Imagine a snapshot taken by an average digital camera. Now imagine 55,000 of them stitched together.
That's the image that researchers from the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi will soon have of the emirate in a quest to get the most definitive tally of exactly what can be found here.
The picture is the result of the latest generation of satellite imaging, which from a low-earth orbit can detect objects as small as 50cm on the ground 770km below.
For people like Anil Kumar, director of the environment information management division at the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD), the commissioning of the imagery is part of a campaign to create a baseline of the emirate's natural history to resolve some basic but unanswered questions of exactly what is here.
Among the uses for the baseline information gathered will be to greatly expand the existing environmental database to reflect things like land use, environmental health, climate change, biodiversity, water resources, air quality and pollution.
"It's kind of a dream to have this project. With the growth and development happening in Abu Dhabi, the need to have the information has always been quite pressing," he said.
"The EAD is responsible for the environment but we have these requests [about Abu Dhabi emirate] and we often were in the position of having to say 'Sorry, we don't have this'."
The UAE was first captured on satellite when the country was less than a year old, thanks to Landsat, an American programme that piggybacked on the technology developed for the space race.
The EAD has those 1972 Landsat images of the newborn nation available for download on its website, but the resolution is thousands of times lower than the precision of the satellites orbiting today. Each pixel captured on Landsat 1 covered an area of 57 metres by 79 metres, compared to smaller than 50cm by 50cm today.
The baseline survey of Abu Dhabi emirate is one of the headline projects that prompted the decision to commission the satellite imagery. But although the high resolution of the modern satellites is a boon, Kumar said it only provides part of the information the EAD will need.
"We will be doing ground truthing at 387 terrestrial and 50 marine sites," he said.
The EAD has broken the emirate into about 2,500 grids of 5km squares and starting to visit each of them to find out exactly what species of animal and plant life are present.
Pritpal Soorae, the manager of the field survey component of the baseline survey project, said the EAD had only just begun, choosing grids in the Sila peninsula, Bayunah and Liwa Crescent.
"It's slow progress but eventually we'll cover the most important areas, which are being prioritised," he said.
The EAD researchers are assessing each grid for five taxa: invertebrates, reptiles, birds, mammals and plants. With such a large amount of ground to cover, the aim of the survey is to be indicative rather than definitive, involving visiting only the most likely sites from each 25 square kilometre grid.
All this is why he and Soorae were in the auditorium of the Abu Dhabi Women's College last week, seeking to spread involvement in the survey to include UAE residents who are amateur naturalists.
They were invited by the Abu Dhabi branch of the Emirates Natural History Group (ENHG), which is keen to contribute the skills of its members to aid in survey. One particular benefit is that the group often had longitudinal experience of sites in the emirate, so they can attest to whether the type and frequency wildlife was increasing or decreasing.
The architect of the baseline survey, Richard Perry, is the EAD's executive director for environmental information, science and outreach and also a long-standing member of the ENHG.
Soorae said the baseline survey could only be a rough indication of what is present.
"The way the project has been organised, it's just a snapshot," he said.
Kumar said the nature of the baseline project reflected the EAD's resources for the project.
"Due to financial constraints, we have to do a rapid assessment, based on presence/absence," he added.
"We'd love to have people involved in this. A 5km-square grid is 25 square kilometres. How long it takes depends on the area and how accessible it is. For some, it takes six or seven visits. For others, it's two or three."
Soorae said one of the ways the EAD can help the ENHG members conduct their research is through training and lending equipment.
"The EAD can assist by lending infrared cameras and Sherman rodent traps. We have cameras scattered all over Abu Dhabi," he said.
The infrared cameras detect movement at night and take a flash photograph of whatever has triggered them. They can be left in place for up to three months in the cooler months on a single set of batteries, although the batteries do not last as long when it gets warmer.
The rodent traps require more intensive work because the heat of the day requires them to be checked at dawn.
"We set it in the evening and we have to check it at first light. If we leave it too long, we end up cooking the rodent," Kumar said.
"The rodent can be safely transferred to a Ziploc bag for identification and then released. They're in the bag for less than 30 seconds."
Keith Taylor, the ENHG's field trip organiser, said a regular factor of their trips was to spend a few hours in a site seeing what species were present and asked if that would be helpful to the EAD's survey.
Soorae replied: "That's exactly what we're looking for."
One of the citizen scientists eager to help the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi is Claudia Steuber, who has been living in the UAE with her family for seven years.
She said she has her favourite spot in the desert off the Al Ain truck road which she has visited dozens of times, providing a longitudinal experience which will help show whether the amount of wildlife in the area was increasing or decreasing.
"It's not a popular place. It's just a small place in the desert that's easy to get to. You don't need four wheel drive. We like to go there whenever we can," she said.
"We go probably 10 times a year and I always record what I see.
"I'm feeling that there is now much more wildlife than there was before. I don't know why.
I went there in May and there were plenty of hares.
"When I was there last year I saw a gazelle. It was the first time we'd seen a live gazelle there, although we had seen a dead one before. I think for me, it's more an increase in mammals."
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