Watch Egyptian Desert Transform As Crop Circles Sprout in Time-Lapse Video

A new time-lapse video shows hundreds of dark crop circles springing up in the Egyptian desert. It uses a series of satellite images dating back to 1998.

Crop circles are important in gaining water in the East Oweinat area, which is shown in this picture series, as well as other regions of Egypt — a country that is over 95% desert. 

Egypt must get creative to meet growing demands for food, and that includes these 800-meter-wide (2,600 feet) circles. The time-lapse illustrates an irrigation method that uses fossil water, which has been underground for millennia. The water comes from the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer, the largest known fossil aquifer in the world, and is channeled to the surface through a set of sprinklers rotating around a central pivot.

That water then sustains crops like wheat, potatoes and barley, which particularly thrive in the low-salt fossil water of the area. Much of the produce then travels through the Sharq El Owainat airport, which opened in 2003 and appears toward the right of the animation.

Also on display in the animation are the moving sand dunes of the desert, particularly in the upper left corner of the frame.

Scientists use long-term observations of Earth in part to monitor how land use changes over time. The 150-plus included images in this time-lapse video come from several U.S. Landsat satellites, as well as the European Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission. 

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: