Egypt: Groundwater Exploration in the Sahara Desert

Principal Investigators

United States

Dr. Farouk El-Baz
Center for Remote Sensing
Boston University
725 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215

Dr. Ted A. Maxwell
National Air and Space Museum
Smithsonian Institution
Washington, D.C. 20560


Dr. Ibrahim Hassan Himida & Dr. Samy Soliman Mohammed
Desert Research Center
1 Mathaf El-Matarya Street
Matarya, Cairo, Egypt

Sponsors: USDA/OICD (United States Department of Agriculture Office of International Cooperation and Development) and NARP (National Agriculture Research Project), Ministry of Agriculture, Cairo, Egypt

Duration: July 1992-December 1994

Project Summary

Sinai PeninsulaEgypt’s desert regions have hosted many humid phases throughout the past 300,000 years. Surface water was channeled by drainage patterns, some of which are now exposed, and others are covered by eolian sand. The mapping of these drainage patterns is essential to the evaluation of the groundwater potential of these regions. Furthermore, the relationship between drainage lines and fracture patterns is important to evaluating the potential concentration of water in fracture zone aquifers.

This project utilized the best available satellite image data from SPOT and some Landsat TM data in mapping the drainage and structures in Egypt’s deserts. This was followed by manipulation of the data using a geographic information system (GIS) methodology to make it useful in plans for the exploitation of groundwater resources for desert reclamation projects. This was a rather timely research because the annual and five-year plans of the Ministry of Agriculture included reclamation projects, particularly in the Sinai and the Western Deserts of Egypt.

The research was jointly conducted by experts from the Desert Research Center of the Ministry of Agriculture in Egypt and Boston University’s Center for Remote Sensing. The scientists from Egypt were responsible for mapping and field data collection, while Boston University’s experts focused on remote sensing and GIS work. The project was conducted in an interdisciplinary manner in order to assure mutual benefits for both parties involved.

Project’s Accomplishments

The research program on remote sensing aids to groundwater exploration in Egypt’s deserts resulted in a number of definable accomplishments that are directly related to finding ground water at specific sites, with direct application for agricultural use. Ten sites were recommended for more detailed analysis and eventual drilling in the northern Sinai, and nine sites in southern Sinai. The southern part of the Eastern Desert showed strong structural control on drainage development, and therefore offers high potential for large ground water reserves in fracture reservoirs. Parts of the Western Desert should be developed utilizing recently discovered groundwater in large buried stream channels, and by initiating an irrigation project west of Lake Nasser.