Browsing 'desert' News

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Raja Raman/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

When sandstorms blow over Qatar, they’re not just clogging everything with dust – they’re flying in bacteria from across the region.

To better understand these tiny microbes, a team of scientists in Qatar has spent the day taking swabs from buses, buildings and sand dunes.

For the first time, they joined researchers and volunteers from across the world by participating in Global Sampling Day.

The initiative is held each year on June 21. It was launched in 2013 by a team of New York City researchers who tried to learn more about various microbes by sequencing their DNA.

Understanding bacteria

Today, researchers from 54 cities are expected to collect some 12,000 microbe samples from subways, buses, airports and other well-traveled public areas.

Through their findings, scientists hope to gain a better understanding of antimicrobial resistance – such as when bacteria no longer respond to antibiotics.

Doha is the only desert city participating this year, and researchers here are also looking into the origins of the microbes they find.

Specifically, they’re examining how these microorganisms are blown into Qatar from Iraq and Iran in the north, as well as the Sahara Desert and Saudi Arabia to the west.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Vu Bui/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

“We’re interested in understanding what microbes hitch a ride on the dust storms in the region,” Aspa Chatziefthimiou, an ecologist with consulting company Richer Environments, told Doha News.

In Qatar, there are also plans to investigate how certain microbes are affected by the extreme conditions in the desert, such as high temperature and humidity, intense sunlight and strong winds.

In recent years, Chatziefthimiou has also been investigating toxins in Qatar’s desert.

Good bacteria

While thinking about bacteria being found on public buses might cause some to reach for hand sanitizer, Chatziefthimiou’s research goes beyond the germs and viruses that make us sick.

The environment is full of harmless and beneficial bacteria. These include microbes that work on our behalf by fending off intruders on our skin or helping us digest food.

This is why it’s important to better understand what types of bacteria are present in the homes and offices where most residents spend their days, Chatziefthimiou said.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Sebastian Sikora/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Doing so could, for example, help lead to improvements in the design of air ventilation systems so that bad microbes are filtered out while beneficial microbes flourish, she explained.

“We want to see what is carried in the dust and how we can improve indoor air quality,” she added.

Sharing the data

Assisted by four volunteer medical students, Chatziefthimiou said she planned to take approximately 150 samples today in Education City, West Bay and the Pearl-Qatar, as well as from buses, sand dunes and desert crusts.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Khalid Albaih/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Like her colleagues around the world, Chatziefthimiou will be uploading information about her samples – as well as photos and GPS coordinates – to a database. Much of that information will then be displayed in a publicly available map.

Chatziefthimiou said the consortium is also planning to analyze the samples and examine the effects that climate has on microbes living on various surfaces.

Individual researchers will also be exploring their own hypotheses, she said. Their findings from today’s samples may start to appear in scientific journals within a year.


Desert camping

Rouda Al-Attiyah

Desert camping

The 2015-2016 winter camping season in Qatar will now end on April 14, instead of March 31, officials have announced.

This week, the Ministry of Municipality and Environment (MME) said that it was extending the season, which began on Nov. 1, after issuing some 2,058 licenses.

That’s a 34 percent jump from the 1,533 permits granted during the previous season, according to MME figures.

This has been a particularly popular year for desert camping, which some attributing the increased interest in encampment permits to boredom with city life.

“Whenever men come into my office for permits, I always ask them why and all of them say they got bored (with) going to shopping malls and restaurants,” Maryam Al-Bader, an MME secretary said. “They want to do something different. I hear the same answers from women too.”

Officials have also been discussing housing thousands of football fans in desert camps during the 2022 World Cup, which Qatar will host in the winter time.

Desert camping

Rouda Al-Attiyah

Desert camping

Currently, only Qataris ages 25 years and older can apply for permits to occupy a seasonal but annually renewable campsite in the desert. That acreage can used for things like informal gatherings, an escape from Doha life and special events.

For a deposit of QR10,000 Qatari riyals, citizens can secure up to 2,500 square meters’ space for their tents, roughly the size of six basketball courts.

Their deposit is returned if conditions set by the MME are not violated, such as leaving garbage at the site or otherwise harming the environment.

Change of scenery

Desert camping in Qatar may seem like an old way of life, but camping in Qatar in 2016 is not necessarily stripped of city comforts.

