Mesopotamian Marshes
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Mesopotamian Marshes

August 28, 2005

The Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers meet in a gentle “v” that cradled one of the most significant sites in western civilization: the Mesopotamian Marshes. Out of the reeds and mud between these two rivers rose some of the earliest cities of ancient Sumer, and for the next 5,000 years, the marshes have supported farmers and fishers who live simply, their culture changing little from generation to generation. An oasis amid the desert of the Middle East, the wetland was also a crucial habitat for millions of migrating birds.

In this false-color image, water is dark blue or black, except where sediment colors the water a pale blue, particularly in the northern tip of the Persian Gulf in the lower right corner. Vegetation is a vibrant green against the pale tan-pink sand of the desert.

The region changed significantly in recent years. In the 1990s, damming projects and canals diverted water from the marshlands, leaving them dry. By 2003, the marshlands, which covered up to 9,000 square kilometers in the 1970s, had all but vanished, spanning a scant 260 square kilometers. Since then, efforts have been made to restore the wetlands. In August 2005, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) reported that 37 percent of the wetland has now been restored to its former extent. During the spring floods, as much as 50 percent of the wetland had been inundated, but has since dried under the desert sun.

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