A research team affiliated with Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU) has developed a system that helps identify and monitor potential oil tanker accidents in the Arabian Gulf. The system developed by HBKU through a scientific study undertaken in co-operation with Belgian University UCLouvain helps protect vital coastal facilities for seawater desalination and energy export from the risks of accidents caused by oil tankers.
In exclusive remarks to Qatar News Agency (QNA), Dr Essam Heggy, Chief Scientist and Research Director of the Earth Science Program at the Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute (QEERI), under HBKU and co-facilitator of the scientific team for the study with Prof Emmanuel Hanert of UCLouvain, said that the study identified the places with high risk to vital facilities, which should be closely monitored for any natural or manmade oil tankers' accidents, which will contribute to protecting the marine environment from contamination and prevent work disruption of liquified natural gas (LNG) export facilities and water desalination facilities. He pointed out that this study relied on developing digital simulation models based on navigation maps, water currents, and changes in wind directions for five years and identifying the vital water desalination and LNG export facilities. In addition, the study monitored the movement of 14,000 oil tankers in the waters of the Arabian Gulf during these years to determine the locations that should be closely monitored to avoid any risk and to contribute to local and regional efforts to put an end to these risks.
He added that the study was recently published in the 'Natural Sustainability' journal and is the first Qatari study about Qatar published in that prestigious scientific journal. The study concluded that two areas in Qatar's northern and southeastern regional waters need radar satellite close monitoring, as well as areas outside Qatar's regional waters, but due to wind movement and water currents, their impact show on the Qatari coasts. He pointed out that based on the study findings, HBKU and UCLouvain signed a co-operation agreement on studying the potential oil tanker spill accidents to contribute to the national efforts in swift and effective handling these risks if occurred to avoid any work disruption in water desalination and LNG export facilities. In addition, the study will carry on identifying the areas vulnerable to environmental and marine risks in other locations in the Arabian Gulf to preserve the safety of seawater as oil spills can be drifted by water currents to Qatari regional waters.
He said that the study that he undertook along with the team of Prof. Emmanuel Hanert of UCLouvain, as well as other UCLouvain MA and PhD researchers, is the first of its kind as it anticipates the areas of accidents to monitor them to protect the region through a specific technology that works on early detection for oil spills. He indicated that the reason behind the study was to find a solution to the repeated oil tanker accidents that happened over the past few years in several areas. The oil spills are difficult to contain in the Arabian Gulf waters as the waters are shallow and form a closed sea, which means that the environmental impact of these oil spills will last for a longer time, which require swift handling before reaching relatively deep waters and before reaching the shallow waters. In this regard, he explained that the study anticipates the route of the oil spill according to what has been recorded of water current and wind movements, as they are seasonal and yearly repeated.
He added that these accidents impact fishery and environmental diversity as the death of algae and coral reefs puts the coasts at risk of erosion as they serve as the first line of defence against waves erosion of the coasts. In addition, most passing vessels are not from the Arab region, making it difficult to hold them accountable for these risks.
Dr. Essam Heggy affirmed that the study stresses the need for early preparation for such accidents to maintain the Gulf area from climate changes, stressing the need to continue the studies concerned with monitoring the increasing climate and environmental risks in the Gulf. Talking to QNA, Dr Heggy revealed the existence of co-operation between Qatar Foundation (QF), Hamad bin Khalifa University (HBKU) and Nasa in a scientific satellite study project which aims at understanding sea level change in desert and arid regions such as the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa to study the effects of rising ocean water levels on the coastal environment of these important regions which have hundreds of millions of people and the most important energy export facilities around the world by understanding the movements of ice melt in the North and South Poles by using radar technology to image the thickness of the ice at the poles and their expected impact on ocean rise in the next 100 years, in addition to studying the distribution of groundwater at a depth of the first 20m from the earth's surface in the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa where the importance of the study appears in identifying non-deep groundwater sources to deal with drought periods and the sustainability of the environment and agriculture in the Arab world, pointing out that the preliminary study of the project has been completed and the completion of the following stages is being studied.
Dr Heggy hoped that the project can be implemented in the next stage with a number of experiments in the desert of Qatar and a number of Arab countries using an airborne satellite model to complete the studies, aspiring to see the launch of the satellite in 2027 which will operate for two years and can be extended to four years with a complete survey of ice formation in the poles and a survey of groundwater reservoirs. He pointed out that researchers from HBKU, Nasa, a number of European and American universities and universities in the Arab world are participating in the project.
Dr Heggy affirmed the importance of studying the climate and the factors of climate change in Qatar as the climate is closely linked to the Qatari identity, stressing that studying changes in the Arab world is also a necessity as knowledge of the future of climate changes answers many questions related to the sustainability of natural resources and food security, and proposes appropriate solutions to crises related to climate or water scarcity, etc., which cannot be solved without accurate meteorology.
Dr Heggy, who is also a researcher at California University, stressed on the importance of the fundamental role undertaken by scientists with their varying specialisations in developing thought in their communities, reviewing the inherited knowledge and developing it, and creating what is new to anticipate the foreseeable future.
He asserted that science is the secret of the world's renaissance, and the interest in education is the start, calling for a semi-unified educational policy that brings curricula closer in the Arab world, with the importance of real investment in education and increase expenditure on education and scientific research even in the difficult economic circumstances, promote the profession of teacher and improve schools' status in the Arab region.
The intellectual problems facing the Arab region are difficult, but are not impossible, he said, adding that their solution requires a societal change in order for knowledge to be the national identity, and the return of Arab scientists from abroad to contribute to a civilized and real renaissance for the Arab region.
Education City in Qatar was the pioneer in this regard, as it attracted many Arab emigrant scholars and hosted them since its inception, so that other models in Arab universities pursue this unique experience, Dr Heggy said, hoping that it will be widely applied, stressing that the success of these experiences is linked to the extent to which the presented research is related to social reality, with the need for the Arab media to pay attention to providing a space for science and its impact on community.
He pointed to the need for the Arab world to strongly enter the study of space as an imperative to understand the long-term climatic development of the planet Earth, such as the study on how water disappeared from the surface of Mars, which gives an image of the future of the Earth, stressing that such research is not waste of time, but an imperative in life.
Dr Heggy headed a research team who found a strong evidence that confirms the existence of an oasis in Qatar that dates back to nearly 3,650 years ago, and was published by the Official Journal of Official Publication of the International Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ISPRS), which confirms the change in agricultural factors and the use of groundwater in eastern Arabia throughout history, and the continuity of these changes to the present day.
The discovery was coincidence within the framework of a huge project that aimed to comprehend the motion of groundwater and coasts in Qatar.
Dr Essam Heggy