Nasa sees fields of green spring up in Saudi Arabia

March 30, 2012, JPL/NASA
In this series of four Landsat images, the agricultural fields are about one kilometer across. 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. Credit: NASA/GSFC

( -- Saudi Arabia is drilling for a resource possibly more precious than oil.

Over the last 24 years, it has tapped hidden reserves of to grow wheat and other crops in the Syrian Desert. This time series of data shows images acquired by three different operated by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey.

The green fields that dot the desert draw on water that in part was trapped during the . In addition to rainwater that fell over several hundred thousand years, this fossil water filled aquifers that are now buried deep under the desert's shifting sands.

Saudi Arabia reaches these underground rivers and lakes by drilling through the desert floor, directly irrigating the fields with a circular sprinkler system. This technique is called center-pivot irrigation.

Because rainfall in this area is now only a few centimeters (about one inch) each year, water here is a non-renewable resource. Although no one knows how much water is beneath the desert, hydrologists estimate it will only be economical to pump water for about 50 years.

In this series of four Landsat images, the are about one kilometer (.62 miles) across. The images were created using reflected light from the short wave-infrared, near-infrared, and green portions of the (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.

Landsat 4 launched in 1982 and provided scientific data for 11 years until 1993. NASA launched Landsat 5 in 1984 and it ran a record-breaking 28 years, sending back what was likely its last data in 2011. is still up and running; it was launched in 1999. The data from these and other Landsat satellites has been instrumental in increasing our understanding of forest health, storm damage, agricultural trends, urban growth, and many other ongoing changes to our land.

NASA and the U.S. Department of the Interior through the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) jointly manage Landsat, and the USGS preserves a 40-year archive of Landsat images that is freely available data over the Internet.

The next Landsat satellite, now known as the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) and later to be called Landsat 8, is scheduled for launch in January 2013.

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1 / 5 (3) Mar 30, 2012
They would be wise to switch to subsurface irrigation and put down hydrophobic sand or something to prevent water from being lost downward. More water is lost downward in desert irrigation then from evaporation.
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 31, 2012
Considering that their oil supplies are supposed to run out in the next few decades, they'd be wise to save the water for when they can no longer pay for the super expensive desalinization they currently depend on for 99% of their drinking water. Farming is an extravagance that is simply not worth the water used.
1 / 5 (2) Mar 31, 2012
Saudi has about the lifetime of the irrigation source. It will NOT be fifty years as its rate of population growth may not be factored in, and that rate may be variable in itself and have a non zero acceleration. Saudi IS a rich country. Rich countries attract new residents...that need fed!
Saudi needs to desalinate its local seawater on a massive scale. Its alternatives are solar or nuclear. Use the consumable, oil as an export cashflow raiser. Weatern nations are all dependent as meth addicts for the oil and will suffer any insult to get it. Once paid for the facilities will last forever. Only thing downwind is Iran.
1.5 / 5 (2) Apr 01, 2012
Good thing there are so many commenters who know how to do this better.
1 / 5 (2) Apr 01, 2012
They should convert some of their sand to silicon, and convert some of their coastlines to solar desalination plants.

They should, and probably will, also assist in pushing Israel into the sea.

The world will be a better place once these things are accomplished.

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