Geotechnical Hazards Associated with Desert Environment

  • Shehata W
  • Amin A
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Abstract

The aridity of the Arabian Peninsula's deserts ranges between arid to hyperarid with hot dry climate, scarce precipitation and sparse vegetation. These harsh environmental conditions enhance some geomorphologic processes more than others, cause specific geotechnical problems, and increase desertification. From west to east, the general physiography of Saudi Arabia shows the Red Sea coastal plains and the escarpment foothills called Tihama followed by the Arabian Shield mountains, the Arabian Shelf plateau and finally the Arabian Gulf coastal plains. Sand moves by wind either as drifting sand or migrating dunes in four major sand seas, over the Arabian Shelf, and in the inter-mountain valleys, in the Arabian Shield causing problems of erosion and deposition. Human activities in the deserts may cause more instability to the sand bodies, enlarging the magnitude of the problem. Fine silty soil particles also move by wind, depositing loess mainly in selected areas downwind in the Tihama. These loess deposits subside and may form earth fissures by the process of hydrocompaction upon wetting. The addition of water can be either natural through storms or man-made through human agricultural or civil activities. Extensive sabkhas exist along the coastal plains of both the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf. The sabkha soil may also heave by salt re-crystallization or collapse by wetting. The shallow groundwater brines present in sabkhas also attack and corrode civil structures. Urbanization and excessive groundwater pumping may also deplete the fresh groundwater resources and may cause subsidence, ground fissuring and surface faulting as observed in some locations in the Arabian Shield. Although the average annual precipitation is very low, rain usually falls in the form of torrential storms, collected by dry valley basins and causing floods to unprotected downstream areas on the coastal plains of the Red Sea. The desert environment, being a fragile echo system, needs to be treated with care. Intercommu-nications between different national and international agencies and education of the layman should help to keep the system balanced and reduce the resulting environmental hazards. In addition, any suggested remedial measures should be planned with nature and engineered with natural materials.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Arid
  • Deposition
  • Desert
  • Dune movement
  • Erosion
  • Floods
  • Geotechnical hazards
  • Groundwater withdrawal
  • Hydrocompaction
  • Hydroconsolidation
  • Loess
  • Physiography
  • Sabkha
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Subsidence

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Authors

  • W. M. Shehata

  • A. A. Amin

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