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August 2017
First HF Radar Observatory in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Contributed by Drs. Lohitzune Solabarrieta & Burton Jones of KAUST

Historically, the Red Sea has been one of the lesser-studied water bodies on our planet. It is, however, significant to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), as a major resource for transportation, desalination and discharge of wastewater, mining, fisheries, tourism, recreation, and ecological conservation.

Saudi Aramco and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) jointly established the Saudi Aramco-KAUST center for Marine Environmental Observations (SAKMEO) in 2013, led by Professor Burton Jones. SAKMEO is the first oceanic observatory capable of monitoring the eastern Red Sea by observing and understanding the baseline physical and biological aspects of this unique environment using gliders, drifters, floats and in-situ data from cruises.

In 2015, SAKMEO installed the first HF radar network in KSA, composed of two CODAR SeaSonde® HF radars, monitoring surface currents and waves in the central Red Sea. One SeaSonde is located at a KSA Coast Guard station in Rabigh pairing with the other set on the KAUST campus in Thuwal. The system has been set up by personnel of CODAR, Spanish engineering company Qualitas Remos and KAUST. Both stations operate at a frequency of 16.14 MHz, providing hourly surface current measurements up to 100km with a spatial resolution of 3km. Resulting outputs feed into the advanced PORTUS Marine Information System to provide an easily accessible web display and management capability for all the surface current and wave data.

The new high spatio-temporal resolution dataset derived from the SeaSonde network will allow KAUST to study and understand different spatio-temporal scale circulation processes in the central Red Sea. Potential applications of these data and benefits for KSA include:

• Basic science, contributing to the Kingdom’s fundamental understanding of ocean processes
• Tracking of marine pollutants
• Management of fisheries
• Marine protected areas design
• Improvement to safety of navigation in the area
• Assistance in search and rescue operations
• Assessment of the potential for ocean energy
• Future forecasting possibility once long-term time-series are established, including assessing impacts to coastal areas, improving weather forecasts and monitoring climate change.

Recently, during 8-11 June 2017, a Coastal Ocean Dynamics Experiment (CODE) drifter was deployed within the SeaSonde network coverage area, providing three days of in-situ surface currents data at 20 minute intervals. The drifter trajectory and the simulated trajectory produced from the HF radar measured currents via the PORTUS System are shown in the adjacent figures. The high similarity between both trajectories verifies the proper functioning of the new HF Radar system in KSA.
Above left: Drifter trajectory visualized atop SeaSonde network footprint area. Above right: Comparison plot between the real trajectory and PORTUS’ simulated trajectory based on the SeaSonde outputs, showing excellent agreement, from June 9, 00:00 to June 10, 00:00 (24 hours).
The deployment of these first two CODAR HF radar units in the central Red Sea along the Saudi Arabian coast is the beginning of a more ambitious plan by SAKMEO to extend the network with additional stations along the northern and southern Red Sea coast. This future network will represent the most advanced and comprehensive HF radar network in the Middle East region.

More information about this project and other KAUST activities can be found at:




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