NASA-Qatar OASIS Project Aims to Find Buried Water in Earth’s Deserts


Deserts just like the Sahara harbor recent water aquifers that may be affected by Earth’s altering local weather. The OASIS examine mission seeks to a set up a mission that may discover and look at these aquifers. Credit: NASA

Researchers will design a mission to find out about underground aquifers in areas such because the Sahara and the way local weather change will have an effect on them sooner or later.

Earth’s driest ecosystems are a examine in extremes: They will be blazingly sizzling stretches of sand just like the Sahara Desert or shatteringly chilly expanses of ice comparable to these in Greenland and Antarctica. These arid areas obtain little or no annual precipitation, and the consequences of local weather change in these ecosystems are poorly understood. A joint effort between NASA and the Qatar Foundation goals to deal with that — and, within the course of, assist communities which might be being impacted by these modifications.

Researchers with the Orbiting Arid Subsurfaces and Ice Sheet Sounder (OASIS) examine mission are designing a satellite tv for pc mission to probe the sand dunes and ice sheets of a few of Earth’s driest locations with radar know-how much like that utilized by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The mission’s main purpose can be to find and monitor underground sources of recent water referred to as aquifers. Many aquifers within the deserts of North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, amongst others, are being quickly depleted to assist the wants of native communities.

At the identical time, aquifers in coastal areas are being threatened by sea stage rise brought on by the melting of ice sheets in locations like Greenland. If the saltwater from rising seas contaminates the recent water in aquifers, it could have an effect on not solely ingesting water but additionally regional agriculture and meals safety. A secondary purpose of the mission is to realize a greater understanding of how melting ice sheets contribute to rising seas.


The OASIS mission seeks to check recent water aquifers within the desert in addition to ice sheets in locations like Greenland. This illustration reveals what a satellite tv for pc with a proposed radar instrument for the mission might appear like. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Under a reimbursable Space Act Agreement with NASA and the Qatar Foundation (QF) for Science, Education & Community Development — represented by Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU) and the Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute (QEERI) at HBKU — NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and QEERI will collectively formulate a mission idea examine for Qatar’s potential OASIS mission.

Searching the Desert

The mission seeks to place a satellite tv for pc in Earth orbit to map the distribution of shallow aquifers beneath the desert’s floor in North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Scientists plan to make use of the satellite tv for pc’s radar instrument to check how these aquifers originated and the way groundwater strikes beneath the deserts by means of a posh system of subsurface fractures that unfold out like a spiderweb between aquifers. Data collected within the course of would assist with aquifer administration.

“The scientific community is excited about this mission. OASIS would be the first spaceborne radar specifically designed to detect directly subsurface water on Earth,” stated James Graf, director for Earth Science and Technology at JPL in Southern California.

Project researchers additionally intend to check the topography of the land below ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica to find out such properties as ice sheet thickness and the pathways by which ice flows to the ocean. This info might feed into fashions of present and future ice sheet responses to local weather change, which might assist researchers higher perceive ice sheet contributions to sea stage rise.

“Warm and cold deserts are responding to climatic changes by expanding and shrinking, respectively,” stated Essam Heggy, the OASIS principal investigator and chief scientist and analysis program director of the Earth Science Program at QEERI. “Studying the forces driving these transformations will give us insight into the evolution of deserts on Earth.”

In a decadal survey figuring out Earth science areas of focus between 2017 and 2027, the National Academies of Sciences famous that gaining a greater understanding of those arid areas was one in all a number of priorities.

“The 2017 National Academies Decadal Survey for Earth Science and Applications from Space identified a need to understand aquifer dynamics and ice sheet contributions to sea level rise. The OASIS study project will explore a promising complementary observing approach that can contribute to our understanding about these two areas of Earth science research,” stated Gerald Bawden, NASA program scientist for the OASIS mission.

Signal Return

Led by Artur Chmielewski, the OASIS examine mission supervisor at JPL, and Heggy, the mission’s group will design a spaceborne mission that makes use of radar know-how much like that developed for MRO to discover beneath the Martian floor. The instrument into account for the OASIS mission, a 50 megahertz sounding radar, is predicted to see by means of as much as 1.eight miles (three kilometers) of ice and almost 330 toes (100 meters) of sand.

The radar sign is delicate to modifications within the electrical properties beneath Earth’s floor brought on by rocks, sediments, waterlogged soils, ice, swimming pools of water, and the like. Some of those substances soak up extra of the sign than others. Researchers have a look at how a lot of the sign bounces again to the instrument, in addition to how lengthy the sign takes to return, so as to develop an image of what a specific space appears like beneath the floor.

In a 2011 proof-of-concept mission, researchers flew a helicopter over two well-known freshwater aquifers beneath Kuwait’s deserts to make sure a radar sounding instrument might detect them. They performed a number of related flights over different deserts in Oman and Morocco. The OASIS examine mission will develop the scope of these preliminary efforts for a extra world image.

“Water security is becoming a global issue for an increasing number of countries around the globe and beyond the so-called arid regions,” stated Marc Vermeersch, the manager director of the Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute. “This project is pioneering the research in this field by providing Qatar — and the whole scientific community — an innovative tool that will bring key responses in the field, support the decision-making process in terms of water resources, and help identify pathways to secure access to water for populations. I am particularly glad and proud QEERI is teaming up with NASA for the sake of a better world, and for the advancement of science.”

Researchers and engineers on the OASIS examine mission will spend the subsequent two years formulating the mission idea.

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