Online teaching and learning at GUtech – professors and students share their views

HALBAN The German University of Technology in Oman (GUtech) has recently introduced online teaching and learning for all their BSc, BEng and MSc programmes recently. The measures support the government’s efforts to prevent a further spreading of the coronavirus pandemic, while at the same time ensuring that GUtech students do not miss out their daily classes.

GUtech’s academic staff has adjusted quickly to the new online environment. “At GUtech, we have been doing our utmost to continue our classes online and to provide students with the same learning outcome as before,” said Prof. Dr. Armin Eberlein, Deputy-Rector for Academic Affairs at GUtech while adding: “It requires an adjustment for students and professors to get used to this new format and to deal with the unexpected, such as issues with internet connectivity. We are in constant contact with the Student Advisory Council, who have done an exemplary job in working with the administration to find solutions to the challenges that some students face.” GUtech’s academic departments have adjusted in different ways while introducing Microsoft Teams for one-on-one consultations with their lecturers, e.g. during thesis preparations and the Moodle platform to collect teaching and learning material. The Applied Geoscience department has to deliver many practical activities. “One of our classrooms was transformed into a small film studio and a professor is instructing students how to solve problems and is filmed by another staff member. So, even practical exercises requiring equipment can be taught online, for example digital microscopy. To some extend the current crisis is a chance to improve our presentation skills and test new forms of knowledge transfer,” said Prof. Dr. Wilfried Bauer, Head of Applied Geosciences Department at GUtech. Safa Al-Breiki is a 2nd year student in Applied Geosciences. She has been attending most of the online courses from home. She said that “the online teaching is good so far, but depends on the lecturers and how they are trying to facilitate the learning for us students. For me, some subjects are better studied online. If we have the recorded PowerPoint and we want to return back to what the lecturer said, we can just open the PowerPoint and listen again.”

“Online teaching is a great opportunity for instructors and students. We are getting more familiar with different technologies and different ways of delivering our knowledge. When I use pre-recorded lessons, I can modify my lectures and evaluate them. Overall, I have experienced high student engagement. Compared to my regular classes, they are asking more questions now. Students also share their concerns about assessments and grades,” said Dr Yathrib Ajaj, Senior Lecturer, Department of Mathematics and Sciences. For students in Process Engineering online courses have been a positive experience, though for some it can be difficult to find a quiet learning environment at their homes. “The first lecture was a bit hard for us to understand but after the second lecture things went better. Most of us deal with online classes the same way we deal with our normal classes – we prepare, we participate, and we study after each lecture. Dealing with practical parts, we have started solving tutorials online with the help of our lecturer and by using some apps that use online white board with a pen, so that it is very interactive for us.” said Rayyan Alajmi, 3rd year student in Process Engineering.

Despite the excellent learning outcome, some students are also facing challenges with unstable and limited internet connections. Safa and some of her study-colleagues have been struggling with weak internet connections. “The internet in my home and neighborhood is poor,” she said, adding that live classes are difficult to follow. “My friends are saying that they get disconnected during live online classes, and when they’re disconnected they miss some points.” Despite these challenges, Rab Nawas, Physics Lecturer in the Department of Mathematics and Sciences said that such live broadcast to larger groups and a reliable WIFI connectivity are challenges to overcome. “The attendance and participation in my courses are excellent. Pre-recorded lessons seem an excellent tool blended with online discussion and chat sessions. We have been working with blended learning and e-learning for several years. I think it is a must,” he said.

“It has been a challenging experience for all of us, but I think we have managed to find excellent ways to continue educating our students. Currently, we are conducting a lot of classes through online sessions,” said Prof. Dr. Osman Barghouth, Head of the Logistics and Tourism Department. He said that the number of participants in each class plays a decisive role regarding the didactics and the overall learning outcome. “We have decided to pre-record the lectures at least 24 hours before the classes and we are available online during the classes in order to respond to any questions. I think adapting to these new changes through online teaching is not an option, it is necessary during these times,” said Prof. Osman.

Caption: Recording of an online teaching course at the Department of Applied Geosciences

(c) GUtech/ Text & Photo: Dr. Manuela Gutberlet & Umaima Al Zadjali

Special field-excursion: GUtech students explore the geology of Dhofar

HALBAN To learn more about the geology of the South of the Sultanate of Oman, a group of 27 Applied Geosciences students along with Prof. Dr. Ivan Callegari and Prof. Heninjara Rarivoarison, conducted a 10-day excursion to Dhofar region. The main aim of the trip was to apply fieldwork techniques acquired in theory during the Bachelor of Science programme and to more about the geology of the Dhofar region. Overall, the students were enthusiastic about the excursion. “We worked along spectacular outcrops and landscapes, a special experience for all of them,” said Prof. Ivan.

