Rub' al Khali
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|Rub' al-Khali (الربع الخالي)|
Sand dunes in the Rub' al Khali.
|Name origin: "Empty Quarter" in Arabic|
|Countries||Saudi Arabia, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Yemen|
|Length||1,000 km (621 mi)|
|Width||500 km (311 mi)|
|Area||650,000 km2 (250,966 sq mi)|
Location of the empty quarter in Arabia.
The Rub' al Khali desert[note 1] (/
The desert is 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) long, and 500 kilometres (310 mi) wide. Its surface elevation varies from 800 metres (2,600 ft) in the southwest to around sea level in the northeast. The terrain is covered with sand dunes with heights up to 250 metres (820 ft), interspersed with gravel and gypsum plains. The sand is of a reddish-orange color due to the presence of feldspar.
Ali Al-Naimi reports that the sand dunes don't drift. He goes on to say, "Sand blows off the surface, of course, but the essential shape of the dunes remains intact, probably due to the moisture leaching up into the base of the dunes from the surrounding sabkhas.":213
Along the middle length of the desert there are a number of raised, hardened areas of calcium carbonate, gypsum, marl, or clay that were once the site of shallow lakes. These lakes existed during periods from 6,000 to 5,000 years ago and 3,000 to 2,000 years ago. The lakes are thought to have formed as a result of "cataclysmic rainfall" similar to present-day monsoon rains and most probably lasted for only a few years. However, lakes in the Mundafen area in the southwest of the Rub' al Khali show evidence of lasting longer, up to 800 years, due to increased runoff from the Tuwaiq Escarpment.
Evidence suggests that the lakes were home to a variety of flora and fauna. Fossil remains indicate the presence of several animal species, such as hippopotamus, water buffalo, and long-horned cattle. The lakes also contained small snails, ostracods, and when conditions were suitable, freshwater clams. Deposits of calcium carbonate and opal phytoliths indicate the presence of plants and algae. There is also evidence of human activity dating from 3,000 to 2,000 years ago, including chipped flint tools, but no actual human remains have been found.
The region is classified as "hyper-arid", with annual precipitation generally less than 35 millimetres (1.4 in), and daily mean relative humidity of about 52% in January and 15% in June-July. Daily maximum temperatures average 47 °C (117 °F) in July and August, reaching peaks of 51 °C (124 °F). The daily minimum average is 12 °C (54 °F) in January and February, although frosts have been recorded. Daily extremes of temperature are considerable.
Fauna includes arachnids (e.g. scorpions) and rodents, while plants live throughout the Empty Quarter. As an ecoregion, the Rub' al Khali falls within the Arabian Desert and East Saharo-Arabian xeric shrublands. The Asiatic cheetahs, once widespread in Saudi Arabia, are regionally extinct from the desert.
Desertification has increased through the millennia. Before desertification made the caravan trails leading across the Rub' al Khali so difficult, the caravans of the frankincense trade crossed now virtually impassable stretches of wasteland, until about AD 300. It has been suggested that Ubar or Iram, a lost city, region or people, depended on such trade. The traces of camel tracks, unidentifiable on the ground, appear in satellite images.
Today the inhabitants of the Empty Quarter are members of various local tribes – for example, the Al Murrah tribe has the largest area mainly based between Al Ahsa and Najran. the Banu Yam and Banu Hamdan (in Yemen and the Najran region of southern Saudi Arabia), and the Bani Yas (in the United Arab Emirates). A few road links connect these tribal settlements to the area's water resources and oil production centers.
The first documented journeys by non-resident explorers were made by British explorers Bertram Thomas and St. John Philby in the early 1930s. Between 1946 and 1950 Wilfred Thesiger crossed the area several times and mapped large parts of the Empty Quarter including the mountains of Oman, as described in his 1959 book Arabian Sands.
In June 1950, a US Air Force expedition crossed the Rub' al Khali from Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, to central Yemen and back in trucks to collect specimens for the Smithsonian Institution and to test desert survival procedures.
