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  Saudi Arabia Info - Land & Resouces  

LAND AND RESOURCES

The Arabian Peninsula is essentially a huge, tilted block of rock, highest in the west and sloping gradually down to the east. Most of this slab of rock is covered with the sand of several large deserts. Saudi Arabia’s landscape also contains mountain ranges, flat coastal plains, and the rocky remains of hardened lava flows. The country’s climate is hot and dry, and there are no permanent rivers or lakes.

Natural Regions

Saudi Arabia can be divided into four natural regions. These are the mountainous western highlands; the rocky central plateau; the more fertile, eastern low-lying coastal plain; and the sandy desert areas of the north, east, and south.



  • Highlands of Al Hijaz and Asir

    A string of mountain ranges stretches along the western edge of Saudi Arabia. The northern segment of these highlands, known as Al Hijaz (Hejaz), has a general elevation of 600 to 900 m (2,000 to 3,000 ft), with some mountains exceeding 2,000 m (6,500 ft). Rainfall here is infrequent, but streams flowing down the west side of the highlands allow limited agriculture in valleys and on the narrow coastal plain. On the eastern slopes of the highlands, prehistoric lava flows solidified to form vast, barren fields of dark-colored, broken basaltic stone known as harras. South of Al Hijaz the highlands continue into the region known as Asir. Here, the highlands are rugged and reach considerably higher elevations than in Al Hijaz: Much of Asir lies between 1,500 and 2,000 m (5,000 and 7,000 ft). The highest point in Saudi Arabia, Jabal Sawdā’ (3,207 m/10,522 ft), is located in this region, near the border with Yemen. Asir receives more rainfall than Al Hijaz, allowing more widespread farming.

  • Najd

    An arid, rocky plateau known as Najd occupies the interior of Saudi Arabia. The western half of the plateau is a desolate tableland of broken volcanic rock crossed by wadis (watercourses that flow only after rains). In the eastern half numerous rocky ridges run north to south. Bordered on its north, east, and south by desert areas, Najd itself also contains several deserts, including Nafud ad Daḩy, a series of sand hills and ridges that divide western Najd from eastern Najd.

  • Al Ahsa

    The Al-Hasa oasis is the largest oasis in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the municipality of Al-Hasa constitutes the largest administrative area in the Kingdom. In the east, along the Arabian Gulf, is the low-lying region of Al Ahsa, known for its vast petroleum deposits, farms, and gulf ports. Here, natural springs made agriculture and large-scale settlement possible long before the discovery of the region’s rich oil reserves. It enjoys the benefit of copious reserves of underground water which has allowed the area to develop its agricultural potential. The agricultural oasis of Al Qatif is noted for its large plantations of date palms. The coast consists of salt flats (called sabkhas), marshes, lagoons, and sandy or rocky beaches. Offshore coral reefs, mud islands, and sand bars made navigation difficult before channels to ports were dredged in the 20th century.


  • Deserts

    Considerably more than half the area of Saudi Arabia is desert. Some desert areas are covered with shifting sand dunes, while others are more stable flat or rippled expanses of sand. Shaped and moved by winds, sand dunes take the form of long ridges or tall hills. Sand, gravel, or bare rock basins lie between the dunes. Few plants grow in these arid deserts, except in scattered oases supported by springs or wells.

    Three large deserts lie on three sides of the country’s central plateau: An-Nafud to the north, the Rub Al Khali to the south, and the narrow Ad Dahna connecting these two on the east. The Rub Al Khali, one of the largest deserts in the world, has an area of about 650,000 sq km (about 250,000 sq. miles).

    An-Nafud is characterized by parallel sand ridges, most 6 to 15 m (20 to 50 ft) high, but some sand hills rise as high as 30 m (100 ft). In some areas, wind has stripped the bedrock surface clean of loose material. North of An-Nafud are the southern fringes of the Syrian Desert.

    A belt of sand hills and ridges known as Ad Dahna extends in an arc south from An-Nafud, separating Najd and Al Ahsa. Ad Dahna, varying in width from 24 to 80 km (15 to 50 miles), connects the northern desert regions with the Rub Al Khali in the south. A similar but discontinuous band of sand ridges lies on the western edge of Najd, also connecting An-Nafud and the Rub Al Khali.

