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

Project description

Title: Detailed Studies of Groundwater Resources in the Rub’ Al Khali Desert
Commissioned by: Ministry of Water and Electricity
Financier: Ministry of Water and Electricity
Country: Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Lead executing agency: Ministry of Water and Electricity
Overall term: 2010 to 2013

Hamidan Lake in the Rub’ Al Khali desert. © GIZ


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.

The Saudi Ministry of Water and 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 GIZ International Services and Dornier Consulting (DCo) is conducting the Rub’ Al Khali Groundwater Study.

The Rub’ Al Khali (or “Empty Quarter”) is located in south-eastern Saudi Arabia (see map). It is the largest sand desert on earth. The study area is situated in south eastern Saudi Arabia and covers approximately 600,000 square kilometres, 1.7 times the area of Germany.


The groundwater conditions in the Rub'-Al-Khali desert are explored in terms of ground water budget (inflows and outflows) and the stored volume. For the available resources a groundwater management plan is completed.


The study covers the investigation of several calcareous and sandstone aquifers which are hydraulically connected.

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, GIZ IS, Technische Universität Darmstadt, and the Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) in Leipzig.