintain water dammed by dykes, maritime communication with the outside would be null.
  • The climatological impact would be incalculable, but we can affirm that the loss of water in the Mediterranean would increase the desertification in the south of Europe and probably modify the weather patterns of the continent. In the Sahara it is assumed that the consequences would be positive, but the truth is that the global climate system is interconnected and any modification in it could have unexpected repercussions elsewhere in the planet.
3. Herman Sorgel, author of the Atlantropa project. Source: latribune.fr

The recolonization of Africa

It seems quite clear that whatever the scenario, Africa would benefit from the Atlantropa project. However, although the communication channels created by Europeans may seem bi-directional, the truth is that the main function of these routes is to facilitate the extraction of African raw materials and energy.

We would therefore be faced with a recolonization of the African continent whose objective would be looting. In this way, the main winners of the recovery of the Sahara would be the European states, not the native population.

Would Atlantropa be a continent?

Sorgel speaks of Atlantropa as a continent, but technically it is difficult to affirm. As we saw in Submerged Continents: Mauritia and Zealandia, there is no consensus among the scientific community to affirm how many continents exist on the planet today.

What does seem certain is that the vision of Atlantropa wanted to bring peace to the European continent, gravely shaken by the shadow of war and the economic crisis. It is true that the project lacked environmental planning, but it should be noted that this aspect was not globally echoed until the 1990s with the Kyoto Protocol.

This is the vision of Herman Sorgel, the vision of a different future.

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