Can Abu Dhabi's palm trees help combat climate change?

UAE University study to help determine the environmental effects of date palms

United Arab Emirates - Abu Dhabi - July 1st, 2010:  Palm tree caretakers take advantage of the early morning for the cool temperatures.  (Galen Clarke/The National) for istabsir
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Researchers at UAE University are using satellite imagery to determine how much carbon is sequestered in the emirate’s date palms.

Planting trees has long been seen as a way to counteract the effects of deforestation in other parts of the world or to improve the climate. The practice was spearheaded by Sheikh Zayed, the Founding Father, in the 1970s in a bid to improve liveability.

“This space technology contributes to helping decision makers find out how to balance carbon emissions through planting more date palm trees,” said Salem Issa, the project’s principal investigator.

"We found a lot – date palm trees in the UAE can capture up to 15.8 tonnes of carbon emissions per hectare per year. The tree is a sacred one in the country, it is actually used as part of the country's heritage and culture, and it can also contribute to the reduction and sequestration of carbon."

The UAE has more than 40 million date palms, with more than 15 million in Abu Dhabi alone.

An image from the Itihad archive. Courtesy Al Itihad.
Abu Dhabi, UAE. Sheikh Zayed and agriculture.
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The study will help determine the environmental effectsof date-palm plantations, which are credited with fighting desertification but deplete Abu Dhabi's ancient aquifers or are reliant on energy-intensive desalinated water. Agriculture and forestry account for three quarters of water consumption in Abu Dhabi.

The project began in 2017 and will be complete by early 2020.

Advances in space-related technology will have benefits on policy at the local level, said Dr Issa, an associate professor of remote sensing and geographical information systems at UAE University.

“They are comprehensive, wide-range-covering tools," he said.

“We can scan the whole country in one image, and we can finish it in four to five months instead of four to five years. In the next step, we are moving towards introducing and using multi-scale, multi-sensor and multi-resolution imagery to be able to go more in detail.”