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Food Production

Before and After: Irrigation in Saudi Arabia

This segment uses a sequence of satellite images captured over a period of 25 years to explore the growth of agriculture in the Wadi-As-Sirhan Basin. 


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Lush green ground, brownish green ground. Text, Before & After, Irrigation in Saudi Arabia
Animation of a globe. Text, The Arabian peninsula is dominated by desert. Its average temperature is above 85 degrees F for most of the year, and can reach higher than 120 degree F during the summer months. Most areas receive less than four inches of rain per year. Wadi As-Sirhan Basin
Wadi As-Sirhan Basin, Saudi Arabia. February, 1987. Thematic Mapper, Landsat 5. Wadi As-Sirhan Basin, in northern Saudi Arabia, is located in the Arabian desert. In this infrared and visible light image, dry barren desert is shown in pink and yellow.
This hot, dry climate may not seem ideal for agriculture.
However, although surface water is scarce, ground water exists in the rock below the surface.
February, 1991. Thematic Mapper, Landsat 4. Since the 1980s, drilling through the bedrock to the groundwater reservoirs has allowed agriculture to flourish in the region.
An irrigation system in Egypt. Text, Center-pivot irrigation systems efficiently distribute the groundwater to circular fields. Each field is about one kilometer (0.6 miles) across.
March, 2000. Thematic Mapper, Landsat 5. The addition of water allows plants to thrive. Increasing groundwater pumping is shown by the spread of the distinctive circular fields.
January, 2012. Thematic Mapper +, Landsat 7. The groundwater in this region is about 20000 years old, and it's Supply is limited. The low rainfall can replenish only about 10% of the water used by farming. As a result, these irrigation practices are depleting the groundwater reservoir.
Photos compare a field in 1987, 1991, 2000 and 2012. Eventually, these fields may be reclaimed by the desert as the aquifer runs dry.