    Rub Al Khali means “Empty Quarter” in Arabic, reflecting the barren and forbidding nature of the southern Arabian desert. It is much larger and drier than the other Saudi deserts, contains no oases, and can only be inhabited temporarily, in the cooler winter months, by camel-herding nomads called Bedouins. The Rub Al Khali extends over much of southeastern Saudi Arabia and beyond the southern frontier into Yemen and Oman is one of the largest sand deserts in the world - which covers an area of more than 250,000 square miles (650,000 square kilometers) and extends to 1,200 by 500 kilometers. The Rub al-Khali is one of the driest places on earth, receiving almost no rain at all. Nevertheless, many parts of this dry desert support some hardy plants (in particular, the scarlet-fruited abal and the hadth saltbush). Like An-Nafud, the Rub Al Khaali is a sea of sand ridges and hills, some of which are as high as 150 m (500 ft). One of the world’s best-preserved meteor impact sites is located in the middle of the Rub Al Khali, at a site called Wabar.
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    Climate



    Due to its diverse range of geographical features, the Kingdom’s climate is extremely varied. Generally speaking though, for the vast majority of the country the climate is hot in the summer and cold and rainy in the winter and frosts occur in winter. The humidity along the coasts is high.

    The western and southwestern regions of the Kingdom enjoy the mildest climate. The central parts of the Kingdom are extremely hot and dry in the summer and cold in the winter. The humidity tends to rise in the coastal areas. During spring and summer most parts of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have little rain unlike the mountainous areas of the southwest where heavy rains during the summer are common.

    Saudi Arabia has a desert climate. Extreme heat and aridity are characteristic of most of Saudi Arabia. It is one of the few places in the world where summer temperatures above 50°C (120°F) are common, while in winter frost or snow can occur in the interior and the higher mountains. In Jeddah it is warm for most of the year. Riyadh, which is inland, is hotter in summer and colder in winter, when occasional heavy rainstorms occur. The Rub al Khali seldom receives rain, making Saudi Arabia one of the driest countries in the world. The average temperature range in January is 8° to 20°C (47° to 68°F) in Riyadh and 19° to 29°C (66° to 83°F) in Jeddah. The average range in July is 27° to 43°C (81° to 109°F) in Riyadh and 27° to 38°C (80° to 100°F) in Jeddah. Precipitation is usually sparse, although sudden downpours can lead to violent flash floods in wadis. Annual rainfall in Riyadh averages 100 mm (4 in) and falls almost exclusively between January and May; the average in Jeddah is 54 mm (2.1 in) and occurs between November and January.
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    Physical Features



    Structurally, the whole of Arabia is a vast platform of ancient rocks, once continuous with north-east Africa. In relatively recent geological time a series of great fissures opened, as the result of which a large trough, or rift valley, was formed and later occupied by the sea, to produce the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

    The Arabian platform is tilted, with its highest part in the extreme west, along the Red Sea, sloping gradually down from the west to the east. The Red Sea coast, where the upward tilt is greatest, is often bold and mountainous, with peaks of 3,000 meters. Along the Red Sea coast, there is a narrow coastal strip (Tihama) which broadens out in the Jeddah area and provides access through the highlands to the interior. On the eastern side of the Kingdom, the Arabian Gulf coast is flat and low-lying. The shallow seas in this region deposited layers of younger sedimentary rock, allowing the creation of the vast oil reserves for which the area was to become famous. The coast is fringed with extensive coral reefs which make it difficult to approach the shore in many places.
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    Natural Resources

    Some of the world’s largest oil and natural gas fields lie beneath Saudi Arabia and its offshore waters, representing the country’s most economically important natural resource. In 2002 Saudi Arabia’s oil reserves were estimated at 1.8 billion barrels. Before the discovery and exploitation of these reserves in the mid-20th century, Saudi Arabia was one of the poorest countries in the world. Its relatively small population subsisted in a harsh environment with little agricultural land and limited water resources. Saudi Arabia lacks permanent lakes and rivers, but considerable reserves of underground water have been discovered across the country. These have been used to increase agricultural production and provide water for the growing population. Desalination plants on the Arabian Gulf and Red Sea coasts provide important, if expensive, sources of water. In addition, a number of dams built across wadis capture seasonal rainwater temporarily.



    • Oil Resources

      According to the latest estimates (2001), the Kingdom's recoverable reserves now stand at 261.8 billion barrels. This figure represents an increase of 1.8 billion barrels on the 1993 estimate of 260 billion barrels. (An increase in recoverable reserves, despite the daily extraction of millions of barrels of oil, is made possible by the discovery of new oil fields and improved technology in exploiting existing field.)

      Current estimates mean that Saudi Arabia has roughly 25% of the world's proven oil reserves.

