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 may hit a panorama filled with sudden man-made creations.
The area of Al Wathba is residence to an exquisite 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 rigorously planted bushes, there’s the surreal website of a man-made mountain rising up on the horizon, its flanks buttressed by gigantic concrete partitions.
And stray off the primary roads onto the again lanes, you will encounter large 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 one in every of Al Wathba’s extra uncommon and chic points of interest is just not the work of people. As an alternative it has been crafted over tens of 1000’s of years by elemental forces that, although they had been at play millennia in the past, provide perception into how the present local weather 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 product of stable sand, their sides rippling with shapes outlined by raging winds.
Although these proud geological relics have survived for hundreds of years out in the midst of nowhere, they had been opened as a free vacationer attraction in Abu Dhabi in 2022 as a part of efforts by the emirate’s Surroundings Company to protect them inside a protected space.
Whereas Instagrammers and different guests as soon as wanted all-terrain automobiles to trip as much as the fossil dunes seeking a dramatic selfie backdrop, they now get a alternative of two giant parking heaps that bookend a path which meanders previous a few 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 — basically, moisture within the floor precipitated 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 Expertise, who spent a lot of the Covid lockdown learning the dunes whereas unable to journey to different areas of geological curiosity.
“It is a fairly 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 had 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 intervals, 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 sort of cement, which was later whipped into ethereal shapes by prevailing winds.
“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 may also be present in India, Saudi Arabia and the Bahamas, doubtless took 1000’s of years to type. However, regardless of the official safety now provided in Abu Dhabi, the erosion that gave every its distinctive form will even finally result in their demise.
“A few of them are fairly large, however ultimately the wind will destroy them. They’re basically rocks, however you’ll be able to typically break them along with your palms. It is fairly a weak materials.”
Which is why, at Al Wathba, guests are actually being stored 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 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 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 sequence of gigantic purple and white electrical energy pylons that stride over the horizon within the distance. Reasonably than spoil the scene, this engineering spectacle provides a dramatic trendy dimension to a panorama in any other case frozen in time.
As nightfall settles, a few of the dunes are illuminated, providing a brand new strategy to view these geological marvels.
“The dunes look actually superb,” mentioned Dean Davis, visiting the location throughout a day without work from work in Abu Dhabi metropolis. “It is good they’re being conserved and the federal government has finished 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 come back and have a look,” he mentioned, including that “as soon as was sufficient” to understand the dunes.
Stauber and his crew from Khalifa College are more likely to be repeat guests although.
“We’re persevering with to check them,” he says. “There are fairly a number of attention-grabbing questions on sea-level modifications throughout 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.
“Presumably, this was the flooding of the Arabian Gulf on the finish of the ice ages, as a result of the ocean stage rise was very speedy.
“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 might have skilled this speedy sea stage rise.
“Maybe it led to some historic reminiscence that made the holy books of those three native religions.”