Environmental Earth Sciences

, Volume 69, Issue 2, pp 537–555 | Cite as

Surface and subsurface conceptual model of an arid environment with respect to mid- and late Holocene climate changes

  • I. EngelhardtEmail author
  • R. Rausch
  • B. Keim
  • M. Al-Saud
  • C. Schüth
Special Issue


The water demand in arid regions is commonly covered by groundwater resources that date back to more humid periods of the Pleistocene and Holocene. Within the investigated arid part of SE Saudi-Arabia information about climate, groundwater levels, and pumping rates are only available for regions where groundwater extractions occur at present-day. For the prediction of the impact of long-term climate changes on groundwater resources an understanding of the hydrogeological and hydrological past and the development of the aquifers is necessary. Therefore, all available information about hydrology and hydrogeology for the past 10,000 years BP were collected and compiled to a conceptual model of the aquifer development on the Arabian Peninsula since the last Ice-Age. The climatic history was displayed by changes in precipitation, temperature and recharge during the mid-S and late Holocene. The hydrogeological development is described by groundwater ages, sea level fluctuations, movement of the coastline, and the development of sabkhas. The most sensitive parameter to describe the development of aquifer system is recharge. Present-day recharge was calculated with the hydrological model system HEC-HMS accounting for current precipitation, temperature, wind, soil types, and geomorphology. With respect to changes in precipitation and temperature over the past 10,000 years the temporal and spatial variability of groundwater recharge was calculated using empirical equations valid for semi-arid and arid settings. Further inflow into the groundwater system results from surface water infiltration in wadi beds, while natural outflow from the groundwater system occurs by discharge to the Gulf, evaporation from sabkhas, and spring discharge. Backward predictions can be verified by sedimentological observations of palaeo-river systems and lakes indicating that groundwater levels reached temporarily the surface under wetter climate conditions and 14C groundwater ages displaying groundwater residence times.


Hydrological model Climatic change Groundwater recharge Groundwater resources Arid hydrology Arabian Peninsular 



Our investigations benefited notably from the scientific discussions with Henning Prommer (CSIRO) and Martin Kastowski (TU Darmstadt). Thanks go to the GiZ-IS (Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit International Services), Saudi-Arabia, and the Ministry of Water and electricity, Saudi-Arabia, that provided the huge amount of field and lab data. The work was founded by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) within the IWAS (Internationale Wasser Allianz Sachsen) project.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • I. Engelhardt
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • R. Rausch
    • 3
  • B. Keim
    • 4
  • M. Al-Saud
    • 5
  • C. Schüth
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Applied Geosciences, Technical University of DarmstadtDarmstadtGermany
  2. 2.Agrosphere (IBG-3), Institute of Bio- and GeosciencesForschungszentrum JülichGermany
  3. 3.Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit International Services (GiZ-IS)JeddahSaudi-Arabia
  4. 4.Ingenieurgesellschaft Prof. Kobus und Partner GmbHStuttgartGermany
  5. 5.Ministry of Water and ElektricityRiyadhSaudi-Arabia

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