      As techniques for extraction improve and new reserves are found, it is estimated that the oil reserves of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will last for some 90 years.

    • Gas Resources

      The 1989 (1409/10 AH) Aramco study put the Kingdom's proven gas reserves at 177.3 trillion cubic feet, an increase of 25% over the last estimate. This figure remained little altered in 1993 (1413/14 AH) when the estimate, now expressed in cubic meters, was 5.2 trillion (approximately 4.2% of world reserves). According to the latest estimates (2001) the Kingdom's gas reserves stand at 219.5 trillion cubic feet (6.22 trillion cubic meters), approximately 4% of world reserves.

      In the early years of oil exploitation, natural gas from the oil fields was burnt off in gas flares. Conscious of the need to conserve its energy reserves, the Kingdom now gathers the natural gas (methane and ethane) emanating from the oil fields in the Eastern region in order to supply the vast industrial complexes at Jubail in the Eastern region and Yanbu on the western side of the Kingdom.

      Today, almost all the natural gas at the Kingdom's disposal is effectively utilized.

    • Mineral Resources

      In addition to its vast oil and gas reserves, the Kingdom is rich in mineral deposits. Three thousand years ago, the mine known as the Cradle of Gold (Mahad Al-Dhahab), some 180 miles north of Jeddah, was a rich source of gold, silver and copper.

      According to the Fourth Five Year Plan, gold had been discovered at some 600 sites around the Kingdom and a total of 29 prospects have been drilled. The Mahad Al-Dhabab gold mine was re-opened by Petromin with the intention of developing a high-grade underground gold mine with a capacity of 400 tons of ore per day. This venture encouraged further exploration for gold elsewhere in the Kingdom.

      Silver and base metal deposits (bauxite, copper, iron, lead, tin and zinc), as well as non-metallic minerals (bentonite, diatomite, fluorite, potash and high-purity silica sand) have all been discovered, attesting to the wealth that remains, still largely unexploited, beneath the Kingdom's soil.

    • Water Resources

      In a country with the geography and climate of the Kingdom, water is a natural resource which must be highly valued and conserved. The Kingdom draws its water from four main sources:


      • Surface water, which is to be found predominantly in the west and south-west of the country. In 1985 (1405/06 AH), surface water provided 10% of the Kingdom's supply.

      • Ground water, held in aquifers, some of which are naturally replenished, while others are non-renewable. In 1985 (1405/06 AH), ground water provided 84% of the Kingdom's supply but it is noteworthy that most of this water came from non-renewable aquifers.

      • Desalinated seawater, a source of water production in which the Kingdom is now a world leader. Desalination technology, which also produces electricity, has reached an advanced stage of technology in the Kingdom and, by 1985 (1405/06 AH), this source was providing 5% of the Kingdom's supply.

      • Reclaimed wastewater, a source of water which is still in its early stages but which offers scope for considerable expansion. In 1985 (1405/06 AH), the reclamation of wastewater provided 1% of the Kingdom's supply.


      According to the Saline Water Conversion Corporation, in 2000 (1420/21 AH) there were 27 desalination plants producing 814 million cubic meters of desalinated water (more than 600 million gallons a day) and providing more than 70 per cent of the required drinking water. Work was underway to build three desalination plants at Khobar, Jubail and Shuaiba.
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    Environment

    Western Saudi Arabia is dominated by a mountain chain which runs the entire length of the country, getting higher and wider to the south. About half the country (an area the size of France) is taken up by the Rub' al-Khali, or Empty Quarter, the largest sand desert in the world. A second great sand desert, the Nafud, stretches its way across the north-west of the country, while the centre and north of Saudi Arabia is mostly gravelly plains. The east is flat and low-lying, an area of sabkhas (or salt flats). Its main geographical feature is the gigantic Al-Hasa oasis.

    Saudi Arabia's deserts have extreme climates. From mid-April to mid-October, expect daytime temperatures of 45°C (113°F) or higher throughout the country. In the dead of winter (December to January) things cool down in the cities: it's only around 15°C (59°F) during the day, and can be colder in the central deserts overnight. In the coastal areas it rains regularly, with high humidity in the summer, but there's very little rainfall in the capital Riyadh.

    Although Saudi Arabia is largely a desert, the land is not barren. Plants adapted to the climate, such as cacti, acacias and tamarind trees grow while the oases support plants needing more water such as date palms and fruit trees.

    The birdlife of the region is supplemented by many migrant birds, including falcons and other birds of prey which winter in Saudi Arabia.

