Saudi’s Waste of Ice Age Water Depicted in 4 NASA Images

water waste, NASA, water conservation, pivot irrigation, saudi arabia, agriculture, land grabsWithin 50 years, water trapped hundreds of thousands of years ago will be depleted by Saudi desert farms using pivot irrigation.

Water is a non-renewable resource in the Saudi desert, which only receives one inch of rain a year, so it makes sense to use existing resources very, very carefully, right? For ancient desert dwellers, this concept was a no-brainer, but for modern society – not so much.

Concerns about creating food security for Saudi Arabia’s population has led to an insane agricultural program depicted in NASA satellite images collected between 1987 and 2012. These eye-opening pictures demonstrate how the fields have grown using finite water sources trapped during the last Ice Age that hydrologists estimate will be gone within 50 years! 

water waste, NASA, water conservation, agriculture, land grabs, saudi arabia

Each patch in these Landsat images represents a field of wheat (along with other crops) that is approximately 1 kilometer or 0.62 miles wide. A bright green block is healthy, according to NASA, while the orange-hued segments aren’t faring so well beneath the crippling desert sun.

The crops are irrigated using a technique called center-pivot irrigation. Saudis drill deep holes beneath the desert sands to tap into fossilized water captured hundreds of thousands of years ago.

water waste, NASA, water conservation, agriculture, land grabs, saudi arabia

The water is then pumped through a circular sprinkling system that sprays the crops.

NASA, which manages the Landsat imaging program with the U.S. Department of Interior, explains how the images were captured and what they represent:

The images were created using reflected light from the short wave-infrared, near-infrared, and green portions of the electromagnetic spectrum (bands 7, 4, and 2 from Landsat 4 and 5 TM and Landsat 7 ETM+ sensors). Using this combination of wavelengths, healthy vegetation appears bright green while dry vegetation appears orange. Barren soil is a dark pink, and urban areas, like the town of Tubarjal at the top of each image, have a purple hue.

water waste, NASA, water conservation, agriculture, land grabs, saudi arabia desert

Using their extraordinary fossil wealth, Saudi has also nabbed up land in other countries, including water and food scarce Ethiopia, in order to secure food supplies for their own population.

I guess it’s hard to give up the good life, but it won’t be good indefinitely.

:: Grist, NASA

More News from Saudi Arabia:
Saudi Star Among Firms Behind Thousands of Forced Relocations in Ethiopia
Aflaj: Ancient Channels Keep Water Flowing in the Desert
Morocco’s Berbers had Water Management Sorted

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3 thoughts on “Saudi’s Waste of Ice Age Water Depicted in 4 NASA Images”

  1. Nichol says:

    is this not a bit reminiscent of what happens in the USA midwest too? Mining of water.

  2. Hala, do you know of any new, more sustainable desalination technologies on the market?

  3. Hala Chaoui says:

    it would be great to link this to desalinization technology

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