Using ArcGIS to Evaluate the Qattara Depression Solar-Hydroelectric Power Project

Barbara and David Tewksbury
Hamilton College
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Students use ArcGIS to evaluate a proposal to generate hydroelectric power by piping water from the Mediterranean and dropping it into the sub-sea level Qattara Depression.

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This exercise is part of an introductory geology course called Geology and Human Events in Africa and the Middle East. The course focuses on the underlying influence of geology and geologic processes on human events.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students must have basic ArcGIS skills and be able to work with DEMs in ArcMap, create and manipulate hillshades, manipulate layers in ArcGIS, work with attribute tables, calculate areas and volumes, and create map layouts.

How the activity is situated in the course

This exercise takes place as a final project in the course.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Students will consolidate concepts related to hydroelectric power generation, desert hydrogeology, hydropolicy, bedrock geology, and the role that hydrogeology of the Qattara Depression played in World War II.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Students will determine how to do the analyses and do independent evaluation of their data.

Other skills goals for this activity

Students will practice GIS skills learned in previous assignments.

Description of the activity/assignment

Several times over the past 80 years, the Egyptians have considered developing a power generating station tens of meters below sea level in the Qattara Depression using the difference in head between sea level and the Qattara Depression to generate electrical power. The key to the longevity of the system is the fact that evaporation could balance influx so that the resulting lake in the Depression could be stabilized at a constant level. The last time the study was done, GIS computer software and satellite imaging and elevation data weren't available.

The story line for the students is that the Egyptian government has just hired them to use modern GIS technology to reassess the viability of the project. They want them to 1) provide accurate projections for how much water could be piped from the Med and balanced by lake evaporation at various configurations, 2) estimate how much power could be generated, 3) recommend an optimum configuration for lake level, power station location, holding pond location, and channel/tunnel location, and 4) recommend whether the government should proceed with bidding out a cost estimate for the system.

The four documents posted for downloading consist of a the main project assignment, a preparatory assignment, and several in-class activities that students worked on together. Overall, though, this is not a group project - students work individually.

You can also download a GIS Primer (Acrobat (PDF) 1.2MB Mar30 10) that we have written, which is a simple GIS "how-to" manual for tasks including those used in this exercise.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Students will be evaluated on the basis of the thoroughness and accuracy of their GIS analyses and on their assessments of 1-4 as listed above. Students can do the bare bones analysis of 1-4 for a maximum grade of B. To earn a higher grade, they can choose to do additional analyses of the lake/power plant configuration, on the bedrock geology and hydrogegoloy of the Depression, and on the influence of the Depression on the German North Africa Campaign during WWII.

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