Earthshots: Satellite images of environmental change – Riyadh, Saudi Arabia




Earthshots introduces remote sensing by showing examples of how environmental changes look from space.

The modernization of Saudi Arabia has been a recent and rapid phenomenon. Here we see two aspects of this transformation: explosive urbanization and center-pivot irrigation. Both are visible in and near Riyadh from 1972 to 2013.

The growth of Riyadh, the national capital, is dramatic between 1972 and 2013. Its population grew in these years from about a half million to over 5 million. Saudi Arabia experienced urbanization later than many other countries; in the early 1970s, its urban-rural ratio was still about 1:3. By 1990, that had reversed to about 3:1. The cities grew through in-migration from rural areas and from decreases in the death rate while the birth rate remained high. In the mid-1970s, Riyadh’s population was increasing by about 10 percent a year.

The dark red squiggly line that winds through the western part of Riyadh is called the Wadi Hanifa, or the Hanifa Valley. This natural water course drains an area of over 4,000 square kilometers. Riyadh has been working to maintain the Wadi Hanifa as an environmental, recreational, and tourism resource.

Located about 35 kilometers north of Riyadh, King Khalid International Airport opened in 1983, so it only appears in the images after that date. The two parallel runways are each 4,200 meters long. The airport occupies about 225 square kilometers.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type Dataset
Publication Subtype Website
Title Earthshots: Satellite images of environmental change – Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Year Published 2013
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s) Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center
Description HTML Document
Country Saudi Arabia
City Riyadh
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N