Environmental Earth Sciences

, Volume 69, Issue 2, pp 557–570 | Cite as

Impact of Preboreal to Subatlantic shifts in climate on groundwater resources on the Arabian Peninsula

  • I. EngelhardtEmail author
  • R. Rausch
  • U. Lang
  • M. Al-Saud
  • C. Schüth
Special Issue


A large-scale numerical flow and transport model was developed for the central-eastern arid part of the Arabian Peninsula. The model was applied to a region with freshwater resources dating back to more humid periods of the past, which are faced with overexploitation today. Model inflow was based on infiltration around wadi beds and groundwater recharge. Inflow was balanced by natural outflows, such as evaporation from sabkhas, spring discharge, and discharge to the sea. Two models were developed: (1) a short-term present-day model to estimate effective model parameters, and (2) a long-term model to study the development of the groundwater resources during the Mid- and Late Holocene and the natural response of the groundwater system to changes in climate. Hydraulic model parameters (hydraulic conductivity and specific storage) were assigned with respect to geological structures. Hydraulic parameters were estimated with an inverse PEST model by calibrating against observed depression cones cause by groundwater abstraction. Sensitivity analysis demonstrated that estimated model parameters were associated with a high uncertainty at a certain distance from agricultural areas when calibration data were lacking. A long-term model starting 10,000 years BP was calibrated by spring discharge and palaeo-groundwater levels and validated using measured 14C groundwater ages. The long-model predicted that groundwater levels adapted in response to changes in precipitation. During the Mid-Holocene, which was characterized by an intensification of the monsoon season, groundwater levels increased by 10 m on the mainland within the shallow aquifers and adapted quickly to higher recharge rates. The deeper aquifers were less affected by changes in climate. Along the present-day coastline, the groundwater level rose by about 25 m due to the declined sea level in the Mid-Holocene. During this period, surface run-off was possible as groundwater levels temporarily reached the ground surface. The natural groundwater budget reacted sensitively to changes in climate. Between 10 and 3 ka, groundwater storage occurred. During the Late Holocene, at 3 ka, natural depletion of the groundwater system began, which still prevails today.


Groundwater resources Climatic change Sensitivity analysis Upper Mega Aquifer System Arabian Peninsula 



Our investigations benefited notably from scientific discussions with Henning Prommer (CSIRO, Australia). Many thanks go to Martin Kastowski for his support using the Geographic Information System and to the Language Services of Forschungszentrum Jülich (Germany), where a native-English speaker carefully checked the language and grammar of the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • I. Engelhardt
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • R. Rausch
    • 3
  • U. Lang
    • 4
  • M. Al-Saud
    • 5
  • C. Schüth
    • 1
  1. 1.Technical University of DarmstadtInstitute of Applied GeosciencesDarmstadtGermany
  2. 2.Agrosphere (IBG-3), Institute of Bio- and Geosciences, Forschungszentrum JülichJülichGermany
  3. 3.Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit International Services (GIZ-IS)RiyadhSaudi-Arabia
  4. 4.Ingenieurgesellschaft Prof. Kobus und Partner GmbHStuttgartGermany
  5. 5.Ministry of Water and ElectricityRiyadhSaudi-Arabia

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