If you take a quick look at southeastern Libya in North Africa, it looks like a dry land full of sand and mountains. However, some images captured by satellites and crew members of the International Space Station show “circles of life” that suggest the world's largest fossil aquifer system lies beneath the desert.
For those in a hurry;
- The cycles of life are the result of a megaproject that is responsible for the majority of Libya's freshwater supply;
- The project takes water from the world's largest fossil aquifer and distributes it through a network of pipes across the country.
- The green areas and circles are crops that only exist thanks to the sprinklers that irrigate water from the aquifer.
The images show the Kufrah district, and strange circles and green patches can be seen in the sand, the result of a project that began more than 40 years ago. In 1983, thenLibyan leader Muammar Gaddafi began work on the project, which became known as the Great Manmade River (GMMR).
The project consists of a vast network of underground pipes that draw water from the world's largest fossil aquifer, the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System, and distribute it throughout Libya, accounting for the majority of fresh water consumed in the country.
The aquifer beneath Libya
The aquifer was left behind about 10,000 years ago when the region was filled with a landscape of rivers, lakes and rain instead of deserts. It occupies an area of approximately 2 million square kilometers beneath northwestern Sudan, northeastern Chad, southeastern Libya and much of Egypt, making it crucial for these countries to cope with their arid climate.
Although much of the system that uses water from the aquifer is underground, the nearly one kilometer diameter circles known as the “Libyan Circles of Life” and the green patches are the result of countless sprinklers, which were used to irrigate the land the crops grow.
City of Al Jawf in Libya (Source: ISS/NASA NASA Earth Observatory)
The city of Al Jawf is one of the cities that only exists due to the aquifer and the Great Manmade River. The small settlement is full of farms irrigated by the Nubian Sandstone aquifer system.
However, Libya has problems with water supply, being the country with the greatest shortage of this resource in North Africa. With the country currently plagued by corruption, conflict and climate change, things could get worse.