Saudi Arabia’s caves: more than just rock cavities

Saudi Arabia’s caves: more than just rock cavities
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Over 300 caves have been discovered in the Saudi Arabia’s deserts. (Tareq Mohammed)
Saudi Arabia’s caves: more than just rock cavities
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Over 300 caves have been discovered in the Saudi Arabia’s deserts. (Tareq Mohammed)
Saudi Arabia’s caves: more than just rock cavities
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Over 300 caves have been discovered in the Saudi Arabia’s deserts. (Tareq Mohammed)
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Updated 14 April 2024
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Saudi Arabia’s caves: more than just rock cavities

Saudi Arabia’s caves: more than just rock cavities
  • Formed over millions of years, efforts are underway to turn them into tourist sites
  • Geometric features unique to the Kingdom, plus mild temperatures, make it a year-round tourism industry

MAKKAH: Over 300 caves have been discovered in the Kingdom’s deserts. A divine gift to Saudi Arabia, these earth treasures were formed in the ground in the shape of unique geometric landmarks, natural sculptures and fascinating limestone and gypsum shapes.

Large numbers and different types of deep and superficial caves and “duhool” (caves lying below the earth’s surface) are found in the Kingdom. They formed over millions of years following the dissolution of limestone rocks due to rain and floods leaking into the ground through cracks and faults, resulting in cavities of different sizes and lengths.

Mahmoud Al-Shanti, a senior geologist specializing in caves and “duhool” at the Saudi Geological Survey, told Arab News that the SGS is working on locating caves, exploring their interiors and studying their types and formation.

He said these caves are considered a valuable natural national treasure that attract explorers, researchers and those interested in the field.

“As the lava of the volcano stops flowing in the subsoil, the last remaining quantity of the lava rushes forward, leaving behind an often regular longitudinal vacuum,” he said.

“When this quantity stops flowing and completely hardens, it creates a cave or a volcanic tubular tunnel that extends beneath the earth’s surface. Examples of this type of cavities are the Ghar Al-Habashi cave in Harrat Al-Buqum, and the Umm Jirsan cave in Harrat Khaybar, north of Madinah, which is about 1,500 meters long.”

He also talked about “duhool” and caves made of limestone rocks in the northern border areas, the central region and the eastern region of Saudi Arabia.

He explained that they are called limestone caves, adding that limestone is a hardened sedimentary rock composed of sediment shells, living remnants, and dead micro and macro marine organisms. All these components gathered and accumulated on top of each other randomly under the waters of lakes and oceans over millions of years, forming rigid and coherent rock layers as a result of constant pressure and cohesion, which resulted in this type of rock called limestone rock.

He said there are other species of mammals that also live inside the caves, such as weasels and wildcats. In the Kingdom’s deserts, there are some carnivores that take shelter in caves, such as foxes, hyenas and wolves. These animals take care of their cubs inside the dark tunnels during the day and go out at night to hunt.

Tareq Mohammed is a young Saudi man in his twenties from Madinah. He specializes in cave tourism and has delved deep into geotourism in the Kingdom.

Mohammed said: “When we talk about geotourism, the first thing that comes to mind are beaches, forests, deserts, mountains, underground wells, hot springs and areas of dormant volcanoes. But Saudi Arabia is also full of monuments and caves.”

According to Mohammed, there are five basic types of cave in Saudi Arabia based on their geological division: ice caves, which are formed of ice in cold regions; marine caves formed by waves, oceans or rivers flowing into large rocks or mountains, creating large cavities over thousands of years; basaltic caves, known as volcanic caves; limestone caves; and sand caves that form inside sandy mountains.

“An example of basaltic caves is the Maker Al-Shaiheen cave, which is classified as the longest basaltic cave in the Middle East with a length of about 3,700 meters,” he said.

The cave, a long tunnel formed by volcanic lava, was made when the surface of the lava began to freeze, with the lava below ground remaining as liquid due to the high temperature.

“The lava continues to flow until it reaches the end of the tube. The dimensions of the cave vary between 4-12 meters in width and 1.5-12 meters in length,” he said.

The Maker Al-Shaiheen cave is located in the west of the Kingdom in Harrat Khaybar, Madinah region.

He added: “Al-Qarah Mountain in the eastern region is an excellent example of sandy mountains. As for limestone caves, they are formed by the dissolution of biodegradable rocks. Rainwater mixed with carbon dioxide dissolves the limestone, leaving cavities underground.

“Al-Murabba (square) cave and the Tahaleb (algae) cave are examples of limestone caves. The Tahaleb cave is characterized by moisture and the presence of some types of algae at its entrance, hence the name,” he said.

“These caves are the most beautiful in terms of their different formations and shapes, such as the different limestone stalactites and stalagmites.”

He added that the central region of the Kingdom is characterized by these types of caves, advising everyone to try cave tourism throughout the year, as the caves’ temperatures remain constant between 24-26 C.

He said that any visit should be led by a specialized guide, who will highlight the characteristics of the caves.

