Bahrain is a small country with a large population. Both have grown in size over the past few decades.
Since the early 1980s, the population of this Texas-sized island nation in the Persian Gulf has quadrupled. In 2022, it reached 1.5 million. As population density has increased and urban development has spread, land requirements have increased.
“Like other countries in the [Persian] Gulf, rapid population growth and concurrent increase in urbanization, along with land scarcity, have prompted Bahrain to invest in mega land reclamation projects to expand its coastline,” said Eman Ghoneim, physical geographer at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
These images show changes over 35 years. The first image was captured by the Thematic Mapper on Landsat 5 on August 17, 1987. The second image, captured by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8, shows the same area on August 17, 2022.
In 1987, the island of Bahrain had just been connected to Saudi Arabia via the King Fahd Causeway, which opened in 1986. In July 2022, a record number of 2.5 million passengers from Motor vehicles traveled the 25-kilometre (16-mile) stretch of road, according to reports.
The change is most apparent in the north of the country, where shallow coastal waters have made it technically and economically feasible to build new land from the seabed. Notice the expansion in area of existing islands, as well as the addition of new ones.
Sabah Aljenaid, a geographic information systems and remote sensing specialist at Arabian Gulf University, used Landsat imagery to classify land changes between 1986 and 2020. Aljenaid and his colleagues found that built-up areas (urban) dominated the changes over this period, increasing by an average of 7.5% each year. The growth has been mainly at the expense of vegetated land and wetlands.
Aljenaid pointed to the dramatic expansion of Muharraq Island, which now stretches over 60 square kilometers (23 square miles) northeast of Manama, the capital. She also pointed to changes on the island of Nabih Saleh, which lost its agricultural areas.
While urban expansion has been concentrated in the north, parts of the southern coast have also undergone change. Dredging of the artificial islands of Durrat Al Bahrain began in 2004; by 2007, about 5 square kilometers (2 sq mi) of land had been added to the southeast coast of Bahrain.
“Ten years ago I wrote that 11% of the island of Bahrain was reclaimed land, and the growth continues today,” said John Burt, marine biologist at New York University in Abu Dubai. Bahrain’s shape in 35 years remains to be seen. “There was talk again of building a bridge between Fasht Al Adhm and Qatar,” Burt said. “It didn’t materialize, but it could be a future mega-development to watch.”
NASA Earth Observatory images by Lauren Dauphin, using US Geological Survey Landsat data. Story by Kathryn Hansen.