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Frozen sand dunes created by climate change

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Al Watba, Abu Dhabi (CNN) — Driving an hour or so southeast of the city of Abu Dhabi towards the deserted deserts of the emirate, you will see a landscape full of unexpected man-made creations.

The Al Watba area is home to a beautiful oasis reserve, created, as the story goes, as a result of an overflow from a wastewater treatment plant. Now it is a lush area that attracts flocks of migratory flamingos.

Further along the roads, lined with carefully planted trees, a surreal artificial mountain rises on the horizon, the slopes of which are supported by giant concrete walls.

And if you turn off the main roads into the secondary roads, you will encounter wide and dusty camel highways, where cooler evening temperatures allow you to see huge flocks of humpbacked animals preparing for the winter racing season.

But one of the most unusual and elegant sights of Al Watba is not the work of people. Instead, it has been crafted over tens of thousands of years by elemental forces that, while at work millennia ago, provide a glimpse of how the current climate crisis could change our world.

The fossilized dunes of Abu Dhabi rise above the surrounding desert like frozen waves in a raging ocean of hard sand, their slopes rippling with shapes defined by raging winds.

“Complicated History”

Fossil dunes have been formed over thousands of years.

Barry Nield/CNN

Although these proud geological relics have been preserved off the beaten path for centuries, they were opened as a free tourist attraction in Abu Dhabi in 2022 as part of the emirate’s Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to preserve them in a protected area.

While Instagrammers and other visitors once needed ATVs to drive up to the fossil dunes for a dramatic selfie backdrop, they now have the choice of two large parking lots that complete the trail that meanders past some of the most impressive sights.

There are informative signs along the way that give some information about the science behind the creation of the dunes – in fact, the moisture in the ground caused the calcium carbonate in the sand to harden, and then strong winds shaped them into an unusual shape over time.

But that’s not all, says Thomas Stoiber, professor of earth sciences at Abu Dhabi’s Khalifa University of Science and Technology, who has spent most of the Covid quarantine studying the dunes, unable to travel to other areas of geological interest. .

“It’s a pretty complicated story,” Stoiber tells CNN.

The dunes are a stone’s throw from the Wetland Conservation Area, Abu Dhabi’s first protected area.

Stoiber says the dune generations were created by cycles of ice ages and thaws that occurred between 200,000 and 7,000 years ago. Ocean level…

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