    Desert animals survive on the moisture from the sparse plant life and from the morning dew. They reduce their need for water by staying hidden during the heat of the day. Wildlife found in the desert includes antelopes, gazelles, hyenas, lizards and snakes. The Oryx, a type of antelope, almost exterminated in the wild by 1972 has been brought back from extinction by a captive breeding program.

    Saudi Arabia has established eleven wildlife reserves and plans to create one hundred and three in all. The advance of the desert, the scarcity of natural water resources, coastal pollution from oil spills and the effects of industrial development are all important environmental issues for the Kingdom today.
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    • Flora and Fauna

      Few people think of Saudi Arabia as a travel destination for eco-tourists and yet the country contains many fascinating wildlife habitats, including a number that have remained relatively undisturbed. The stereotype of the Kingdom as a dry, barren desert devoid of almost all flora and fauna is far from correct. Whether one is interested in marine life, plant life; invertebrates such as butterflies and other insects; reptiles, birds, mammals or other animals, it is likely that intelligent exploration will surprise and delight those who make the effort, and will open up a whole new dimension to one's perception of this vast country.

      Eco-tourism in Saudi Arabia is primarily focused on internal travel by residents to areas of interest from a wildlife viewpoint. Despite the fact that it is not an international destination, within the general sense of tourism marketing, it would be a mistake to under-estimate the economic or social value of the country's domestic tourism sector or of the role that nature and wildlife can play in this.

      Various fruit trees, notably the date palm, and a wide variety of grains and vegetables thrive in desert oases and in irrigated areas. Outside these areas, only sparse desert shrubs and trees survive. Large animals such as ostriches, oryxes, mountain goats, gazelles, and leopards were once numerous. However, hunters equipped with modern weapons and transportation has wiped out most or all of these prized game animals. Among other local wild mammals are foxes, hyenas, ibexes, panthers, wildcats, hedgehogs, sand rats, jerboas, hares, and wolves. Flamingos and pelicans are common on Saudi shores, and bustards, pigeons, and quails are found across most of the country. Lizards and snakes thrive in the arid desert and tableland, and the coastal waters are home to a wide variety of marine life. In particular, the coral reefs of the Red Sea are home to a dazzling array of brightly colored fish and other marine animals.

      There are a number of scrub species, as well as tamarinds growing in some deserts and evergreens in the forested regions of Asir. If it's fauna you're after, you'd better like camels. They're Saudi Arabia's most visible wildlife, although there are also nocturnal hedgehogs and sand cats in some areas, and Hamadryads baboons in Asir.

    • Where to Watch Birds and other Wildlife in Saudi Arabia


      • Harrat al-Harrah - First national Park

        Stony desert in north

        8-10 larks breed here, large Sand Grouse numbers; Golden Eagle; Long-Legged Buzzard; Merlin; Cream-colored Courser; little owl. Arabia's last ostriches lived here, last seen 1930. Houbara Bustard breeds here and over-winters. Sakers Falcon is passage migrant.

      • At-Tubayq - Nature Reserve

        Raised sandstone platform. Very rough ground

        Nubian ibex live here. One of last sites for Arabian Ostrich. Golden Eagle; courser; Long-legged Buzzard

      • Jabal al-Jawz

        Near Tabuk. Mountains over 2,000 metres.

        Includes Jabal Fayhan, tallest mt. in northern Arabia. Only site for the Chukar. Egyptian Vulture

      • Jabal Aja and northern Hail - Managed and protected area

        Granitic mountains, sandstone hills, and semi-desert area. Remarkably green with flowering plants in spring. Pivot irrigation in some areas.

        An important site for Demoiselle Crane on migration. Egyptian Vultures; Griffon Vultures; Sand Partridge; Yellow-vented Bulbul; many raptors, impressive spring migration swifts, larks, wheatears.

      • Gulf Coral Islands - Managed and protected area

        Harqus, Karan, Kurayn, Jana and Jurayd, all are low-lying coral cays. Arabian Gulf

        Important for large populations of breeding terns, including Swift; Lesser-crested; Bridled and White-cheeked. Also Socotra Cormorants on Kurayn. Important Gulf nesting beaches for turtles.

      • Abu Ali

        Low-lying islands and causeway forming peninsula north-east of Jubail. Arabian Gulf

        Many terns, including Sandwich, Lesser-crested, White-cheeked, and Saunder's Little Tern. Wintering Great Cormorants. Breeding Kentish Plovers. Resting site for migrants.