Firas Al-Hazabi, a tourist who is passionate about cave tourism, said it is an amazing and different experience filled with suspense and excitement, adding that these caves are not visited enough by tourists.


Sync Summit returns with digital call to action

Sync Summit returns with digital call to action
Updated 10 sec ago
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Sync Summit returns with digital call to action

Sync Summit returns with digital call to action
  • US activist urges children’s online safety regulations in sobering discussion
  • Well-known Emirati interviewer and entrepreneur Anas Bukhash moderated a talk titled “Turning Tides: Recalling Humanity in a Digital World”

DHAHRAN: “We have become more concerned with burnt toast than frying our brains,” Abdullah Al-Rashid, director of the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, or Ithra, told the attentive crowd at the opening of the Sync Summit, the two-day event which opened on Wednesday.
Sync Summit, first held in 2022, returned to Ithra with more sobering reminders of why now, more than ever, we need to reset our relationship with the digital world.
Well-known Emirati interviewer and entrepreneur Anas Bukhash returned to the Sync stage where he moderated a talk titled “Turning Tides: Recalling Humanity in a Digital World.” He offered insights as someone who owes his career to the power of the Internet but also recognizes many of its negative aspects.
“A knife can slice bread or stab someone,” Bukhash said, noting technology’s ability to be a tool to build or injure, depending on how one uses it.
His panel included Kristin Bride from the US, an activist focused on children’s safety regulations on social media, and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.
“Four years ago was the worst day of my life,” Bride told the stunned crowd. Her son, who was in high school, was seemingly thriving, having just landed a summer job at a pizza parlor.
Bride recalled telling her son how proud she was. Her son described how much he was looking forward to the future, but just hours later, he died by suicide during the night.
The activist later found out that her son had been severely bullied on Snapchat by anonymous users. The hundreds of messages she saw when she opened her late son’s account were every mother’s worst nightmare.
Bride fears that young people today lack the tools or the coping mechanisms to deal with online bullying. For the last three years, she has worked tirelessly to advocate for stronger regulations for young users, seeking stricter rules against anonymous users and asking for accountability from Snapchat and Meta.
“I feel sorry for my role,” said Wozniak, mentioning how he holds some guilt in building what has become a tangled World Wide Web.
Social media algorithms track a user’s activity to tailor content, which can sometimes limit the human or organic aspect of social interactions online.
“It’s not just a ‘like’ … you trigger a hundred advertisers,” Wozniak said.
Meanwhile, in a fireside chat, Arab News reporter Lama Alhamawi spoke to legendary football manager Jose Mourinho, who offered his philosophy on the social media usage of football players, describing the role that technology plays in the world of sport.
The summit also included a panel on utilizing technological advancements and finding ways to enhance the accuracy of fake news detection, along with other sessions dedicated to AI and wellness in the digital realm.
Ithra offered other events in the main plaza as well as programs curated for diverse audiences at the Ithra Theater and Ithra Cinema.
The Sync Summit is livestreamed and can be accessed on the Ithra website and social media channels.


Allam platform included in IBM’s watsonx

Allam platform included in IBM’s watsonx
Updated 23 min 32 sec ago
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Allam platform included in IBM’s watsonx

Allam platform included in IBM’s watsonx
  • Watsonx is IBM’s commercial generative AI and scientific data platform based on the cloud
  • The director of the National Information Center at the SDAIA commended the watsonx platform’s exceptional technical capabilities

RIYADH: The Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority announced Wednesday that Allam, the AI generative platform serving Saudi Arabia and Arabic speakers around the world, was included in IBM’s watsonx data platform at the IBM Think 2024 conference in its pilot phase as one of the best generative models in Arabic in the world.
Watsonx is IBM’s commercial generative AI and scientific data platform based on the cloud.
In a speech at the annual conference, the director of the National Information Center at the SDAIA, Essam Al-Waqeet, commended the watsonx platform’s exceptional technical capabilities in enabling large language models and simplifying machine learning, as well as enhancing AI governance, compliance and hybrid cloud deployment flexibility, and praised the inclusion of Allam for global use, which significantly strengthens SDAIA’s position as a leader in the field of AI.
“It is acknowledged that large linguistic models trained on high-quality data are the basis for the successful implementation of generative AI, and Allam has been trained on more than 500 billion linguistic units in Arabic. We will seek to expand the addition of high-quality data and work to improve the accuracy of its models,” Al-Waqeet said.
He also reaffirmed the SDAIA’s commitment to make Allam the best generative AI model in the Arabic language in the world.
Al-Waqeet also invited the participants at the IBM Think 2024 to join the third Global Artificial Intelligence Summit, to be organized by the SDAIA in Riyadh from Sept. 10-12 later this year.


