Saudi Arabia country overview

The land of Saudi Arabia

Geography, People, Culture, and Economic Profile

Saudi Arabia information index

Geographic regions of Saudi Arabia

The Arabian Peninsula is characterized by a plateau that sharply rises from the Red Sea and gently slopes towards the Persian Gulf. In the northern region, the western highlands reach heights of over 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) above sea level, gradually decreasing to around 4,000 feet (1,200 meters) near Medina, and then rising again to over 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) in the southeast. Mount Sawdāʾ, located near Abhā in the southern part of the country, is generally considered its highest point, with estimates of its elevation ranging from 10,279 to 10,522 feet (3,133 to 3,207 meters). The watershed of the peninsula is only 25 miles (40 kilometers) away from the Red Sea in the north, and it recedes to 80 miles (130 kilometers) near the Yemen border. The coastal plain, known as the Tihāmah, is mostly absent in the north, except for occasional wadi deltas, but it slightly widens as you move south. The imposing escarpment that runs parallel to the Red Sea is somewhat interrupted by a gap northwest of Mecca but becomes more continuous as you head south.

Moving inland, the terrain gradually descends into the broad plateau area of the Najd, which is covered with lava flows, volcanic debris, and occasional sand accumulations. It slopes down from an elevation of approximately 4,500 feet (1,370 meters) in the west to about 2,500 feet (760 meters) in the east. In this region, the drainage system is more extensive and characterized by branching patterns compared to the flow towards the Red Sea. To the east, the area is bordered by a series of long, low ridges with steep slopes on the west and gentle slopes on the east. This region spans 750 miles (1,200 kilometers) in length, curving eastward from north to south. The most prominent ridges are the Ṭuwayq Mountains (Jibāl Ṭuwayq), rising from the plateau at an elevation of approximately 2,800 feet (850 meters) above sea level and reaching over 3,500 feet (1,100 meters) southwest of Riyadh. These mountains overlook the plateau’s surface to the west by 800 feet (250 meters) or more.

The interior of the Arabian Peninsula is characterized by extensive sand surfaces. The largest sand area in the world, known as the Rubʿ al-Khali (“Empty Quarter”), dominates the southern part of the country and covers an area of over 250,000 square miles (647,500 square kilometers). It slopes from over 2,600 feet (800 meters) near the Yemen border northeastward down to almost sea level near the Persian Gulf. Within this area, individual sand mountains can reach elevations of 800 feet (250 meters), particularly in the eastern part. In the north-central region of the country, there is a smaller sand area called Al-Nafūd, covering approximately 22,000 square miles (57,000 square kilometers). Al-Nafūd is connected to the Rubʿ al-Khali by a great arc of sand called Al-Dahnāʾ, which stretches almost 900 miles (1,450 kilometers) in length but is only 30 miles (50 kilometers) wide in some places. As the plateau surface gradually slopes down towards the Persian Gulf in the east, there are numerous salt flats (sabkhahs) and marshes. The coastline of the gulf is irregular, and the coastal waters are shallow.

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