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Monitoring of urban growth of a desert city through remote sensing: Al-Ain, UAE, between 1976 and 2000

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The objective of this article is to investigate the development of Al Ain city, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), between 1976 and 2000, with particular reference to the space-time relationship. Al Ain is the fastest changing city in the Arabian Peninsula. It has gone from a desert oasis to a thriving modern city in just over 30 years. Maps, colour aerial photographs, satellite imagery, Global Positioning System (GPS), and Geographical Information System (GIS) were used as an aid for understanding the development of the city. Change and development in the city is evident from comparison of old maps, aerial photographs, and satellite imagery taken during 1976, 1978, 1984, 1994, 1998 and 2000. The city was found to have a tendency for major expansion in the direction of the west and south-west. Expansion in any direction was found to be governed by the availability of utilities (water, electricity), economic activities along roads (agriculture, industry), geographical constraints (valleys, sand dunes, mountains), and legal factors (boundary with Sultanate of Oman, planning and institutional rules). Many cities around the world are developed at the cost of agricultural areas, which are the main source of food. For example, in Tempe, Arizona between 1970 and 1979 and in Cairo. However, in Al Ain the research concludes that the development is based on conservation of agricultural areas (oases) and reclamation of the desert. Revenue from oil is a significant drive for this development, but even more important is the determination of the UAE government to proceed with the development.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Geography United Arab Emirates University Al Ain PO Box 17771 United Arab Emirates, Email:

Publication date: 2004-03-01

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