      • Al-Wajh Bank

        Islands off Al-Wajh and Umm Lajj. Red Sea

        Breeding Sooty Falcons, Crab Plovers, Sooty Gulls, White-eyed Gull. Also terns, Ospreys, turtles and dugongs.

      • Al Ha'ir - Special Nature Reserve

        Man-made river of treated effluent near Riyadh - in desert and rocky landscape.

        Major bird sanctuary. Important species include Marbled Teal, Imperial Eagle, Lesser Kestrel, Night Heron, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Ferruginous Duck and Black-winged Stilt.

      • Hima al-Fiqrah - Traditional protected area

        Accessible mountain west of Al-Madinah. Juniper forest. Lichens and ferns. Bee-keeping area.

        Leopard, wolf and ibex occur here. Impressive wildlife area. Long-legged Buzzard, Bonnelli's Eagle, Pallid Swift and many other species.

      • Madinat Yanbu al-Sinaiyah

        Mangrove-fringed coastline south of Yanbu al-Bahr.

        Typical mangrove fauna. Birds include Little Bittern, Night Heron, Osprey, Terek Sandpiper, Goliath Heron and Crab Plover.

      • Hawtat Bani Tamim - Special Nature Reserve (90,000 hectares)

        Ibex reserve established by NCWCD 200kms south of Riyadh. Part of Tuwaiq escarpment. Camping and wildlife viewing encouraged.

        Houbara Bustard occ. visitor. Griffon Vulture, Sand Partridge, Yellow-vented bulbul, Hypocolius, Upchers warbler, Desert Lesser Whitethroat and others.

      • Mahazat as-Sayd - Special Nature Reserve

        Fenced, protected area established by NCWCD 175 km NE of Taif. Dramatic results achieved by keeping out camels, goats, allowing natural vegetation to flourish.

        Sand cat, Rueppell's fox, reintroduced oryx, gazelle, Houbara Bustard. Many breeding desert larks. 115 birds recorded here. Lesser Kestrel, Corncrake, Egyptian Vulture, Griffon Vulture and many other birds.

      • Taif Escarpment

        Stretching for 40 kms and roughly 10 kms wide a steep granitic rock face rising 500 m above the Tihama plain and rising to 2600 m at Jabal Daka and Jabal Barad: the 'Cold Mountain'.

        Includes only place in Arabia where African and Mediterranean junipers overlap. Birds include Philby's Grouse and Tristram's Grackle.

      • Wadi Turabah and Jabal Ibrahim

        150 kms south-east of Taif. Granitic mountain rising 1000 m above surrounding hills. Woodland in places. Junipiper, fig, ziziphus and acacia trees.

        Hamadryas baboons. Bird fauna includes some African species as well as typically SW Arabian forms.

      • Umm al-Qamari - Special Nature Reserve

        Fossil coral islands SW of Qunfudah.

        White-eyed Gulls. Cattle Egret, Osprey, pelican and others.

      • Raydah Escarpment - Special Nature Reserve

        Approx 15 kms west of Abha. Precipitous rock face and steep slope. Juniperus excelsa forest. Moist and often in clouds.

        Noted in Important Bird Areas in the Middle East (IBAME)as : "Possibly the most compact site in Saudi Arabia for south-west Arabian endemic, and other woodland species." Hamadryas baboon, caracal lynx and wolf.

      • Malaki Dam - Jizan

        Artificial lake in SW Saudi Arabia.

        "...one of the highest diversities of breeding birds in Arabia" (IBAME) with various Afro-tropical species."

      • Wadi Jawwah

        Runs through foothills east of Abu Arish.

        "The wadi has one of the highest diversities of breeding species known in the country". (IBAME).

      • Farasan Islands - Special Nature Reserve

        Lying approximately 40kms out from Jizan. Group of Islands.

        Farasan gazelle. Seabird breeding colonies. Turtles. Fish and shrimp breeding. Mangrove areas.


    • Flowers of south-western Saudi Arabia


      • The lowland Tihama is drier and relatively poorer in vegetation compared to the Sarawat Mountains, which typically rise to an escarpment rim elevation of 2500 m. These impressive mountains run parallel to the Red Sea and the west-facing escarpment is situated approximately 50-100 km from the coast, from which it is separated by the lowland plains and hills of the coastal Tihama.

      • Most of the Tihama flowers are found on drought-resistant woody shrubs and small trees. Many of these woody plants have quite small and waxy leaves and relatively tiny flowers, both intended to minimize the desiccation effects of strong sunlight. Beautiful flower displays can be seen when there has been enough rainfall over the winter months.

