It is generally acknowledged that Dubai is a rapidly developing urban area which has grown to support a large human population within a hyperarid environment. However, no publicly accessible information exists concerning the rate or form of the urbanization process in Dubai. Therefore, this investigation used a time series of remotely sensed data to quantify land cover change in Dubai emirate between 1972 and 2011. A hybrid classification method accurately discriminated urban and other land covers, despite the challenging desert environment, and landscape metrics were used to quantify the spatial evolution of the emirate. The results indicate a dramatic increase in urban area, with a compound annual growth rate of 10.03% over the study period, with a peak of 13.03% during 2003-
2005, making Dubai one of the fastest growing cities in the world. While the population growth rate was high, this has been outpaced by the rate of increase in urban area and the declining population density is indicative of urban sprawl. The spatiotemporal dynamics of urban growth are closely associated with prevailing local and global economic conditions and the ambitious development strategies of the government. Notable aspects of this growth include the substantial increase in vegetation and water bodies, and the unprecedented rate of construction of offshore islands. Dubai has undergone oscillating phases of urban diffusion and coalescence, but with much more rapid transitions than other cities. Superimposed on these phases are spatial patterns of development which have been recognised elsewhere, but the sequence of patterns appears unique to Dubai. This study has provided new insights into the pace and process of urban growth in Dubai. It is now important to evaluate the environmental consequences of this form of rapid urban development.