NASA has recently published some astonishing satellite imagery of the Syrian Desert in Saudi Arabia and the seemingly impossible growth of bright-green agricultural land and apparently fertile soils. This can be seen below, showing the transition between 1987-2012, with further images available on the NASA site.
The fields appear circular due to the system of irrigation employed by the Saudi’s, which pumps the water up through drilled wells into a sprinkler system which distributes it in this fashion. They have cultivated a desert in just 24 years.
This doesn’t seem right does it? To have such rich looking land sprout in the middle of an extremely dry desert goes against both common sense and science. To combat this obvious problem however, the Saudi’s began tapping a resource of fossil water lying in reservoirs underground, water laid down during the last Ice Age, and water which is likely to last roughly 50 years. With no new Ice Age on the horizon and just an inch of rainfall per year, this is shaping up to be one of the most shortsighted solutions I’ve ever seen.
I can understand that to feed a growing population, such as Saudi Arabia is experiencing and demanding, that the chance to utilise a hidden source of water to provide this necessity would be a chance the government could not pass up. What is surprising is that, despite the fact that two-thirds of the country’s water needs are imported in from their neighbours, they ploughed ahead in tapping this fossil water likely knowing it was not destined for a long life. Once it runs dry, not only will the agriculture and food production in the region rapidly die back, but imported goods will become ever more relied on.
Considering that water is quickly becoming a scarce resource in regions such as the Middle East and N. Africa, the idea of drinking from a reservoir which could be used in much better ways (think drinking-water) is hard to swallow.
My thoughts turn to Dubai when thinking of this story, yet another region which should be dry and uncultivated, and yet the world’s tallest skyscrapers and richest people live out their lives there. Water is pumped in from other countries which could be using it for much more noble and necessary causes, rather than to sustain the ridiculous gardens and fountains of the desert-city. Again, shortsightedness prevails. Maybe once the Syrian Desert eventually runs dry around 2040 they will simply pick up the slack by demanding foreign water, forever perpetuating the vicious cycle.
It’s not hard to see from this example that the next few wars, however large or small, could easily be fought over water and not oil. Fossil water becomes the new dirty word.
NASA site - http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/saudi-green.html