ABU DHABI // A two-year soil survey of the Northern Emirates has identified 28 soil types, with Ras Al Khaimah having some of the soils best suited to agriculture.
The Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi (EAD), in collaboration with the UAE Ministry of Environment and Water, recently released the results of the survey.
Funded by the Executive Council of Abu Dhabi, the survey will create a database of soil types that will aid in land-use planning and agricultural expansion in the Northern Emirates. Officials said the results would help farmers, planners and developers to better evaluate the potential of soil for agriculture and engineering purposes.
“Soils in the UAE are not just sand,” said Darryl Lew, executive director of the environment quality sector at EAD. “Many of the soils are suitable for agriculture, construction and aggregates.”
The survey covered Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah, which together make up 8.2 per cent of the country’s area. The survey analysed soil at 10,000 sites between 500 metres and 1,000 metres apart, up to a depth of 200 centimetres.
“Soil and water are critical resources and it is amplified today when we talk about food and water security,” Mr Lew said. “The soil survey of the Northern Emirates is a first very accurate and robust inventory of one of the leading natural resources.”
Information from the survey can be used by the farming community, decision makers, land-use planners, officials, engineers and environmental-impact assessors.
The area surveyed covered 401,283 hectares across the five emirates.
“We did not map mountain tops and urbanised areas,” Mr Lew said. “We mapped vegetation and found that 40 per cent of the Northern Emirates is covered in natural vegetation.”
The survey was completed using the norms and standards of the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, modified to fit the conditions of the Northern Emirates. The project also produced a soil map of the UAE by compiling results from this survey, the 2010 Abu Dhabi soil survey and the soil map of Dubai developed in 2003.
A total of 65,000 sites were classified and added to the database of results. Various thematic maps, such as irrigated suitability, soil salinity, current land use, land degradation and vegetation are also included.
“Our environment, being in an arid zone, faces many challenges,” said Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, secretary general of EAD.
“Of these, the degradation of our land and natural resources poses the biggest threat to a sustainable environment. Mitigating this threat requires knowledge of our soils.”
In total, 89 soil types were identified in Abu Dhabi and the Northern Emirates. About 13 per cent are suitable for irrigated agriculture, according to Dr Mahmoud Ali Abdelfattah, a scientist at the EAD and a member of the technical committee who worked on the survey.
The survey used geographic information systems, satellite image processing and field-mapping technology to produce a soil information system. It is internet-based and accessible via the EAD website www.ead.ae or the UAE Soil Information System www.uaesis.ae
UAE University, University of Sharjah and the International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture – as well as institutions from the US, Australia, New Zealand and Thailand – contributed to the survey.