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Optimum groundwater locations in the northern United Arab Emirates

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Due to the increase in urban and agricultural activities in arid regions, the exploration of new locations of possible groundwater discharge and accumulation is required to augment the limited water resources. In order to locate such discharge areas, it is necessary first to identify zones of high recharge potentials. In such an arid region, like the northern United Arab Emirates (UAE), one of the ways to predict areas of potential groundwater recharge is by understanding the hydrological response of its drainage basins to rainfall events. Due to the scarcity of basic hydrological data, a hydrological model driven mainly by information on the physiographic characteristics, drainage network properties (generated from DEM), and surface cover distribution (generated from satellite images) was used to comprehend the dynamics of surface runoff through hydrographs, and hence water loss in the study area. Results show that the northern UAE is drained by 48 drainage basins emerging from the Oman Mountains. Two-thirds of these basins drain easterly toward the Gulf of Oman, and one-third drain westerly toward the Arabian Gulf. These basins are found to be structurally controlled by three major fault trends, which are the NE trend (Dibba zone), NW trend (Ham Zone), and WNW trend (Hatta zone). The hydrological response of a basin is correlated with its morphological characteristics. Based on these characteristics, and through the application of a cluster analysis, it was feasible to classify the largest basins in the region into four groundwater potentiality groups in accordance with the magnitude of their peak discharges. From this study, it became evident that the downstream area of the two major basins of Ar-Rafiah and Limhah, and their vicinities are the most probable sites for groundwater accumulation. The drainage systems of these two basins, especially those controlled by major fault lines, play a vital role in transmitting surface-subsurface rainwater from the Oman Mountains, the recharge zone, into the western desert plain, the discharge zone, where freshwater accumulates underground. The study also revealed that a large volume of groundwater is dissipated into the sea along the eastern coast. A detailed examination of MODIS thermal data supports this by revealing cool surface anomalies issuing from the mountain range toward both the western desert plain and the Gulf of Oman following major rainfall events. Thus, the technique used facilitates the prediction of new locations of optimum groundwater resources in the northern UAE. Such a technique could be adopted, with appropriate modifications, elsewhere in arid regions, where groundwater is restricted and subject to greater complexity.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Center for Remote Sensing, Boston University, Boston, MA 02215

Publication date: October 1, 2008

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