Speedy and secure, Haramain High Speed Railway enhances Hajj experience

Umrah pilgrims wearing ihram walk at a Haramain High Speed Railway station. (SPA)
Umrah pilgrims wearing ihram walk at a Haramain High Speed Railway station. (SPA)
Updated 54 min 12 sec ago
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Speedy and secure, Haramain High Speed Railway enhances Hajj experience

Umrah pilgrims wearing ihram walk at a Haramain High Speed Railway station. (SPA)
  • The Haramain High Speed Railway plays a crucial role in the Hajj season’s transportation system
  • Its operational plan incorporates more than 3,800 trips, offering more than 1.6 million seats to serve pilgrims and visitors in Madinah

RIYADH: The Haramain High Speed Railway offers pilgrims and travelers a safe and efficient way to navigate between holy sites.

The Saudi Press Agency recently witnessed the smooth operations at the Madinah station, the punctual arrivals and departures of trains carrying hundreds of pilgrims, Umrah performers, citizens and residents.

The train travels with regularity and is easy to use. At the station, SPA witnessed a streamlined process — travelers verify their reservations, head to the departure hall and board the train. The 13 rail cars offer ample seating. One car is dedicated to food and beverages.

Yahya Al-Sharqawi, from Egypt, expressed satisfaction with the ease and safety of the journey, highlighting the convenience of traveling directly from Jeddah airport to Madinah. He commended the Kingdom’s commitment to facilitating pilgrims’ movement.

Anwar Badr, another Egyptian visitor, was pleased with the many transportation options available, and the ease with which the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque can be reached, and expressed gratitude for the exceptional services provided to pilgrims.

Ali Rajabi, from Iran, echoed these sentiments, praising the comfort and convenience offered by the Haramain High Speed Railway. He said that the project serves pilgrims from all corners of the globe.

The Madinah station caters to travelers’ needs with a variety of amenities. Parking is available below the station, and self-service kiosks handle reservations and ticketing.

Information and assistance offices help to navigate the facilities. Multiple arrival and departure halls ensure smooth passenger flow, with seasonal halls specifically dedicated to serving pilgrims during peak periods.

For added convenience, the station boasts retail outlets selling food and beverages, as well as companies offering housing and car rental services. A permanent health center provides on-site medical care.

The Haramain High Speed Railway plays a crucial role in the Hajj season’s transportation system. Its operational plan incorporates more than 3,800 trips, offering more than 1.6 million seats to serve pilgrims and visitors in Madinah.

This efficient and modern railway system is a testament to Saudi Arabia’s dedication to ensuring a smooth and fulfilling Hajj experience for all, SPA reported.


Saudi Arabia showcases geospatial innovation at Ghana forum

Saudi Arabia showcases geospatial innovation at Ghana forum
Updated 22 May 2024
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Saudi Arabia showcases geospatial innovation at Ghana forum

Saudi Arabia showcases geospatial innovation at Ghana forum
  • The conference highlights the significance of investing in technologies, artificial intelligence, and innovation in surveying and geospatial activities

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Survey and Geospatial Information is participating in the annual Conference of the International Federation of Surveyors in Accra, Ghana, from May 19-24.

The conference highlights the significance of investing in technologies, artificial intelligence, and innovation in surveying and geospatial activities, aiming for a flexible environment and sustainable management of natural resources.

Attendees will exchange expertise and learn best practices in the field.

The Saudi authority delivered a technical presentation, “Surveying and Geospatial Information in Saudi Arabia: Past, Present, and Future Aspirations,” during the event, attended by FIG President Diane Dumashie, vice presidents and experts.

Saudi ambassador to Ghana and Togo, Sultan Al-Dakhil, visited the authority’s booth, appreciating its efforts to strengthen partnerships with international organizations.

With more than 1,500 participants from 80 countries, the conference facilitates international collaborations among government bodies, the private sector, academia, and global expertise centers through 70 scientific sessions.


Saudi fund boosts film financing at Cannes festival

Saudi fund boosts film financing at Cannes festival
Updated 22 May 2024
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Saudi fund boosts film financing at Cannes festival

Saudi fund boosts film financing at Cannes festival

RIYADH: The Cultural Development Fund, a vital financial engine for Saudi Arabia’s culture sector, along with partners from the Kingdom’s film industry, are presenting film financing and investment opportunities at the 77th annual Cannes International Film Festival, held from May 14 to 25.

The fund is present at the festival for the third year, in line with its mission of nurturing the domestic film scene and strengthening its role as a key enabler of cultural growth.

The fund highlights its Film Sector Financing Program at the Saudi pavilion, led by the Film Commission. The program offers comprehensive financial packages that support the entire filmmaking process, from creation and production to distribution, for both local and foreign companies working on film and TV series in Saudi Arabia.

It also provides an opportunity for companies and investment funds to participate in the Kingdom’s film industry and contribute to its development.

Its participation in the Cannes event aligns with its continuous efforts to attract filmmakers and investment.

The fund aims to be a leader in the Saudi film industry and collaborates with other stakeholders to build a sustainable film sector that contributes to the national gross domestic product.

Established under the National Development Fund in 2021, the fund aims to invigorate Saudi Arabia’s cultural scene. By supporting a range of cultural endeavors and facilitating investment, the fund fosters a thriving domestic cultural sector, aligning with the National Culture Strategy and Saudi Vision 2030.