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Desertification in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia

"The problem of land degradation in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia is not a new phenomenon, but during the last decade it has grown to be a serious threat to the delicate desert ecosystems, and also to the urban and industrial areas, due to an increase in sand movement. The area under investigation is situated on the Gulf coast north of Jubail and is approximately 20 km in width centered along the coastline. The total area is almost 1000 km2. Eight vegetation types were classified according to the dominant and co-dominant species. A comparative study of the vegetation in a fenced, non-grazed area and in an open grazed area showed that the impact of grazing and recreational activities have largely reduced the value of the rangelands. The reduction in species diversity and density leads to an increase in wind and sand dynamics. Exposed roots, giant ripples, changes in the extension of inland sabkhas and new active dunes could be observed in many parts of the study area. It could be proved that most inland sabkhas in the area are pure deflational features with considerable dynamic due to the reduction in vegetation cover during the recent years. The monitoring of vegetation density was carried out during helicopter flights with the help of GPS and a video camera. Image processing on a personal computer allowed accurate calculations of vegetation density. Observations on active dune fields in the area showed that the size of the dune fields almost doubled in 15 months. Tests in small enclosures showed that there is a potential for natural recovery even in severely damaged areas. In just one year without grazing and with average precipitation there is a significant difference in vegetation cover. Strict grazing management and camping regulations are required to prevent further degradation and allow the recovery of damaged ecosystems. Community involvement and education is necessary for the development of an understanding of regulations and the need for preservation."
Hans-Jörg Barth
Department of Physical Geography, University of Regensburg, Universitätsstr. 31, D-93051, Regensburg, Germany
Industry Focus: 
Food & Agriculture
Saudi Arabia
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