Geological mapping in the United Arab Emirates

Aeolian eroded formation

Geological mapping programme for Dubai.

Fossil bone from the Miocene Baynunah formation.

BGS is currently working on a major international project for the United Arab Emirates Government, creating high quality geological maps of the country. The fieldwork is focused on the western United Arab Emirates between Dubai, Al Ain and the Saudi border, including all of Abu Dhabi.

The survey is part of a wider UAE Ministry of Energy funded project which aims to look at the hard rock mineral resources such as limestone, gabbro and platinum group minerals.

The Geological Mappers video |

Geological Mappers

Mapping for success with BGS•SIGMA mobile

The geologists are mapping dune morphology and other quaternary deposits using BGS·SIGMAmobile.

Each member of the 6-person field team is equipped with a rugged tablet PC with built-in GPS. The kit is running BGS software that is used to record the geological information onto a backdrop of satellite imagery. The system is also a handy navigation aid when driving in areas where there are no roads!

This data will be used to inform developers, planners and engineers about the ground conditions in the region, as well as aiding mineral resource planning.

The UAE is host to many major civil engineering projects such as Burj Khalifa (the worlds tallest building), the Palm Island projects, Abu Dhabi metro and the proposed Gulf Railway, so engineers and planners need to understand risk posed by geological hazards such as gypsum dissolution and liquefaction.

The geology is surprisingly varied, with evidence for fossil sand dunes and ancient wadi systems in the Quaternary, as well as evidence of ancient seas and major rivers flowing through Abu Dhabi around 4–6 million years ago. The mapping involves working in many varied terrains including the famous coastal sabkhas, wadi systems, the sand seas of the ‘Empty Quarter’ and the mega-dunes of the Liwa Oasis. This is challenging terrain and requires extensive off-road driving over some of the largest sand dunes in the world.


The UAE Ministry of Energy is part of a federal Government made up of seven Emirates; Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Fujairah, Ajman, Umn al Qiwen and Ras al Khaimah.

This is the second BGS mapping contract in the UAE; the first contract (which finished in 2005) mapped the Hajar mountains in the east of the country, including the UAE-Oman ophiolites, the Musendam peninsula carbonates and the Quaternary deposits along the mountain front.

The present mapping is being undertaken at 1:50 000 scale and will be printed at 1:100 000 scale, with publication due in 2012.

For further information and pricing of the 2002–2006 project maps and reports see


In addition to the mapping work, BGS scientists are also collaborating with academic partners to investigate certain aspects of the geology. In particular, we are investigating detailed sections of alluvial fan sediments with colleagues from Oxford Brookes University.

This work will provide a good record of Quaternary climate change over the last 200 000 years and help archaeologists understand the impacts of climate change on human populations through time.


Contact Andrew Farrant for further information.