Abu Dhabi Fossil Dunes: A beautiful frozen landscape created by climate change

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Al Wathba, Abu Dhabi (CNN) — Drive an hour or so southeast out of town of Abu Dhabi towards the emirate’s empty deserts and you will hit a landscape stuffed with sudden man-made creations.

The area of Al Wathba is residence to a beautiful oasis-like wetland reserve created, so the story goes, by an overspill from a water therapy facility. Now it is a lush terrain that pulls flocks of migratory flamingos.

Farther alongside roads lined with rigorously planted bushes, there’s the surreal website of a synthetic mountain rising up on the horizon, its flanks buttressed by gigantic concrete partitions.

And stray off the principle roads onto the again lanes, you may encounter extensive and dusty camel highways, the place cooler night temperatures see huge fleets of the humped beasts being exercised in readiness for the winter racing season.

But one in all Al Wathba’s extra uncommon and chic points of interest just isn’t the work of people. Instead it has been crafted over tens of 1000’s of years by elemental forces that, although they have been at play millennia in the past, provide perception into how the present climate disaster would possibly reshape our world.

Abu Dhabi’s fossil dunes stand up out of the encompassing desert like frozen waves in a violent ocean manufactured from strong sand, their sides rippling with shapes outlined by raging winds.

‘Complex story’

The fossil dunes have been fashioned over 1000’s of years.

Barry Neild/CNN

Though these proud geological relics have survived for hundreds of years out in the course of nowhere, they have been opened as a free vacationer attraction in Abu Dhabi in 2022 as a part of efforts by the emirate’s Environment Agency to protect them inside a protected space.

Whereas Instagrammers and different guests as soon as wanted all-terrain autos to trip as much as the fossil dunes searching for a dramatic selfie backdrop, they now get a selection of two giant parking tons that bookend a path which meanders previous a number of the extra spectacular landmarks.

Along the best way are informative signposts that give some bare-bones info on the science behind the dunes’ creation — primarily, moisture within the floor brought on calcium carbonate within the sand to harden, then highly effective winds scraped them into uncommon shapes over time.

But there’s way more to it than that, says Thomas Steuber, a professor within the Earth Science Department of Abu Dhabi’s Khalifa University of Science and Technology, who spent a lot of the Covid lockdown learning the dunes whereas unable to journey to different areas of geological curiosity.

“It’s a reasonably complicated story,” Steuber tells CNN.

The dunes are a stone’s throw away from a Wetland Reserve, Abu Dhabi’s first protected space.

Steuber says that generations of dunes have been created by cycles of ice ages and thaws that occurred between 200,000 and seven,000 years in the past. Ocean ranges dropped when frozen water elevated on the polar caps and through these drier durations, dunes would’ve constructed up as sand blew in from the drained Arabian Gulf.

When the ice melted, resulting in a extra humid setting, the water desk rose in what’s now Abu Dhabi and the moisture reacted with the calcium carbonate within the sand to stabilize it after which type a form of cement, which was later whipped into ethereal shapes by prevailing winds.

Destructive forces

Abu Dhabi Fossil Dunes

Power strains stride behind the dunes, including one other dimension to the scene.

Barry Neild/CNN

“The Arabian Gulf is a small basin that is very shallow,” says Steuber. “It’s solely about 120 meters deep, so on the peak of the ice age, about 20,000 years in the past, there was a lot piled up on the polar ice caps that water was lacking from the ocean. That meant the Gulf was dry and was the supply of fabric for the fossil dunes.”

Steuber says that the fossil dunes, which happen all through the UAE and can be present in India, Saudi Arabia and the Bahamas, probably took 1000’s of years to type. But, regardless of the official safety now supplied in Abu Dhabi, the erosion that gave every its distinctive form may even ultimately result in their demise.

“Some of them are fairly large, however ultimately the wind will destroy them. They are primarily rocks, however you may typically break them together with your fingers. It’s fairly a weak materials.”

Which is why, at Al Wathba, guests at the moment are being saved a ways from the dunes, though nonetheless shut sufficient to understand their emotionless magnificence.

Touring the location is greatest in early night when harsh daytime gentle is changed by a golden glow from the setting solar and the sky takes on the lilac hues of magic hour. It takes about an hour to walk alongside the sandy path from the customer middle and memento stall to the parking zone on the different finish — and about 10 minutes to shortcut again.

The untouched serenity of the dunes is contrasted at some factors alongside the path by a series of gigantic pink and white electrical energy pylons that stride over the horizon within the distance. Rather than spoil the scene, this engineering spectacle provides a dramatic trendy dimension to a landscape in any other case frozen in time.

As nightfall settles, a number of the dunes are illuminated, providing a brand new option to view these geological marvels.

Religious clues

fossil dunes abu dhabi night-1

At night time, the dunes are illuminated.

Department of Culture and Tourism — Abu Dhabi

“The dunes look actually superb,” mentioned Dean Davis, visiting the location throughout a day without work from work in Abu Dhabi metropolis. “It’s good they’re being conserved and the federal government has completed an ideal job.”

Ashar Hafeed, one other customer touring together with his household, mentioned he was additionally impressed. “I noticed it on Google and simply wanted to return and have a look,” he mentioned, including that “as soon as was sufficient” to understand the dunes.

Stauber and his staff from Khalifa University are more likely to be repeat guests although.

“We’re persevering with to check them,” he says. “There are fairly a couple of fascinating questions on sea-level adjustments through the latest ice ages nonetheless to reply and it is crucial for understanding the present geomorphology of the shoreline of the Emirates. It’s additionally clearly an analog for future sea-level change.”

And, says Steuber, the dunes may very well be proof of the inspiration behind the story of Noah’s flood, which options within the Koran, the Bible and the Torah, the texts of the three main religions to emerge from the Middle East.

“Possibly, this was the flooding of the Arabian Gulf on the finish of the ice ages, as a result of the ocean degree rise was very fast.

“With a dry Arabian Gulf, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers would’ve discharged into the Indian Ocean and what’s now the Gulf would have been fairly a fertile low mendacity space which 8,000 years in the past would’ve been inhabited, and other people could have skilled this fast sea degree rise.

“Perhaps it led to some historic reminiscence that made the holy books of those three native religions.”

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