Earthshots: Satellite Images of Environmental Change

You are here

» Bahrain

The most noticeable land change in these Landsat images is simply the addition of land itself. In Bahrain, a nation of 36 islands in the Middle East, the sea is shallow enough along the northern and eastern coast to make the addition of land relatively inexpensive.

The main Bahrain Island is about 990 square kilometers; however, it took less than two decades for the coastal zone of Bahrain to increase by about 40 square kilometers. All of this added land is dredged from the seabed in massive land reclamation projects.

Besides the large land additions, an obvious increase in urban areas dominates the images. Bahrain’s 1970 population was 213,000; in 2014 it was estimated to be 1,316,000. The country’s urban extent doubled between 1987 and 2013.

Map of the featured area.

Bahrain’s capital is Manama, a city with an estimated population of 1,480,000 in 2017, up 1,567% from 88,785 in 1971. Expansion into the desert and onto artificial islands is evident in this series of Landsat images.

The amount of vegetation (green) clearly increases in the past few decades. The added vegetation is mostly agricultural or in heavily landscaped areas. Near the bottom of the image, the addition of a golf course is seen in 2001, which is expanded by 2015. To the left of that is a road that has been lined with vegetation by 2015.

The Bahrain International Airport, with its 3,418-meter runway, is prominent in the upper right corner of the image. Other notable industry in Manama is the addition and expansion of the Arab Shipbuilding and Repair Yard, which has 15 ship repair berths, and Khalifa bin Salman Port, which opened in 2009 as a major regional distribution center. Both the shipyard and port are on reclaimed land east of Manama.

At the southern end of Bahrain is a sight that can only really be appreciated from far above. The first residents moved to this group of artificial islands in 2009. Designed for residential living and tourism, the complex includes six atoll-like islands that surround five fish-shaped islands.

These images reveal additional projects that are in progress throughout the region. The Crescent is the center and will be a commercial hub, with apartments, offices, restaurants, shopping, and a 600-room hotel. The Durrat Marina is under construction to the north and will provide space for 400 boats and yachts. A planned golf course will be built amid 2,220 luxury residential villas and apartments and take up about 90 hectares.

When completed, the Durrat Al Bahrain will be able to accommodate 60,000 residents. Construction of the islands can be seen in the 2003 Landsat image. Many of the atolls have been developed. Look carefully at the 2014 and 2015 images. In just a matter of months, development began on the two southernmost fish-shaped islands. A 2019 image shows a more current view.

(Black stripes run through the 2006 images because of the Scan Line Corrector failure on Landsat 7 in May 2003.)


Have a question or comment? Please contact us at