During the excursion, the Geosciences students acquired different techniques required for geological fieldwork that help understand the main geological formations of the South of Oman. “Our fieldwork focused on the mineralogical and petrographical analysis, the structural geology reconstruction and geological mapping. These are important techniques used in the oil and gas exploration,” said Prof. Dr. Ivan Callegari. The South of Oman is characterized by a crystalline and metamorphic basement belonging to the Arabian shield that mainly crops out in western Saudi Arabia. “These kind of rocks are the “roots” of the entire rock succession of Oman. They are not well exposed in Northern parts of the Sultanate. The South of Oman is characterized by a so-called Neoproterozoic (700 million years old) crystalline and metamorphic basement covered by a sedimentary rock succession. The latest include one of the most important oil reservoir rocks in Oman,” said Prof. Ivan.

The field excursion was part of a seminar taught by both professors. “In class, the students were already introduced to the main geological concepts including rock formations that make up the uniqueness of the South of Oman. In addition, they learnt how to handle the different tools and materials required for geological fieldwork as well as how to apply different methods taught in class, for example describing, identifying and classifying minerals and rocks in the field, the so-called petrography and mineralogy. The students also learnt how to apply measurement techniques to recognized geological features such as joint, fracture, stratification, faults and else which are important methods applied in the oil and gas exploration.”

The Geosciences students also learnt about the processing of the obtained data and to apply different data management techniques taught in class, for example, stereographic projection, rose diagram analysis and geological cross-section.

(c) GUtech/ Text & Photo: Dr. Manuela Gutberlet & Prof. Dr. Ivan Callegari

Students analyse the suitability of the Sharquiyah Sands desert sand for concrete production

HALBAN As part of their field-projects, a group of 4th-year students from the Department of Applied Geosciences (AGEO) at the German University of Technology in Oman (GUtech) has conducted research on the chemical and physical properties and the suitability of the Sharquiyah Sands desert for concrete production. The project was supervised by Prof. Dr. Raad Alani, AGEO Department. “I think the desert has a rich potential for cement production. Last year a Bachelor thesis was conducted on the cement production in Sharquiyah Sands,” said Prof. Raad.

For an industrial concrete production water, coarse aggregates, fine aggregates and cement are used. In their fieldwork AGEO students Shaima Al Mazrui, Noora Al Rumhi, Mariya Al Nabhani and Meera Al Shibli applied different geological methods to test the properties of the sands. “Using the desert may be socially and economically beneficial compared to mining sand from river beds or the ocean,” said the students. The students concluded in their study that the fine grain size of the desert sand does not entirely meet the fine aggregate size requirements for industrial concrete production. However, the fine-grain aggregates of the desert can be used to a certain degree, while making alterations to the water-cement ratio as well as using different types of cement. Therefore, the students concluded that the use of sand for cement production should be further studied and analysed.

(c) GUtech / Dr. Manuela Gutberlet and Prof. Dr. Raad Alani

Applied Geosciences students presented their projects on Water in Oman

HALBAN Fourth year students from the Department of Applied Geosciences at the German University of Technology in Oman (GUtech) have recently presented their team projects during poster presentations held at the department.

Water is valued as a spring of life and the basic resource for human activities. Due to its scarcity in the Sultanate of Oman, water resources receive great attention, said fourth year students Azhar Al Shabibi, Amira Al Mahrouqi, Aziza Al Abri and Ahood Al Abri. In their poster presentation in the AGEO Department they showed the water balance of the Wadi Al Muadin located in Al Dakhiliya region. The main purpose of the study in Wadi al Muadin, was to analyse the impact of the dam on the groundwater in the wadi. According to their results, the amount of recharge increases in the downstream of the wadi where the slope of the landform controls the speed of the wadi flow. The precipitation in interrupted periods gives enough time for water to infiltrate into the ground.

Three other GUtech students Omar Al Zadjali, Mansoor Al Kindi and Almaqdad Al Harthi focused their team project on the quality of the water flow in one of the biggest falaj systems in Oman, Falaj Al Muyassar in Rustaq. The main aim of their project was to analyse the hydrological properties of the falaj and to analyse the physical and chemical characteristics of the water. The students applied different methods to measure the groundwater characteristics including a field toolkit to analyse the water and flow meter to estimate the discharge of the falaj. One of their results showed the superior water quality that serves the village as a major water source. Another student hydrology project presented was in the Batinah area, where the students investigated the seawater intrusion phenomenon and its effect on the shallow aquifer and agriculture activities, by measuring abandoned water wells’ hydrogeological parameters.

