|The English desert (Arabi Desert)|
A satellite image of the Arabian Desert by NASA World Wind.
|Countries||Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen|
Āl Wahībah Dunes
|Highest point||Mount Al-Nabī Shuʿayb 12,336 ft (3,760 m)|
|Length||2,100 km (1,305 mi), E/W|
|Width||1,100 km (684 mi), N/S|
|Area||2,330,000 km2 (899,618 sq mi)|
The Arabian Desert is located in Western Asia. It is a vast desert wilderness stretching from Yemen to the Persian Gulf and Oman to Jordan and Iraq. It occupies most of the Arabian Peninsula, with an area of 2,330,000 square kilometers (900,000 sq mi). At its center is the Rub'al-Khali, one of the largest continuous bodies of sand in the world. Gazelles, oryx, sand cats, and spiny-tailed lizards are just some of the desert-adapted species that survive in this extreme environment, which features everything from red dunes to deadly quicksand. The climate is extremely dry, and temperatures oscillate between extreme heat and seasonal night time freezes. It is part of the Deserts and xeric shrublands biome and the Palearctic ecozone. This ecoregion holds little biodiversity, although a few endemic plants grow here. Many species, such as the striped hyena, jackal and honey badger have become extinct in this area due to hunting, human encroachment and habitat destruction. Other species have been successfully re-introduced, such as the sand gazelle, and are protected at a number of reserves. Overgrazing by livestock, off-road driving, and human destruction of habitat are the main threats to this desert ecoregion.
Geology and geography
Detailed geological features:
- A corridor of sandy terrain known as the Ad-Dahna desert connects the large An-Nafud desert (65,000 km2 or 40,389 square mile) in the north of Saudi Arabia to the Rub' Al-Khali in the south-east.
- the Tuwaiq escarpment is a region of 800 km (500 mi) arc of limestone cliffs, plateaux, and canyons.
- Brackish salt flats: the quicksands of Umm al Samim
- The Wahiba sands of Oman : an isolated sand sea bordering the east coast
- The Rub' Al-Khali desert is a sedimentary basin elongated on a south-west to north-east axis across the Arabian shelf. At an altitude of 1,000 metres (3,300 ft), the rock landscapes yield the place to the Rub' al Khali, vast wide of sand of the Arabian desert, whose extreme southern point crosses the centre of Yemen. The sand overlies gravel or gypsum plains and the dunes reach maximum heights of up to 250 m (820 ft). The sands are predominantly silicates, composed of 80 to 90% of quartz and the remainder feldspar, whose iron oxide-coated grains color the sands in orange, purple, and red.
Ecology and natural resources
The Rub'al-Khali has very limited floristic diversity. There are only 37 species, 20 recorded in the main body of the sands and 17 around the outer margins. Among these 37 species, only one or two are endemic. Vegetation is very diffuse but fairly evenly distributed, with some interruptions of near sterile dunes.
Some typical plants are:
Other widespread species are:
Very little trees may be found except at the outer margin (typically Acacia ehrenbergiana and Prosopis cineraria).
Other species are a woody perennial Calligonum comosum and annual herbs such as Danthonia forskallii
Summer daytime temperatures are commonly above 50°C.
The desert lies mostly in Saudi Arabia, extending into the surrounding countries of Egypt (Sinai), southern Iraq and southern Jordan. The Arabian desert is bordered by 5 countries. Bordering the Persian Gulf, there is an extension into Qatar and, further east, the region covers almost all of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Rub'al-Khali crosses over from Saudi Arabia into western Oman and eastern Yemen
People, language and cultures
- Overgrazing by camels and goats, with increased herd size, and a more sedentary lifestyle amongst the Bedouin
- Human destruction of habitat
- Agricultural projects
- Oil and gas production
- War and its impacts
This ecoregion was the victim of a massive economic-environmental challenge: the sabotage of Kuwait oil facilities that caused vast oil spills and the release of toxins into the atmosphere in the 1990s.
In January 1991 during the Gulf War, Iraqi forces released about 1.7 million m³ (11 million barrels) of oil from storage tanks and tankers directly into the Persian Gulf. In February, they also destroyed 1,164 Kuwaiti oil wells. It took nine months to extinguish these oil fires. These oil spills contaminated 1,000 km (620 mi) of Persian Gulf coast.
The damaged wells also released 10 million m³ (60 million barrels) of oil into the desert and formed lakes (total surface of 49 square kilometres) which contaminated soil and ground water.
Weaponry used by the US during the Gulf War also poses a huge risk to the environmental stability of the area. Tank columns in the desert plains may disrupt the fragile stability that exists. In 1991, the movement of US tanks over the desert damaged the top protective layer of the desert soil. As a result, a sand dune was released and has started slowly moving downhill. Some people fear that this dune could ultimately reach Kuwait City. Another concern is related to the use of toxic depleted uranium munitions by the A-10 "Warthog". Some detractors claim the ammunition to be a cancer risk and a source of water contamination. In 1991, the U.S. and NATO dropped nearly 300 tons of depleted uranium on Iraqi targets. The splinters resulting from the explosion contaminated the surrounding soil.
- "Arabian Desert and East Sahero-Arabian xeric shrublands". Terrestrial Ecoregions. World Wildlife Fund.
- "Persian Gulf desert and semi-desert". Terrestrial Ecoregions. World Wildlife Fund.
- "Red Sea Nubo-Sindian tropical desert and semi-desert". Terrestrial Ecoregions. World Wildlife Fund.
- http://www.alovelyworld.com/webyemen/htmgb/yem027.htm Rub Al-Khali, a photo and short description
- Arabian Deserts:Nature, Origin, and Evolution; H. Stewart Edgell; Springer, 2006