UAE space tech to forecast heavy rains, floods; help in rescue missions

By 2026, the country plans to leverage advanced space imaging and radar capabilities for round-the-clock monitoring of Earth's surface

by

Waad Barakat

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A car drives in a flooded road in Dubai on April 19, 2024. Photo: AFP
A car drives in a flooded road in Dubai on April 19, 2024. Photo: AFP

Published: Mon 22 Apr 2024, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Mon 22 Apr 2024, 4:22 PM

With recent heavy rainfall occurring on April 16, the UAE is on a journey to utilise space technologies that will not only help detect future flood detection but also support search and rescue efforts during storms.

By 2026, the country plans to leverage advanced space imaging and radar capabilities to provide round-the-clock monitoring of the Earth's surface.


The SAR (synthetic aperture radar) program that was announced in 2022 was triggered by the urgency to better understand weather patterns and detect floods. Named ‘Sirb’ after the Arabic term for a flock of birds, the satellites will address the critical need for better environmental and land usage monitoring, data collection and analysis. It will also make the UAE the first Arab country to develop a swarm of SAR satellites.

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“The devastating floods in Fujairah in 2022 highlighted the urgent need for a comprehensive system that provides real-time monitoring and early warnings," said Abdulla AlShehhi, National Experts Program (NEP) Fellow, and Head of Strategic Research at the UAE Space Agency.

Abdulla AlShehhi
Abdulla AlShehhi

The official referred to the heavy rains in the UAE on July 27 2022, especially in Fujairah, which caused significant flooding and disruption. This extreme weather event occurred during summer peak and marked the highest recorded rainfall in 27 years.

Seven individuals lost their lives, including five Pakistanis and several residents were evacuated to hotels and apartments for two days due to the persistent rains.

AlShehhi also emphasised the transformative impact of space technologies on the UAE's ability to understand and manage floods. "The upcoming SAR radar program, scheduled to launch in 2026, will revolutionize flood detection in the UAE; unlike optical imaging, which can be limited by cloud cover, making flood monitoring challenging. This radar technology can provide clear images day and night, regardless of the weather condition,” he added.

This data will not only help flood management but also support search and rescue operations during emergency. AlShehhi explained: "By harnessing space power, we equip ourselves with tools to protect lives, safeguard infrastructure, and effectively respond to natural disasters.”

As a result of record-breaking rains last week, daily life in several parts of the UAE has been disrupted. Some roads were flooded, making transportation difficult; hundreds of cars were submerged and some houses were damaged by the floodwater.

Four people lost their lives as a result of the flood. The authorities swiftly responded to the crisis, mobilising resources and coordinating efforts with volunteers to help. Over the course of the following six days, a collective effort was made to clear the affected roads, ensuring accessibility for emergency services and aiding stranded families.

The UAE is continuously expanding its space capabilities through Earth observation satellite launches. One such satellite, the MBZ satellite, is set to be launched this year. It is an advanced version of KhalifaSat and possesses higher imaging capabilities. This provides high-quality images of Earth for agricultural purposes, urban planning, and disaster monitoring.

The UAE has recently initiated several space programs, including the National Space Fund. This governs the space sector with a Dh3 billion budget. One of the flagship projects is the Mission to the Asteroid Belt, scheduled for launch in 2028. This mission involves exploring seven asteroids over seven years, covering 5 billion kilometres.

The programme's top priority is the involvement of UAE nationals in the space sector by empowering more Emiratis' capabilities and developing local talents. "With the rapid evolution of technology and the increasing importance of artificial intelligence (AI). Science, engineering, mathematics, and technology fields are undergoing transformative changes. AI plays a crucial role in space exploration, I encourage the youth to focus on these technologies, as they shape various sectors and offer opportunities for innovation and contribution to the future," Abdulla said.

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