Letter | Published:

Climate change enhances interannual variability of the Nile river flow

Nature Climate Change volume 7, pages 350354 (2017) | Download Citation


The human population living in the Nile basin countries is projected to double by 2050, approaching one billion1. The increase in water demand associated with this burgeoning population will put significant stress on the available water resources. Potential changes in the flow of the Nile River as a result of climate change may further strain this critical situation2,3. Here, we present empirical evidence from observations and consistent projections from climate model simulations suggesting that the standard deviation describing interannual variability of total Nile flow could increase by 50% (±35%) (multi-model ensemble mean ± 1 standard deviation) in the twenty-first century compared to the twentieth century. We attribute the relatively large change in interannual variability of the Nile flow to projected increases in future occurrences of El Niño and La Niña events4,5 and to observed teleconnection between the El Niño–Southern Oscillation and Nile River flow6,7. Adequacy of current water storage capacity and plans for additional storage capacity in the basin will need to be re-evaluated given the projected enhancement of interannual variability in the future flow of the Nile river.

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Author information


  1. Ralph M. Parsons Laboratory, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA

    • Mohamed S. Siam
    •  & Elfatih A. B. Eltahir


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E.A.B.E. conceived the study, and supervised the design and implementation of research. M.S.S. performed the analyses of observational data and climate models. E.A.B.E. supervised interpretation of results. M.S.S. wrote the paper, with input from E.A.B.E. Both authors contributed to revisions of the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Mohamed S. Siam.

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