      • To discourage grazing animals from browsing their foliage, the surviving dominant plants have developed two principal types of defense - physical and chemical. Physical defense is typified by the lethal-looking thorns of the acacia family of trees. Nonetheless, camels can often be seen grazing acacias, with apparent impunity. Chemical defense against grazing occurs in those plants that contain substances which are toxic to animals. The milkweed shrub (Calotropis procera) and the bottle tree (Adenium obesum) are two good examples. The milkweed is common throughout the region and is so-named as its leaves ooze a milky sap when cut.

      • The spectacular bottle-tree is found especially in the southern foothills of the Tihama. Classed as a succulent, these plants are unmistakable from their enormous trunks. The bottle-tree reaches a height of up to 4 m with a bulbous trunk measuring approximately a meter in diameter. The single pink flowers produce a lovely delicate display and form a favored food source for nectar-drinking Shining and Nile Valley Sunbirds.

      • The most attractive flowers in the Tihama are found on the Delonix elata tree. These trees are often located on boulder outcrops, where more water can be trapped. Their gorgeous creamy flowers turn yellow with age and have a long flowering period in the spring months January-April. In years of lower rainfall the trees do not flower.

      • Abutilon muticus is a widespread shrub which has lovely apricot-yellow flowers with deep crimson centers. These open from the late afternoon into the evening, thus minimizing water-loss and providing valuable nectar for nocturnal moths.

      • Carulluma russeliana, a succulent with unusual looking deep purple flowers, occurs in the Tihama foothills close to the escarpment. Some euphorbia species are spiny succulents, which are very similar in appearance to the cacti of the Americas. Euphorbia has a white latex-type sap, which can be very poisonous and is also capable of causing temporary blindness. Large euphorbia is often found in the wadis and foothills of the southern Tihama.

      • Moving up into the mountains, herbaceous flowering plants can be found, which are closely related to more temperate species. Geranium ocellatum has beautiful magenta flowers, usually found in late January and into February. The plant occurs on the escarpment slope and close to the rim in damper, rocky clefts which are kept moist by the fairly regular rainfall on the escarpment. Voracious herds of goats have overgrazed many areas, so the herbaceous wild flowers are now often restricted to less accessible locations.

      • Beautiful asphodels, such as Asphodelus aestivus, can be locally abundant close to the escarpment rim. The terraced fields characteristic of these mountains are rewarding places to look for these striking plants, which are members of the lily family.

      • Pterocephalus pulverulentus is another attractive herb, related to the scabrous which flourishes in the mountains within the open woodlands of juniper trees. The bladder dock (Rumex versicarius) is a small herb with attractive red flowers which can often be seen in roadside cuttings. Bedouin eat its leaves in salads.

      • As in the Tihama, woody shrubs are also widespread in the mountains. Euryops arabiscus is a lovely yellow-flowered shrublet which has an extended flowering period covering most of the year. There are also attractive purple lavenders, such as Lavandula dentata, which produce luxuriant flower displays in spring time. In May, Rosa abyssinica can produce an attractive splash of white flowers along the edges of terraced fields.


    • Environmental Issues

      The Arabian Gulf oil industry has polluted the gulf for decades through unintentional oil spillage—from tanker accidents and pipeline leaks—and through dumping of oil-processing waste. Spilled oil and dumped waste have ruined bird habitats on the Saudi Arabian coast and killed countless fish and marine mammals. The situation worsened dramatically during the 1991 Arabian Gulf War, when the Iraqi assault on Kuwait resulted in the release of 910 million liters (240 million gallons) of oil into the gulf. Kuwaiti oil wells set ablaze in the war also caused severe air pollution in Saudi Arabia. Beyond pollution caused by the oil industry, Saudi Arabia’s rapidly growing population has outpaced the provision of sewage services, resulting in the contamination of underground water near urban areas. The country has made some efforts to protect native species and preserve habitats. There is an extensive system of protected areas, including a national park and a number of nature reserves. Some protection has also been extended to sensitive marine habitats off the coasts.

      Saudi Arabia participates in international environmental agreements pertaining to climate change, hazardous wastes, and ozone layer protection. Regionally, the country has committed itself to the cooperative protection of shared marine environments in the Arabian Gulf, Red Sea, and Gulf of Aden.
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  • Natural Regions
    Climate
    Physical Features
    Natural Resources
    Environment