“We are adapting our courses to meet the needs and the challenges in Oman. As an arid country, Omanis have invested a lot in the water sectors in the past thousands of years, by developing aflaj systems. During the past five decades around 150 dams were constructed either to store the water or to enhance the aquifer recharge. Our GUtech graduates should display individual and teamwork besides critical thinking and problem-solving skills,” said Prof. Dr. Ahmed Hadidi, AGEO Department.

(c) GUtech Text & Photos: Dr. Manuela Gutberlet & Prof. Dr. Ahmed Hadidi

Hydrologists from GUtech published their scientific research in the Urban Water Journal

HALBAN Scientists from the Department of Applied Geosciences at GUtech, together with a colleague from the Netherlands have published a scientific research paper in the ‘Urban Water Journal’, published by Taylor and Francis Online. The research report by Prof. Dr. Holzbecher and Dr. Hadidi is entitled ‘Flood mapping in face of rapid urbanization: a case study of Wadi Majraf-Manumah, Muscat, Sultanate of Oman.’ The research has been financially supported by The Research Council (TRC).

“The continuous construction of infrastructure, as well as residential and industrial areas, can shift the spots and add higher risk of flooding to existing or newly urbanized regions. For that reason, it is of high importance to update flood and risk maps regularly,” said Dr. Ahmed Hadidi, hydrogeologist at GUtech.

The rapid urbanization observed in many parts of the world creates new challenges. Aims are the protection against flash floods and the diminution of flooding. In the research paper a case study is presented concerning the region adjacent to Wadi Majraf-Manumah in Muscat, Sultanate of Oman. A team of BSc students was involved in ongoing research. Using Differential GPS they conducted a survey campaign to refine the Digital Elevation Model (DEM) in the vicinity of GUtech, located in the region. The site is characterized by rapid urbanization in the past decade. This requires a priori use of a flood simulation tool and the option for regular updates. To evaluate flood risks, it is necessary to use computer models to simulate flooding events. Regularly updated flood maps can be used for planning purposes. Advanced flood simulation tools are available that deliver accurate results in a short time, with high-resolution information and advanced capabilities to model hydrodynamic processes and that can also be used for managing actual flooding events. The hydrodynamic model 3Di, presented in the paper, is served from a GIS environment. It enables users to construct flash flood scenarios and run them in a cloud environment.

“The information about changed streamflow due to urbanization can help communities reduce their current and future vulnerabilities to floods, mitigate flash flood hazards and manage activities during disasters. Besides updating flood maps continuously, our further recommendations to reduce the flooding are to avoid urbanization activities in the flood risk zones defined by the flood maps and to improve drainage construction around these hot spots.” Said Dr. Ahmed Hadidi.

Currently, the team of researchers at GUtech are developing a prototype of an early warning system. Such Decision Support System (DSS) system could help the authorities to restrict traffic on dangerous parts of the roads,” said Dr. Ahmed Hadidi.

GUtech alumna wins award for her video about fossils (Rudists) from Oman at Friedrich-Alexander University, Germany

HALBAN Najat Al Fudhaili, GUtech alumna in BSc Applied Geosciences and a passionate about fossils has won the first prize in the Science Communication Competition held at the Friedrich-Alexander University (FAU) in Erlangen/Nürnberg (Germany) recently. Najat was awarded for her best script and the best filmmaking. In her short film entitled “Cretaceous bivalve longevity, growth rate and potential as an archive for environmental reconstructions,” she represents her Bachelor project. She came up with an idea using easy terms that can be understood by the general public and non-palaeontologists maintaining the scientific concepts. “The idea of my project is to study three different fossil species of a bizarre bivalve group, so-called ‘Rudists’ and to estimate their growth rate and longevity. Also, by considering that these kinds of fossils tend to store their life history in their shells, they can help in reconstructing the paleoclimate and reveal under which sort of environmental conditions they tend to grow”. Najat recently graduated from GUtech and now continues her geology and palaeontology studies in Germany within the MSc-programme at FAU. Her current research involves geochemical measurements on shells in Germany and in Italy, which allow temperature reconstructions for the Cretaceous time, some 100 million years ago, when the Sultanate of Oman was covered by a tropical shallow sea.

To watch Najat’s video please visit the following website:

© GUtech: Photo provided by FAU/Boris Mijat

GUtech Commemorates 7th Anniversary of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Visit

The German University of Technology in Oman (GUtech) commemorated on Tuesday 24th December the 7th anniversary of the visit of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said to its campus.

