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Location of the empty quarter in Arabia
Sand dunes in the Rub' al Khali
Typical pale gravel plains surrounded by huge sand dunes
Satellite image of sand dunes in the Empty Quarter

Coordinates: 20°N 50°E / 20°N 50°E / 20; 50

The Rub' al Khali (Arabic: الربع الخالي‎), which translates as Empty Quarter in English, is one of the largest sand deserts in the world,[citation needed] encompassing most of the southern third of the Arabian Peninsula, including southern Saudi Arabia, and areas of Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. The desert covers some 650,000 square kilometres (250,000 sq mi) (the area between long. 44°30′ −56°30′E., and lat. 16°30′ −23°00′N), more than the combined land areas of the Netherlands, Belgium, and France.

The desert is 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) long, and 500 kilometres (310 mi) wide, and is neither inhabited nor traversed by the Bedouins. After Pedro Páez's presence in the late Sixteenth Century, the first documented journeys by Westerners were made by Bertram Thomas in 1931 and St. John Philby in 1932. Between 1946 and 1950 Wilfred Thesiger crossed the area several times and mapped large parts including the mountains of Oman.

Summer temperatures of nearly 55 °C (131 °F) and dunes over 330 metres (1,080 ft) make Rub' al Khali a forbidding environment. Fauna includes arachnids and rodents while plants live throughout the Empty Quarter. As an ecoregion, it falls within the Arabian Desert and East Saharo-Arabian xeric shrublands.

Desertification has increased through the millennia. Before desertification made the caravan trails leading across the Rub' al Khali so difficult, the caravans of the frankincense trade crossed now virtually impassable stretches of wasteland, until about AD 300. Iram of the Pillars, a lost city, depended on such trade. More recently, tribal populations were also present in certain parts of the Empty Quarter, with the largest in the Najran region. A few road links were connected with these tribal settlements to the water resource and oil production centers.

Geologically, the Empty Quarter is the second most oil-rich place in the world.[citation needed] Vast oil reserves have been discovered underneath the sand dunes. Sheyba, in the middle of the desert, is a major Arab light crude oil-producing site in Saudi Arabia. Also, Ghawwar Field, the largest oil field in the world, extends southward into the northernmost parts of the Empty Quarter.

Contents

Recent excursions

A scientific excursion organized by the Saudi Geological Survey was led by a team of 89 environmentalists, geologists, and other scientists, from Saudi Arabia as well as experts from abroad on February 25, 2006, to explore the Empty Quarter. Various types of fossilized creatures as well as meteorites were discovered in the desert. The expedition also led to the discovery of 31 new plant species and plant varieties, as well as 24 species of birds that inhabit the region, which fascinated scientists as to how they have survived under the harsh conditions of the Empty Quarter. These findings led the geologists to nickname the area Rub' al-Ghali, or the Valuable Quarter.[citation needed]

In fiction

The Empty Quarter plays an important role in Clive Barker's Jericho, his Weaveworld, and in Tim Powers' Declare.

It also serves as the site of Machine City, Zero-One, in the Matrix series.

Gerald Seymour's novel Unknown Soldier is almost entirely set in the Rub' al Khali.

See also

External links

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