Satellite Images Show One Of The Driest Places On Earth Transformed Into An Oasis Of Lakes


Tom Hale


Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

Senior Journalist

After the downpour. Taken on May 29, 2018. NASA/Landsat 8/Operational Land Imager

This area was one of the driest places on Earth. However, after an unreasonably harsh cyclone, this bone-scorchingly dry sand desert has had a revamp.

After Tropical Cyclone Mekunu passed over the region last month, the Rub’ al-Khali desert of the Arabian Peninsula transformed into an oasis of lakes, a rare phenomenon that has not been seen in 20 years.


The first image was acquired on May 13 by NASA’s Landsat 8 satellite. The second image was taken on May 29, following the deluge of Tropical Cyclone Mekunu, which reached peak intensity on May 25. Salalah, a city in Oman found south of this image, reportedly received 27.8 centimeters (11 inches) of rain over 24 hours between May 25-26.

The water was deposited in this unusual way due to the desert’s pattern of sand dunes. In particular, the elongated linear shapes are most likely forged by the desert’s wind carving channels and forming mounds of sand.

The "before" shot taken on May 13, 2018. NASA/Landsat 8/Operational Land Imager

Bear in mind, all of these images use false colors to make it easier to distinguish between different features, such as the different types of rock and soil. Still, as you can see in the tweet below, the effect looks just as impressive on foot as it does from low-Earth orbit. 

Rub' al Khali translates from Arabic as "Quarter of Emptiness”. This area spans some 650,000 square kilometers (250,000 square miles) across Saudi Arabia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. It’s the world’s largest contiguous sand desert and one of the driest places on Earth.


All of this is pretty good news for the area’s camels too. Overall, this deluge is expected to help the area. So, fingers crossed, there could be some even more incredible images coming out of the Rub’ al-Khali desert very shortly.  

“The land will need 30 days to sprout their summer plants. and people expect to feed their camels on them for the coming two years,” Ali Al-Hatish, a regular visitor of the desert, told Al Arabiya

On the other hand, the cyclone created more than its fair share of chaos. Towards the end of May, The Red Cross reported that seven people had died and many people were missing due to the cyclone. Towns in its wake were also subject to massive flash flooding and downed power lines.


[H/T: NASA Earth Observatory]


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  • environment,

  • rainfall,

  • landscape,

  • desert,

  • satellite images,

  • arabia,

  • Cyclone,

  • oasis