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  • I'm in Gibraltar, a bit of British territory on the south coast of Europe.

  • Over there is Spain,

  • and over there, visible on the horizon,

  • is the north coast of Africa.

  • In the 1920s,

  • a German architect named Hermanrgel saw an opportunity right here.

  • He came up with a plan:

  • to drain the Mediterranean Sea.

  • It didn't seem entirely impossible.

  • The Mediterranean naturally evaporates:

  • more water comes in from the Atlantic than flows out,

  • so if you actually managed to put a dam across the Straits of Gibraltar,

  • the sea would slowly start to dry up.

  • rgel said that, after the sea level had dropped maybe 100 or 200 metres,

  • and a fifth of the water area had turned to land,

  • Europe and Africa would be united into one continent,

  • and there'd be huge amounts of new land for settlement and agriculture.

  • And you could use the dam as a massive hydro power station,

  • on a scale never considered before,

  • letting just enough water through to meet the energy needs of all of his new continent.

  • rgel made his plan public in the years after the First World War:

  • perhaps, he thought, all that new land and exploration

  • might be the solution to making sure there wasn't a Second.

  • The project was called Atlantropa,

  • and it is one of the most ambitious plans that has even been announced.

  • It would have taken an effort on the scale of the Apollo moon shot.

  • And it certainly got attention from the press and the public:

  • but there were a few slight problems with it.

  • First, there might not have been enough concrete in the world to build a dam that big,

  • let alone all the other secondary dams and earthworks elsewhere needed to make the project work.

  • Andrgel didn't want the dam here,

  • where the Strait of Gibraltar is narrowest, no,

  • he wanted to build it about thirty kilometres that way, making it much, much longer.

  • It'd have needed to be 300 metres high,

  • and the foundations would be two and a half kilometres wide.

  • But those are practicalities, right?

  • Humanity could probably overcome that with enough effort and enough political will.

  • Not that there would have been enough political will:

  • the people on the Mediterranean coast would be, let's say,

  • rather disappointed that they now lived inland,

  • perhaps hundreds of miles from the sea.

  • Venice and Genoa, the folks there, were particularly unhappy with that.

  • The plan was popular in his native Germany but not particularly outside.

  • And as for Africa: well, it was the early 20th century,

  • their opinion apparently didn't matter.

  • It wasn't so much a merging of Europe and Africa as an attempt at assimilation.

  • But let's assume that, somehow, over decades,

  • the Atlantropa project was built.

  • There would have been some other problems.

  • All that new land would be salt flats,

  • completely unusable for growing crops or... well, for anything, really.

  • And althoughrgel couldn't have known it at the time,

  • some meteorologists now reckon that the project might have diverted the Gulf Stream,

  • sending temperatures plunging in most of Europe and ending local agriculture as we knew it.

  • And also, whenrgel first came up with his grand plan,

  • there likely wasn't a bomb in the world large enough to destroy a dam that big.

  • Certainly not in one go, you could just about make it work...

  • but that changed quite quickly during the Second World War.

  • Having a single point of failure for millions of people's homes and lives is not ideal.

  • rgel died in 1952, and any hope of the project died with him,

  • after he'd spent a lifetime promoting it.

  • But his idea lives on in science fiction, and as a testament, perhaps,

  • not to how big we can actually build,

  • but just how big we can dream.

I'm in Gibraltar, a bit of British territory on the south coast of Europe.

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The Bizarre Plan to Drain the Mediterranean: Atlantropa

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    林宜悉 posted on 2020/04/01
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