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The modernization of Saudi Arabia has been a recent and rapid phenomenon. Here we see two aspects of this transformation: explosive urbanization and center-pivot irrigation. Both are visible in and near Riyadh from 1972 to 2023.

The growth of Riyadh, the national capital, is dramatic. Its population grew from about half a million in 1972 to over 7 million in 2022. Saudi Arabia experienced urbanization later than many other countries; in the early 1970s, its urban-rural ratio was still about 1:3. By 1990, that had reversed to about 3:1. The cities grew through in-migration from rural areas and from decreases in the death rate while the birth rate remained high. In the mid-1970s, Riyadh’s population was increasing by about 10 percent a year.

The dark red squiggly line that winds through the western part of Riyadh is called the Wadi Hanifa, or the Hanifa Valley. This natural water course drains an area of over 4,000 square kilometers. Riyadh has been working to maintain the Wadi Hanifa as an environmental, recreational, and tourism resource.

Located about 35 kilometers north of Riyadh, King Khalid International Airport opened in 1983, so it only appears in the images after that date. The two parallel runways are each 4,200 meters long. The airport occupies about 225 square kilometers.

Imagery

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Aug. 1, 1972, Landsat 1 (path/row 178/43) — Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
June 24 and July 3, 1989, Landsat 5 (path/row 165,166/43) — Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
June 13 and 20, 2002, Landsat 7 (path/row 165,166/43) — Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
June 3 and 10, 2013, Landsat 8 (path/row 165,166/43) — Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
June 20 and 27, 2019, Landsat 8 (path/row 165,166/43) — Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
June 11 and 12, 2022, Landsat 8-9 (path/row 165,166/43) — Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
June 14 and 15, 2023, Landsat 8-9 (path/row 165,166/43) — Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

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References

Aga Khan Development Network, 2007, Aga Khan Award for Architecture—Wadi Hanifa Wetlands: available online at http://www.akdn.org/architecture/project.asp?id=2258. (Accessed May 8, 2012.)

Azzi, R., 1980, Saudi Arabia—the kingdom and its power: National Geographic, v. 158, no. 3, p. 286–332.

CIA, 2012, Saudi Arabia: The World Factbook, available only online at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/sa.html. (Accessed May 8, 2012.)

Dar Al Handasah (Shair & Partners), [n.d.], Princess Nora Bint AbdulRahman University, Al-Riyadh, KSA: available online at http://www.pnu.edu.sa/en/Pages/default.aspx. (Accessed May 8, 2012.)

Demographia, 2021, Demographia World Urban Areas--Built-Up Urban Areas or World Agglomerations (17th ed.): 100 p., accessed June 20, 2022, at http://demographia.com/db-worldua.pdf.

Metz, H.C., ed., 1993, Saudi Arabia—a country study: Washington, DC, Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 354 p.

Nyrop, R.F., and Walpole, N.C., 1977, Area handbook for Saudi Arabia: Washington, DC, Foreign Area Studies, 389 p.

Riyadh Airport, 2016, King Khalid International Airport—Riyadh Airport (RUH): Riyadh Airport, accessed April 27, 2018, at https://www.riyadh-airport.com/.

Vesilind, P.J., and Kashi, E., 1993, The Middle East’s water—critical resource: National Geographic, v. 183, no. 5, p. 38–70.

World Population Review, 2021, Buraydah Population, accessed July 7, 2021 at https://worldpopulationreview.com/world-cities/buraydah-population.

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