A team at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University of Colorado at Boulder has found that a strong east wind, blowing overnight, could have pushed the waters back in the way described in the ancient story.
Through computer simulations, researchers have shown the water could have been pushed back at a bend where an ancient river is believed to have merged with a coastal lagoon along the Mediterranean Sea. With the water pushed back into both waterways, a land bridge would have opened at the bend, enabling people to walk across exposed mud flats to safety. As soon as the wind died down, the waters would have rushed back in, researchers said.
“The simulations match fairly closely with the account in Exodus,” says Carl Drews of NCAR, the lead author. “The parting of the waters can be understood through fluid dynamics. The wind moves the water in a way that’s in accordance with physical laws, creating a safe passage with water on two sides and then abruptly allowing the water to rush back in.”
Studying maps of the ancient topography of the Nile delta, researchers Drews and CU oceanographer Weiqing Han found site for the crossing about 75 miles north of the Suez reef and just south of the Mediterranean Sea. Although there are uncertainties about the waterways of the time, some oceanographers believe that an ancient branch of the Nile River flowed into a coastal lagoon then known as the Lake of Tanis forming a U-shaped curve.
Drews and Han found that a wind of 63 miles an hour, lasting for 12 hours, would have pushed back six-foot deep waters, exposing mud flats for four hours. This would have created a dry passage about 2 to 2.5 miles long and 3 miles wide.
The Exodus account describes Moses and the fleeing Israelites trapped between the Pharaoh’s advancing chariots and a body of water that has been variously translated as the Red Sea or the Sea of Reeds. In a divine miracle, the account continues, a mighty east wind blows all night, splitting the waters and leaving a passage of dry land with walls of water on both sides. The Israelites are able to flee to the other shore. But when the Pharaoh’s army attempts to pursue them in the morning, the waters rush back and drown the soldiers.
Details of the model are available at https://www2.ucar.edu/news/parting-waters-computer-modeling-applies-physics-red-sea-escape-route.