Projekt Rausch 2

Detailed Studies of Groundwater Resources in the Rub' Al Khali Desert

Project outline

Title: Detailed Studies of Groundwater Resources in the Rub' Al Khali Desert
Commissioned by: Ministry of Water & Electricity
Country: Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Overall term: May 2010 – April 2013


The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of the most water-scarce countries in the world. Meeting the demand for water here has become a major challenge that calls for urgent management of the water resources.

Rub' Al Khali von Randolf Rausch
Photo: Hamidan Lake in the Rub’ Al Khali desert.

The Saudi Ministry of Water & Electricity is carrying out studies of the Kingdom's aquifers in order to assess the existing water resources. As part of this undertaking, a joint venture between GTZ International Services and Dornier Consulting (DCo) is conducting the Rub’ Al Khali Groundwater Study. The project started in May 2010 and will continue until April 2013.

The Rub’ Al Khali (or “Empty Quarter”) is located in south-eastern Saudi Arabia (see map). It is the largest sand desert on earth.

Rub' Al Khali2 von Randolf Rausch
Map: Location of the study area in southeastern Saudi Arabia. The area covers approximately 600,000 km2 (1.7 times the area of Germany).


The study includes the investigation of several aquifers. From the ground surface to the depth and increasing in age, these are the:

  • Neogene aquifer;
  • Dammam aquifer (Paleogene);
  • Umm Er Radhuma aquifer (Paleogene);
  • Aruma aquifer (Upper Cretaceous);
  • Wasia – Biyadh aquifer (Middle and Upper Cretaceous).

The main objectives of the study

  • Assessment of the groundwater budget. Here the main purpose is to establish what inflows and outflows exist in the aquifer system.
  • Assessment of the groundwater reserves. This looks at the question of how much groundwater is – or remains – available.
  • Management of the groundwater resources: How can we make best use of the groundwater resource? Is sustainable groundwater management possible?

To answer these questions, the Rub’ Al Khali project involves extensive field work. For its various studies, it uses the latest approaches, such as: water point inventory, review and rehabilitation of the monitoring network, surface geophysics, geophysical borehole logging, pumping tests, drilling campaign, groundwater quality study, isotopes study, water demand studies (agricultural, domestic, industrial), remote sensing analysis, and hydrological, geological, and groundwater modelling.

The scientific work is particularly effective as the research is being carried out collectively by the Saudi Ministry of Water & Electricity, GTZ IS, Technische Universität Darmstadt, and the Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) in Leipzig.