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Modeling and Mapping Sand Encroachment Risk
Blog #4

Modeling and Mapping Sand Encroachment Risk

Read time 10 mins
22 July 2020
By Dr. Naeema Al Hosani, Department of Geography and Urban Sustainability, Chair, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, United Arab Emirates University, Al Ain- UAE
Modeling and Mapping Sand Encroachment Risk 22 July 2020
Modeling and Mapping Sand Encroachment Risk as an Aid for Urban Planning in the United Arab Emirates (UAE)

Sand encroachment into urban areas represents a high risk factor for transportation infrastructure and urban development in the United Arab Emirates. The UAE is located in one of the world’s largest arid regions with a strong prevalence of sand movement and encroachment into urban areas, particularly in the last few years. The objective of this research is to develop a land surface process platform that models sand movements and further generates an encroachment risk index map of potential encroachment risk areas season-wise in the UAE. 

To achieve this objective, this research used elevation and land cover maps generated from Lands at 8 Operational Land Imager (OLI) data which represent the topography of the study area coupled with meteorological information on wind speed, temperature and precipitation. Furthermore, the study considered the vegetation cover as a major contribution factor to reduce sand encroachment. Using developed sand movement model for this research, sand encroachment risk maps were generated to help urban planners in cities making informed decisions of future urban protection structures and transportation networks that mitigate the effects of sand dunes encroachments in the UAE. A major finding of this research results conclude that during the summer season encroachment risk reaches 30% higher compared to the winter season due to the extremely high temperature, which leads to reduced vegetation in the country. Urban planning decision maker may consider the finding of this research for future infrastructural adjustments. ​​


In this study, we have developed sand movement models for the surfaces in UAE. This was produced according to the factors like wind speed, temperature, precipitation, vegetation and surface roughness of the study area to identify and produce the map i.e. high, medium, and low-risk sand movement areas. The significance of this study shows that during summer season UAE witnessed the high sand encroachment. About 30% of the total area is found high sand encroachment in the months of January, April, July, and October to reflect the four seasons of winter, spring, extreme summer, and warm summer respectively. The results of this research found that during the month of July when temperature is high and vegetation is reduced the risk index reaches its highest level of 30% higher compared to the risk during the winter season in January. This is due to the fact during such extremely high temperature, in the summer the study area is not suitable for any agricultural practices.

This proves that vegetation and season play a major role in sand encroachment in the areas studied. Thus, this work finding indicates to the urban planners to take proper decision for the aid of infrastructure growth. During the last few decades, there has been tremendous urban development in the UAE. For instance, in the building of major urban facilities, transportation networks and airports, such risk maps are vitally important and provide a powerful planning tool for urban planners and municipal plans. Through the incorporation of such information in the future planning processes, informed and accurate decisions can be taken to avoid high-risk sand encroachment areas. Such decision may consider the unique temporal and spatial variability in the study area. This research offers findings in connection to four climatic seasons in the study area. ​​

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