While most deserts have unstable landscapes that are probably far from any life structures present there, Al Wathba is going against the grain, at least in parts.
Its silhouette resists weather due to “fossilized” dunes, another beautiful and curious phenomenon that has taken tourist destinations due to climate change.
Located about an hour from Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, the desert is home to a small oasis that attracts flamingos and surreal mountains, so-called “frozen” sandy formations. They are the result of a process that, by the way, began in the Ice Age.
Thomas Steber, a professor in the Department of Earth Sciences at the Khalifa University of Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi, told CNN that Al Wathba has different generations of dunes, which began to form in different polar cycles between 200,000 and 7,000 years ago.
As sea levels fell, when the ice was concentrated in the polar cap, wind from the Arabian Gulf began to carry sand accumulations into the region. When the snow melts, the water level rises and the moisture that builds up in the atmosphere later reacts with the calcium carbonate in the sand.
Thus, a kind of cement was formed in the desert, which was molded into curious shapes by the same strong winds. “The Arabian Gulf is a very shallow little basin. It’s only 120 meters deep, so at the peak of the ice age, about 20,000 years ago, there was so much accumulation in the polar ice caps that there was a lack of water in the ocean. The gulf was dry – and It was the source of material for the fossils in the dunes”, he explains.
This process of making and molding fossils took thousands of years. Recently, erosion caused by strong winds and global warming has changed its sinuous curves. “Some mounds are huge, but eventually the wind will destroy them. They’re essentially rocks, but you can sometimes break them with your hands. It’s a very fragile material”, says the scholar.
Steber promises that Emirati researchers will continue to return to the desert region to study it, as its “time-stopped” sand may provide other curious historical clues. As for the American vehicle, he mentions that his own upbringing may be evidence of Noah’s flood quoted in the Bible, Quran and Torah.
“Probably, this huge flood in the Arabian Gulf occurred at the end of the Ice Age, because sea level rise was very rapid. Along with a dry gulf, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers flowed into the Indian Ocean and what is now 8,000 years ago. There was a very fertile plain that was inhabited and people may have experienced a rapid rise in water levels. Perhaps this led to a historical memory that composed these sacred books of three local religions,” he speculates.
Despite currently being a free tourist attraction in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates Environment Agency has converted it into a protected area. In practice, this means that a trail is set up so that visitors can find the points of greatest interest at a safe distance, without closely affecting their structures.
Also according to Abu Dhabi tourism officials, the Al Wathba Trail is approximately 3 kilometers long and can be completed in about an hour from the visitor center located in the parking lot at one end. The shock of light hitting the surface of the 1,700 fossils creates a beautiful spectacle, best viewed at sunset.
For those who prefer to stay in the area and don’t want to opt for the many luxury resorts around Al Wathba, Emirates offers a campsite on the edge of its oasisWith barbecue and outdoor picnic space. Tours of the dunes are available at restricted times, with more information available on the website.