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


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

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

Farther alongside roads lined with fastidiously planted timber, 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 will 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.

However considered one of Al Wathba’s extra uncommon and stylish sights is just not the work of people. As a substitute it has been crafted over tens of hundreds of years by elemental forces that, although they have been at play millennia in the past, supply perception into how the present local weather disaster may reshape our world.

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

‘Complicated story’

Abu Dhabi Fossil Dunes

The fossil dunes have been fashioned over hundreds of years.

Barry Neild/CNN

Although these proud geological relics have survived for hundreds of years out in the midst 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 Atmosphere Company to protect them inside a protected space.

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

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

However there’s much more to it than that, says Thomas Steuber, a professor within the Earth Science Division of Abu Dhabi’s Khalifa College of Science and Know-how, who spent a lot of the Covid lockdown learning the dunes whereas unable to travel to different areas of geological curiosity.

“It is a fairly advanced story,” Steuber tells CNN.

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

Abu Dhabi’s Atmosphere Company dates the fossil dunes at between 120,000 and 150,000 years outdated. 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 surroundings, 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 kind a form of cement, which was later whipped into ethereal shapes by prevailing winds.

Damaging forces

Abu Dhabi Fossil Dunes

Energy traces 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 is 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 will also be present in India, Saudi Arabia and the Bahamas, possible took hundreds of years to kind. However, regardless of the official safety now supplied in Abu Dhabi, the erosion that gave every its distinctive form can even finally result in their demise.

“A few of them are fairly huge, however in the long run the wind will destroy them. They’re primarily rocks, however you may generally break them together with your palms. It is fairly a weak materials.”

Which is why, at Al Wathba, guests are actually being stored far from the dunes, though nonetheless shut sufficient to understand their emotionless magnificence.

Touring the positioning is finest in early night when harsh daytime mild 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 heart and memento stall to the car 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 crimson and white electrical energy pylons that stride over the horizon within the distance. Quite than spoil the scene, this engineering spectacle provides a dramatic fashionable dimension to a panorama in any other case frozen in time.

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

Spiritual clues

fossil dunes abu dhabi night-1

At night time, the dunes are illuminated.

Division of Tradition and Tourism — Abu Dhabi

“The dunes look actually wonderful,” stated Dean Davis, visiting the positioning throughout a time off from work in Abu Dhabi metropolis. “It is good they’re being conserved and the federal government has carried out a terrific job.”

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

Stauber and his group from Khalifa College are prone to be repeat guests although.

“We’re persevering with to review them,” he says. “There are fairly a number of attention-grabbing questions on sea-level adjustments in the course of the latest ice ages nonetheless to reply and it is essential for understanding the present geomorphology of the shoreline of the Emirates. It is also clearly an analog for future sea-level change.”

And, says Steuber, the dunes might 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 Center East.

“Probably, 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.

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

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