NASA's Landsat Satellites Spot Fields of Crops Springing Up in Syrian Desert

Posted on March 30, 2012

NASA Landsat Syrian Desert Crops

NASA's Landsat satellites have revealed that Saudi Arabia has tapped hidden reserves of water to grow wheat and other crops in the Syrian Desert. This time series of data shows images acquired by three different Landsat satellites operated by NASA and the US Geological Survey.

The green fields in the Syrian desert draw on water that in part was trapped during the last Ice Age. Saudi Arabia reaches these underground rivers and lakes by drilling through the desert floor and then directly irrigating the fields with a circular sprinkler system. The technique is called center-pivot irrigation.

Water in this area is a non-renewable resource. The region only receives about one inch of rainfall each year. No one knows how much water is beneath the desert, but NASA says hydrologists estimate it will only be economical to pump water in the region for about 50 years.

The four Landsat images show agricultural fields about one kilometer (.62 miles) across. The images were created using reflected light from the short wave-infrared, near-infrared, and green portions of the electromagnetic spectrum. Using this combination of wavelengths, healthy vegetation appears bright green while dry vegetation appears orange. Barren soil is a dark pink, and urban areas, like the town of Tubarjal at the top of each image, have a purple hue.