Geological mapping in the United Arab Emirates

Location of 1:50 000, 1:100 000, 1:250 000 geological maps

Outcrop of wind eroded dune sandstone (Ghayathi Formation)

BGS international work

The BGS has recently completed a major international project for the United Arab Emirates Government, to create high quality geological maps of the country.

The fieldwork was focused on the western United Arab Emirates (UAE) between Dubai, Al Ain and the Saudi border, including all of Abu Dhabi emirate.

The survey was part of a wider UAE Ministry of Energy funded project to look at the hard-rock mineral resources such as limestone, gabbro and platinum group minerals as well as undertaking geophysical surveys of the entire country.

Over 60 reports have been produced, including new geological memoirs, together with 45 geological maps covering the entire county at scales between 1:10 000 and 1:500 000 and a 45 minute film; plus a shorter video titled The Geological Mappers.

Mapping for success

A team of BGS geologists has spent over four years mapping the Miocene and Quaternary deposits of the central and western UAE.

The dune morphology and other quaternary deposits were mapped using BGS·SIGMAmobile technology. Each member of the 6-person field team was equipped with a rugged tablet PC with built-in GPS.

The kit runs BGS software that was used to record the geological information onto a backdrop of satellite imagery.

The system also proved to be a handy navigation aid when driving in areas where there are no roads!

Fossil bone from the Miocene Baynunah formation

Varied geology

The geology is surprisingly varied, with evidence for fossil sand dunes and ancient wadi systems during the Quaternary, as well as evidence of ancient seas and major rivers flowing through Abu Dhabi around 4–6 million years ago.

The mapping involved working in many varied terrains including the famous coastal sabkhas, offshore salt domes, wadi systems, the sand seas of the ‘Empty Quarter’ and the mega-dunes of the Liwa Oasis.

This is challenging terrain and required extensive off-road driving over some of the largest sand dunes in the world.

In addition to mapping the geology the work has thrown up many new insights into the Quaternary palaeoclimate and environment of this part of south-east Arabia, as well as the deep structure of the UAE.

Helping developers and mineral resource planning

The new geological maps and reports can 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 the Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building), the Palm Island projects, the Dubai and Abu Dhabi metro systems and the proposed gulf railway.

The maps and reports will help engineers design and build these major infrastructure projects, and understand the risk posed by geological hazards such as gypsum dissolution and dune migration.


The UAE Ministry of Energy is part of a federal government made up of seven Emirates:

  • Abu Dhabi
  • Ajman
  • Dubai
  • Fujairah
  • Ras al Khaimah
  • Sharjah
  • Umn al Qiwen

This is the second BGS mapping contract in the UAE; the first contract (which finished in 2006) mapped the Hajar Mountains in the east of the country, including the UAE-Oman ophiolite, the Musendam peninsula carbonates and the Quaternary deposits along the mountain front.

The maps and reports are distributed by the Ministry of Energy. For information about sales and availability of data, contact the Ministry at:

Ministry of Energy, Petroleum & Mineral Resources Sector
Dept. of Geology & Mineral Resources
P.O. Box: 59 - Abu Dhabi
United Arab Emirates

Email: or

For further information and pricing of the 2002–2006 project maps and reports see Geology & geophysics of the UAE


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