The 24th of December marks the private visit of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said to GUtech campus in Halban. The commemoration of the private visit of His Majesty is annually observed by GUtech community. Students and staff remember the day to reflect on the importance of the visit in GUtech’s history and on the vision of His Majesty the Sultan for Oman’s academic and research development.

In the late afternoon of December 24th, 2012, the founders of GUtech and members of the rectorate welcomed his majesty to GUtech campus and its facilities, few weeks only after its opening.

In visiting GUtech campus and meeting the founders and the rectorate, His Majesty confers upon it an unusual distinction. “We welcome His Majesty’s private visit to GUtech campus as a gracious expression of his trust in our university and a vital catalyser enticing us to work harder and faster for further progress” proudly declares Dr Hussain Al Salmi, Deputy Rector for Administration and Finance.

The significant and ever-lasting contributions His Majesty has made to Oman and to the lives of its people are universally known; not less impressive than the wise introduction of far-reaching reforms which has promoted the development of the education system, and the prosperity of the country in general.

As more as 3000 male and female students enrolled in the university in the last 12 years. More than 400 male and female students graduated from it while there are more than 2200 male and female students are currently pursuing their studies.

(c) GUtech/Text: Fatima El Madkouri

New Research Explores the Infiltration of Flash Flood Water

Due to its arid and semi-arid climate, the Sultanate of Oman is suffering from scarcity of water. Therefore, it is important to capture water from floods before it discharges into the sea or evaporates. “Unfortunately, every year Oman loses 120 million m3 of freshwater as runoff to the sea, according to the Ministry of Regional Municipalities and Water Resources. In order to harvest flood water, around 50 recharge dams were built in Oman,” said Prof. Dr. Ekkehard Holzbecher, Professor for Hydrogeology at German University of Technology (GUtech), who has been leading a research project on flood management for several years. In order to measure the rate of infiltrating water, a field experiment is currently operated at the campus of GUtech. The experiment consists of a 100-meter long channel with one-meter width and depth. “An artificial flood is created by injecting water from a tanker. Several hi-tech sensors are installed in the soil and in the flowing water in order to estimate the amount of water, which infiltrates into the ground and which partially evaporates before reaching the deeper-lying groundwater reservoir (aquifer). Moreover, the flow rate is measured in the inlet and the outlet of the channel,” said Prof. Holzbecher. The experiment is funded by a GUtech seed grant and supervised by Prof. Dr Ekkehard Holzbecher and Dr. Ahmed Hadidi of the Applied Geoscience Department (AGEO) at GUtech. As part of their team project course, fourth-year students of the AGEO Department are involved as well. 


“Huge tsunami hit Oman 1,000 years ago”: concluded by a recent study

A natural event of similar magnitude would have devastating consequences today, warn researchers at the University of Bonn, Germany.

Prof. Dr. habil. Gösta Hoffmann from the University of Bonn (Germany) who has been teaching as a fly-in professor at the Applied Geosciences Department, German University of Technology in Oman (GUtech), has published a scientific paper along with his colleagues from the universities of Bonn, Jena, Freiburg and RWTH Aachen in the international scientific journal ‘Marine Geology’.

15-meter high waves that pushed boulders the weight of a Leopard tank inland: This is more or less how one can imagine the tsunami that hit the coast of today’s Sultanate of Oman about 1,000 years ago, as concluded by the recent study. The findings show how urgently the region needs a well-functioning early warning system. But even then, coastal residents would have a maximum of 30 minutes to get to safety in a similar catastrophe. The study will be published in the journal “Marine Geology”, but is already available online

Oman lies in the east of the Arabian Peninsula. The coasts of the Sultanate are repeatedly struck by tsunamis, most recently in 2013. Even with the most severe of these in recent times, the Makran event in 1945, the damage remained comparatively low. Back then, the tidal wave reached a height of three meters.

The scientists have now discovered evidence of a tsunami which is likely to have been much more powerful, with waves of up to 15 meters. For this purpose, the researchers from Bonn, Jena and Aachen concentrated their terrain investigations on a 200-kilometer coastal strip in northeastern Oman. “There we identified 41 large boulders, which were apparently carried inland by the force of the water,” explains Prof. Gösta Hoffmann from the Institute for Geosciences at the University of Bonn.

Quartz clock in the rock

Some of the boulders were probably formed when the tsunami shattered parts of the cliffs; for one of them, the largest weighing around 100 metric tons, scientists were even able to determine the exact point at which it broke off. Others show traces of marine organisms such as mussels or oysters that cannot survive on land. “Certain methods can be used to determine their time of death,” says the geologist Gösta Hoffmann. “This allowed us to establish when the boulders were washed ashore.”