In 1999 Jamie Clarke became the first Westerner to cross the Empty Quarter of Arabia in fifty years. His team of six, including three Bedouin, spent 40 days crossing the desert with a caravan of 13 camels.
On 25 February 2006, a scientific excursion organized by the Saudi Geological Survey began to explore the Empty Quarter. The expedition consisted of 89 environmentalists, geologists and scientists from Saudi Arabia and abroad. Various types of fossilized creatures as well as meteorites were discovered in the desert. The expedition discovered 31 new plant species and plant varieties, as well as 24 species of birds that inhabit the region, which fascinated scientists as to how they have survived under the harsh conditions of the Empty Quarter.
In 2012, Alastair Humphreys and Leon McCarron pulled a specially designed cart from Salalah to Dubai. They produced a documentary film about their journey and how it compared to those of Wilfred Thesiger.
On 4 February 2013, a South African team including Alex Harris, Marco Broccardo and David Joyce claimed that they became the first people to cross the border close to Oman of the Empty Quarter unsupported and on foot, in a journey which started in Salalah and lasted 40 days, eventually ending in Dubai. The team only made use of three water stops along the journey, and pulled a specially designed cart which housed all the supplies necessary for the entire expedition.
In 2013 from 18 February to 28 March, South Korean explorer Young-Ho Nam led a team (Agustin Arroyo Bezanilla, Si-Woo Lee) on a crossing through the Empty Quarter on foot from Salalah, Oman, to Liwa Oasis, United Arab Emirates. The crossing was performed with permission from the governments of Oman and UAE. Dewan Ruler's Representative for Western Region, Emirate of Abu Dhabi recognized it as the world's first on-foot crossing of the Empty Quarter following the border of Oman and ending in UAE.
- Tim Powers' 2001 novel Declare contains scenes in the Rub' al Khali, as well as mentioning St. John Philby's expedition to the same.
- Rub' al Khali near Abu Dhabi was used in location shooting for the 2015 Star Wars film The Force Awakens.
- In Donald Tyson's book Alhazred, based on the fictional character created by H. P. Lovecraft, the main character, Abdul Alhazred, is banished to the "Empty Space" after being mutilated for sleeping with his king's daughter.
- In the video game 80 Days (2014 video game), the desert is home to a legendary inventor who can help Passepartout to travel onwards.
- In Nelson DeMille's 2012 best-seller, The Panther, U.S. agents hunt down a terrorist to Rub' al Khali, and main character John Corey jokes that "The Empty Quarter" isn't a great name if promoting tourism.
- The desert features in H. P. Lovecraft's "The Call of Cthulhu": "Of the [Cthulhu] cult, he said that he thought the centre lay amid the pathless desert of Arabia, where Irem, the City of Pillars, dreams hidden and untouched." His story "The Nameless City" also reflects this idea of a lost city in Arabia.
- Rub' al Khali is one of the settings for the PlayStation 3 video game Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, in which protagonist Nathan Drake searches for the Iram of the Pillars through multiple chapters.
- The Empty Quarter plays an important role in Clive Barker's Jericho, and in his novel Weaveworld.
- It serves as the site of Machine City, Zero-One, in the Matrix series.
- Gerald Seymour's novel Unknown Soldier is almost entirely set in the Rub' al Khali.
- Jack Higgins sets much of the action in his novels Edge of Danger and Midnight Runner in the Empty Quarter.
- Much of the SIGMA Force book Sandstorm by James Rollins takes place in the Empty Quarter.
- The Empty Quarter serves as the setting of the fictional "Ocean of Fire" horse race in the 2004 film Hidalgo. Filming of the movie actually occurred at various locations in the U.S.A. and Morocco.
- In the Japanese light novel series Zero No Tsukaima, Rub' al Khali is thought to be the place of origin of the main character, Hiraga Saito.
- In Daniel Easterman's second novel, The Seventh Sanctuary, it is the location of the lost city of Iram, where the eponymous seventh sanctuary is situated.
