Much of North Africa and the Arabian peninsula, lying in the Saharan climate zone, are underlain by huge tabular sandstone and carbonate aquifers, ranging in age from Cambrian to Tertiary. These are often saturated with water of reasonable quality and form very valuable resources in an area often desperately short of water.
The Palaeocene Umm Er Radhuma carbonate aquifer is one such formation which has been the subject of intensive recent investigation. The formation contains groundwater of a reasonable quality, has adequate transmission and storage characteristics and hence considerable potential for future development.
The origin of the water in such aquifers is the subject of continuing controversy. It is not disputed that the water is moving under the influence of regional groundwater gradients but origins of these gradients are the subject of considerable argument. On the one hand, there are those who hold that the presently observed gradients are fossil remnants of conditions created by a much wetter climatic regime prevalent some thousands of years ago. Against this are those who maintain that the gradients, at least in part, reflect a present day system with groundwater discharge in approximate dynamic equilibrium with recharge.
This paper examines the hydrogeology of a typical Middle Eastern formation of the disputed kind, the Umm Er Radhuma aquifer in Saudi Arabia, and, with the aid of analytical and numerical models, attempts to resolve the problem of the origin of the observed groundwater gradients and to discover the extent to which the past must influence present day plans for future development.