Some tents have electricity that allows them to run refrigerators and air conditioners.

“Camping changed from before, people now started adopting modern conveniences,” said Wedad Bilal, a 55-year-old mother of six. “Although the purpose of gathering (hasn’t) changed – we used to always gather in the desert.”

Still, there are limits to how much Qatar’s desert campsites can be modernized.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Vu Bui/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Some campers disregard the MME’s conditions for temporary camping, resulting in the loss of both one’s license and deposit.

One frequent camper recalled that a friend could no longer renew her camping permit because she placed cement on the ground.

However, such incidents are few and far between, according to the MME staffer Al-Bader. “We are glad because we make out application process easy for them,” she said.


All photos courtesy of Crossing the Empty Quarter

In less than a week, a team of Omani and British explorers is expected to arrive in Qatar after embarking on a 1,300km trek by foot and on camel from Salalah.

The expedition, Crossing the Empty Quarter, replicates a similar journey that was made across the world’s largest sand desert Rub Al Khali in 1930.

It was made by former British civil servant Bertram Thomas – the first European to make the crossing – and Omani Sheikh Saleh bin Kalut Al Rashidi al Kathiri.

The 1930 expedition team

Crossing the Empty Quarter

The 1930 expedition team

This time, 54-year-old Briton and Muscat resident Mark Evans is being led on the expedition by Omani guides as they make the arduous journey in much the same way Thomas and his team would have done in 1930.

Now 40 days into their expedition, the explorers left the dunes of the Empty Quarter behind yesterday and are in the final stages of the journey across gravel and salt flats to Qatar.

They hope to cross the Qatar-Saudi border on Jan. 24, where they are expected to meet a team of young Qataris who will lead them on the last leg north to Doha by Jan. 28, a spokesman for the expedition told Doha News.

Although details of the welcome events in Qatar are still being finalized, the explorers hope to meet with Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad Al Thani, president of Qatar Olympic Committee and one of the expedition’s patrons:

“This journey serves to remind the younger generations of what makes the previous generations proud of their belonging, and of their achievements in various fields. It also aims to confirm that the Gulf youths are able to withstand difficulties to achieve their goals, on the basis of inherited ethics and values,” Sheikh Joaan said in a statement.

Other patrons of the challenge include Oman’s minister of culture and heritage, Sayyid Haitham bin Tariq Al Said, and the Prince of Wales in the UK.

Journey trials

Since the team set off on Dec. 10, they have tried where possible to replicate Thomas’s journey – traveling the same route, stopping at the same points and eating similar meals of rice and bread.

Desert camp

Crossing the Empty Quarter/Facebook

Desert camp

However, according to the daily blog on the journey, some of the watering holes the original team used 85 years ago have since dried up.

And some of the water they have found hasn’t always been very appealing.

In a Facebook update on Jan. 15, the team wrote:

“Whilst the rest of us get more hungry and weary by the day, the camels have had a great day today. As we gradually descend towards Qatar, the desert is becoming greener, which means more grazing, and also today an unexpected waterhole enabled them to top up to their heart’s content. The water smelt worse than the worst stink bomb ever, but that did not deter anyone!”

Yesterday proved to be more successful, as they stopped at the well of Baniyan, which was also used by Thomas, to rehydrate before trekking the last 229km to Doha.

Leading the expedition is Omani guide Mohammed Al-Zadjali, a 32-year-old training manager at Outward Bound Oman/Tahaddi, and Amour Al-Wahaibi, 38, who was born and still lives in a Bedouin community in the northern end of Oman’s Sharqiya Sands.

About the expedition

Crossing the Empty Quarter

About the expedition

They are joined by Sheikh Mubarak Saleh Muhammad Saleh bin Kalut – the great-great-grandson of Sheikh Saleh bin Kalut, who led the first expedition, and Omani military fitness trainer Ali Ahmed Sha’af Al Mshili.

During the journey, Sheikh Mubarak has been carrying the same Khanjar dagger and rifle as his great-great-grandfather did 85 years ago.

They also have a support team of driver/photographers and on-call medics.

Using just one map, the explorers have had to deal with near-freezing night-time temperatures, shivering and thirsty camels and weight loss. As part of the journey, they are also logging interesting desert flora and fauna they spot, along with some archaeological finds.

In addition to updates on the Facebook page, you can also track the team’s journey on their website here.