The quartz crystals in the rock also represent a kind of clock: They provide information about the last time they were exposed to the sun. This allowed the scientists to deduce how long the rocks had been in the place where they were found. The scientists from Freiburg are specialists in this method. “Many of these measurements gave us a value of about 1,000 years,” emphasizes Prof. Hoffmann. “This corresponds well with the dating results of clay fragments we found in tsunami sediments. They originate from vessels used by coastal dwellers.”

The Arabian and Eurasian tectonic plates collide in the Arabian Sea. They move towards each other at a speed of about four centimeters per year. During this process, one plate slides beneath the other. Sometimes they get stuck in this subduction zone. This can cause tensions that intensify more and more over years and decades. If they suddenly come loose with a violent jolt, the water column above the plates starts to move. This can lead to the extremely destructive waves that are characteristic of tsunamis.

“So far it has been unclear to what extent the Arabian and Eurasian plates get stuck,” says Prof. Hoffmann. At the Makran event of 1945, for example, the effects were locally confined. The current findings, however, suggest that the tensions can also build up and unload on a very large scale – there is no other feasible explanation for the enormous forces at work at the time. “It is therefore extremely important that a tsunami early warning system is put in place for this region,” stresses the geologist.

Nevertheless, even a smaller tsunami would have devastating consequences today: A large part of the vital infrastructure in the Sultanate of Oman has been built near the coast, such as the oil refineries and seawater desalination plants. A well-functioning warning system can, however, at least give residents some time to get to safety. Not very much though: Tsunamis move at the speed of a passenger aircraft; in the best case, the time between the alarm and the wave’s impact would therefore be little more than 30 minutes.

Publication: Gösta Hoffmann, Christoph Grützner, Bastian Schneider, Frank Preusser and Klaus Reicherter: Large Holocene tsunamis in the northern Arabian Sea. Marine Geology, DOI: 10.1016/j.margeo.2019.106068

For more details please contact:

Dr. habil. Gösta Hoffmann,

Institute for Geosciences at the University of Bonn
Tel. +49 (0228) 73-4711

‘Understanding Carbonate Mudrocks’: Sedimentary Rocks That Produce Oil and Gas

A special lecture by Dr. John D. Humphrey at GUtech

Carbonate mudrocks are limestones that exist in many parts of Oman and elsewhere. The process of their formation and significance in different environments and their application within the oil and gas sector was explained yesterday by Prof. Dr. John D. Humphrey at the German University of Technology in Oman (GUtech) as part of a special student lecture tour organized by the European Association of Geoscientists and Engineers (EAGE). Dr. Humphrey is from King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals in Saudi Arabia. He presented a lecture entitled “Understanding Carbonate Mudrocks” in the University’s Research Hall. According to Prof. Humphrey, Oman is a great place to study carbonate rocks, for both conventional carbonate systems and unconventional deep-water carbonates. During the lecture, case studies of mudstone/chalk reservoirs were presented. Carbonate mudrocks are made of calcium carbonates, many of which are so-called source rocks that produce and store reservoirs of oil and gas. They have been deposited millions of years ago as chalks, starting with the Jurassic age. These carbonate mudrocks are increasingly becoming the targets of unconventional petroleum system exploration and development. These deposits are important for both conventional and unconventional petroleum systems. Amal Al Hajri, 4th year student in Applied Geosciences said that Prof. Humphrey’s talk helped her to plan for her thesis. “I would like to include chalks in my Bachelor thesis studies,” she said.

Prof. Humphrey visited Oman in 2002 for the first time from the USA. He has more been recently working at KFUPM, and has been a regular visitor for summer school excursions with his students. “There are many amazing, remarkable geological exposures in Oman,” he said. He and his students and other professors usually visit and explore different rock formations in Jebel Shams, Wadi Tiwi, Salalah, and other sites in Oman every summer. There are plans to have joint summer excursions with GUtech in future.

Dr. John D. Humphrey is Associate Professor and Assistant Chairman of Geosciences at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals. His appointment is in the Department of Geosciences, within the College of Petroleum Engineering and Geosciences. Prof. Humphrey received his Ph.D. degree from Brown University/ USA in Geological Sciences. Prior to joining KFUPM in 2017, he spent 25 years on the faculty of Geology and Geological Engineering at Colorado School of Mines in USA. He was Head of Department for seven years there.

His areas of specialisation include carbonate diagenesis and geochemistry, carbonate sedimentology and stratigraphy, carbonate reservoir characterization, unconventional carbonate reservoirs, stable isotope geochemistry, and paleoclimatology. He has been a consultant to the oil and gas and mining industries for thirty years. Dr. Humphrey is a Fellow of the Geological Society of America and a Trustee Associate of the American Association of Petroleum.