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Image Caption: STS062-110-0AA Irrigated Agriculture, Saudi Arabia March 1994
During the last two decades, the Saudi Arabia Government has invested in making the country self-sufficient in food production. As a result, widespread drilling for water increased, producing crop surpluses. This low-oblique, panoramic photograph shows a large area northwest of the capital of Riyadh, where the Saudis have converted nonvegetated desert land into thousands of circular, center-pivot-irrigated, cultivated fields. These irrigated fields vary in size from hundreds of yards (hundreds of meters) to more than a mile (2 kilometers) in diameter. This photograph shows a gradual arc that extends in a swath from south-southwest of Riyadh to the An Nafud (red desert) in northwest Saudi Arabia where center-pivot irrigation has transformed the desert into productive farmland. This drilling activity has been extremely costly, and the underground water supply (fossil water) is proving to be a one-time-only, nonrenewable resource. In the short term, the country has benefited by increasing its food production for internal consumption; however, because of a finite subsurface water supply, some scientific forecasters predict that in the near future the Saudi Arabian desert agriculture may revert to the original, nonvegetated desert environment.