- The Fremen people of Frank Herbert's Dune novels are said to stem from tribes of the Rub' Al Khali.
- Josephine Tey's novel The Singing Sands (1952) investigates the murder of a young man who believes he has discovered the fabled city of Wabar while flying over the Rub' Al Khali.
- It is the site of Hammond Innes's novel The Doomed Oasis. Innes traveled to Saudi Arabia to research for this book.
- Doc Savage and his Fantastic Five find a lost white-haired race menaced by white-furred beast-men in The Phantom City in Doc Savage Magazine, December, 1933, and reprints.
- Rub' al Khali is shown in the PlayStation 3 video games Ninja Gaiden 3 and Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge, in which protagonist Ryu Hayabusa fights in the second day of his quest.
- The Rub' al-Khali is referenced in Fallout 4 by Jack Cabot as the location of an ancient city where his father found an artifact created by an intelligent predecessor to humans.
Astronaut photograph highlighting a part of the Ar Rub' al Khali near its south-eastern margin, in Oman.
Sunset in Rub' al Khali in Saudi Arabia
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- Peter Vincent (2008). Saudi Arabia: an environmental overview. Taylor & Francis. p. 141. ISBN 978-0-415-41387-9. Retrieved 22 August 2010.
- Clark, Arthur (June 1989). Amdt, Robert, ed. "Lakes of the Rub' al-Khali". Saudi Aramco World. 40 (3): 28–33. ISSN 0003-7567. Retrieved 22 August 2010.
- "Arabian Desert and East Sahero-Arabian xeric shrublands". Terrestrial Ecoregions. World Wildlife Fund. Retrieved 22 August 2010.
- Al-Naimi, Ali (2016). Out of the Desert. Great Britain: Portfolio Penguin. p. 211. ISBN 9780241279250.
- Van Beek, G. W. (1958). "Frankincense and myrrh in ancient South Arabia". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 78 (3): 141–152. doi:10.2307/595284. JSTOR 595284.
- Interview with Dr J. Zarins, Nova Online, Sept. 1996
- Thomas, B. (1993). "Ubar—the Atlantis of the sands of rub' Al Khali". Journal of the Royal Central Asian Society.
- Fisher, J.; Fisher, B. (1999). "The use of KidSat images in the further pursuit of the frankincense roads to Ubar". IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing. 37 (4): 1841–1847. doi:10.1109/36.774697.
- Morton, Michael Q. (December 2013). "Thesiger and the Oilmen". Journal of the Petroleum History Institute. 14: 125–39.
- "Photographic image" (JPG). Zianet.com. Retrieved 2017-08-10.
- Ted A. Morris. "US Air Force Air Sea Rescue in Saudi Arabia 1950–1951". Zianet.com. Retrieved 2011-04-09.
- Everest to Arabia. Clarke J. Azimuth Inc. 2000
- Saudi Geological Survey. "Desert Studies". Retrieved 2011-10-28.
- John Henzell. "In the footsteps of Thesiger: two Britons on a hotter, unexpected desert adventure". Thenational.ae. Retrieved 23 December 2015.
- "Into The Empty Quarter". Alastairhumphreys.com. Retrieved 23 December 2015.
- "Feature Report- 17 March- Empty Quarter Expedition". City 7 News.
- "empty quarter expedition website". Emptyquarter.co.za. Archived from the original on 9 January 2016. Retrieved 23 December 2015.
- Kyu Dam Lee. "ExWeb interview with Young-Ho Nam, life is like crossing a desert". ExplorersWeb.
- Los Angeles Times (3 December 2015). "Digging up secrets of 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' filming in desert sands – LA Times". latimes.com. Retrieved 23 December 2015.
- Lost city under the Rub' Al-Khali, Saudi Life.
- Sights & Sounds: The Empty Quarter: A National Geographic virtual tour in the Empty Quarter.
- Rub' al-Khali Encyclopædia Britannica
- Clear picture of some of the dunes in the Empty Quarter.