Rub' al Khali Desert, Empty Quarter (with Map & Photos)

Rub' al Khali is a sandy desert, one of the largest and hottest in the world, located in the southeast of the Arabian Peninsula. During the day, the fiery red sand has time to heat up to seventy degrees. The Rub' al Khali desert spreads about 1000 kilometers in length and 500 kilometers in width in the territories of four states at once - Saudi Arabia, Oman, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates. In the southwest, the desert rises 800 meters, and in the northeast it roughly coincides with sea level.

Rub' al Khali Desert
Rub' al Khali Desert

General Information


The name Rub' al Khali is translated from Arabic as "empty quarter". For a long time, the desert was considered the most impassable and difficult terrain for life. Through it, for several hundred years, caravans brought precious incense, spices and fabrics from South Asia.

If you look at Rub' al Khali through the airplane window, it might seem that someone covered the vast territory with sand and leveled everything. It is truly a flat desert. Although there are also some elevations of 200-300m in the form of dunes and sandy hills. So in the southwest, the desert rises 800 meters, and in the northeast it approximately coincides with sea level.

Rub' al Khali Desert
Rub' al Khali Desert

An amazing feature of the local landscapes are sand dunes up to 250 meters high, alternating with gypsum plains and gravel. The sand has a characteristic reddish-orange color due to the content of feldspar in it.

But was the now desolate place on the Arabian Peninsula always lifeless? Not at all.

Studying this territory from satellites, scientists confirmed the existing hypothesis that several cities flourished on the site of the desert about five thousand years ago, among which is Ubar, which is also called the City of a Thousand Pillars.

The Rub' al Khali desert is not entirely lifeless even now.

Despite the fact that the climate here is tropical with little rainfall (about 55 mm per year), water can sometimes be found at a depth of 10 meters.

Rub' al Khali Desert
Rub' al Khali Desert

It is assumed that a whole network of rivers is buried under the sands. Once upon a time, these territories were the bottom of a small network of lakes that disappeared decades ago. These lakes were formed due to very heavy rainfall, similar to the current monsoons and lasted from several tens to hundreds of years. According to numerous evidences, these lakes were home to representatives of various species of flora and fauna, Indian buffalo hippos and other cattle lived here.

There was also found evidence of human activity dating back to the period from 10,000 to 5,000 years ago - various tools and so on, but the human remains themselves were not found.

Oases are found in the Rub' al Khali desert. The largest of them are Liwa and Al Ain. But the most picturesque, perhaps, is El-Jiva, which stretches for 50 km.

Vegetation in this area is poor. Basically - camel thorns and hodgepodge. And the animal world is not so full of variety. It seems that in the desert there is no one but camels, jerboas, snakes and scorpions. But this is not the case. In the Desert Park created in the emirate of Sharjah, it was decided to gather representatives of the entire animal world inhabiting Rub' al Khali, and they counted more than a hundred of its species, among which you can even find the base antelope. It has straight, tapered horns. The weight of such an antelope reaches 100 kilograms.

Rub' al Khali Desert
Rub' al Khali Desert

In some parts of the desert there are also salt marshes, for example Umm al-Samim in the eastern part of the desert. This area is hyper-arid with minimal rainfall. Fauna and flora are also rather scarce here.

The population in the desert is nomadic, it is engaged in breeding camels.

The main wealth of the eastern part of the Rub' al Khali desert is, of course, oil and gas fields. Geologically, Rub' al Khali is the most oil-rich place on the planet. The richest oil fields in the world are located here, and the oil lies at a very low depth, thereby ensuring easy extraction.

Not only many documentaries are devoted to this desert, Rub' al Khali is also mentioned in many science fiction and adventure stories, in cinema and even in computer games.

Rub' al Khali Map