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Research Study: “Implications of Climate Change on Water Resources in Saudi Arabia,” King Faisal University School of Petroleum and Minerals, Volume 18, Issue #8

The study examines the impact of climate change on climatic input parameters such as temperature, wind speed, precipitation, relative humidity, net radiation, and evapotranpiration, and their potential impact on water resources, agriculture, and water quality. The study predicts that climate change will lead to an average temperature increase of 1.8—4.1 Celsius between 2011 to 2050. The highest temperature change is expected to be in the northern part of the country due to the small bodies of water in this area. Average wind rates and range is predicted to show little change for the period from 2011 to 2050. The study predicts a regional and temporal variation in the rainfall levels across the country. The northern region will suffer from lower precipitation levels by 10mm/year (average) exacerbating the drought levels in that part of the country. Overall, relative humidity has decreased in Saudi Arabia and is projected to keep that pattern till 2050. The net radiation, which is the difference between incoming radiation toward the Earth and outgoing radiation from the Earth, was calculated for Saudi Arabia to be in the range of 7.4-9.4 h/day. The study predicts an increase in evapotranspiration (ET) by 10.3-27.4% throughout the country from 2011 to 2050. The southern parts of the country will experience the maximum increase ET. Surface water may become more vulnerable because of the increased ET by 2050.

The increased ET and consequent agricultural water demands along with the low rates of precipitation may increase the vulnerability of water resources in Saudi Arabia. The agricultural land accounts for 1% of the total area of the country and the main crops include winter wheat, dates, vegetables, and citrus fruits. Winter wheat crop production satisfies the total consumption demands of the country. Any negative effect on water resources due to climate change may threaten winter wheat production and reduce crop yields per acreage of land. Climate change appears to have only a minimal effect on deep aquifer water resources. Desalinated seawater satisfies most of the drinking water needs in the main cities of the Kingdom.

Summary of the main findings of the study:

1. Temperatures may increase by 1.8 – 4.1 Celsius across Saudi Arabia by the end of 2050
2. Evapotranspiration (ET) may increase from 0.245 m/year in 2011 to 0.368 m/year by 2050
3. Rainfall levels are inadequate to compensate for the lost water due to increased ET
4. There will be a loss of soil moisture due to the shortfall between precipitation and ET
5. An increase in agricultural water demands accompanied with the deep aquifer recharge and surface runoff may lead to lower agricultural productivity and quantity of production
6. High frequencies of longer summer periods may give rise to changes in soil organic matter

The recommendations of the study are:

1. Careful assessment of the increase in agricultural water demands plays an important role in understanding the water balance and designing better water resources management policy.
2. Incorporation of uncertainty can improve predictions on climate change implications for water resources and their quality that can inform future water management policy in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia faces a high degree of vulnerability exacerbated by climate change due to extremely low rainfalls, high evapotranspiration, and water scarcity. Saudi Arabia’s recognition of the national circumstances led to identifying water as a key to adaptation in their national climate action plans or Intended National Determined Contributions (INDCs) submitted for the Paris Climate Agreement. Two types of policies and programs were included in their INDCs: Adaption with mitigation co-benefits and adaptation undertakings. Adaptation with mitigation co-benefits focus on increasing the reduction, recycling, and reuse of water and wastewater in the municipal, industrial, and commercial sectors in such a way that will significantly decrease energy consumption, desalinated water production and underground leakage. Adaptation undertakings would include new plans that will capture new sources of freshwater, construct additional dams for collection of drinking water and recharging of aquifers.

Learn More

Shakhawat Chowdhury and Muhammad Al-Zahrani. August 2013. “Implications of Climate Change on Water Resources in Saudi Arabia”. Research article, civil engineering, King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals. Journal: Arabian Journal for Science and Technology, vol. 38, issue no. 8, pp. 1959- 1971.


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