Disaster prediction in the Arabian Gulf could help UAE ocean industries

The Arabian Gulf provides the UAE with food, water and income from oil, so it is important to safeguard against disasters such as red tide and oil spills that may affect these industries.

A picture taken from an aquaplane shows the increase of the red tide phenoma in Dubai in 2009.
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The UAE’s history is intertwined with that of the Arabian Gulf. It provides the country’s food, livelihood and access to trade.

In the modern age, the Gulf provides most of the UAE’s water through desalination, while also being a source of seafood and recreation. Its importance can hardly be understated.

But the high marine traffic that comes with it exposes the UAE’s vulnerable coastal resources to several hazards.

In 2008, for instance, a major red tide bloom significantly affected the region and disturbed the desalination on which the country relies for its drinking water.

Red tides happen when colonies of algae grow out of control, producing toxins harmful to people, fish, shellfish, marine mammals and birds. Fishing, swimming and desalination all must be halted until the seas clear.

The Arabian Gulf also faces a high risk of oilspills from tankers, offshore platforms and submerged pipelines. Leaks also hit the desalination and fishing industries.

It is important to monitor water quality in the Arabian Gulf so that scientists can quickly detect and even forecast red-tide outbreaks and other hazards along the UAE’s coastline.

Local ship-based observations of water quality are not enough.

The Masdar Institute is leading research that combines high-resolution satellite data with 3D models of ocean currents to monitor and ultimately forecast water quality in the Arabian Gulf, in real time.

This way, we aim to monitor and forecast coastal hazards with enough accuracy – and far enough ahead – to be able to give operators and managers of coastal facilities the advance warning they need to plan and prepare for those potential threats.

Not only that, we aim to help develop emergency and contingency plans that allow such facilities to recover more quickly after such disasters.

The result, we hope, will be enormous savings from reduced loss of productivity in affected sectors and a lowered risk to human health.

The authors are faculty members in the Institute Centre for Water and Environment and the chemical and environmental engineering department at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology.