|Me [BGS Industrial Minerals Specialist|
Clive Mitchell] sampling dune sand
|Burj Khalifa framed by the Emirates |
I recently spent 10 days in the UAE to undertake some fieldwork and silica sand sampling for a glass company. Just before this I took part in the MENA Mining conference in Dubai. MENA is the Middle East and North Africa region. Reading the opening address from H.E. Dr Matar Al Neyadi, Undersecretary at the Ministry of Energy, I was surprised to learn that this region covers an area of over 11 million km2 and has a population of 317 million (larger than Europe with less than half the population). MENA is not well known for its mineral production with little in the way of metal production. It is relatively well known for its production of industrial minerals such as phosphate, gypsum and potash. What I found encouraging was the presence of representatives from Egypt, Libya and Iraq, all there to promote their natural resources and reiterate that their countries are ‘open for business’.
|BGS Geologist Andy Farrant|
|Zeugen - dune sandstone with gypcrete cap rock|
It was great to get out of the office and back to real geology for a change. Dusted off my hand lens, GPS and sampling gear. Along the way I was introduced to some of the UAE’s hidden gems. Such as the Zeugens standing proud over the Sabkhas, fossil bone beds stuffed full of bones, oyster shell and turtle carapace, and the 8 million year old elephant tracks in Miocene limestone pavement. Wow!
|8 million year old elephant tracks in|
Miocene limestone pavement
Back to the sand! Dunes are everywhere getting progressively more quartz rich and larger as we worked our way south away from the coast. Modern dunes overlay quaternary palaeodunes which in turn overlay Miocene palaeodunes. All formed from the same sand worked and reworked from that blown inland from the Arabian Gulf when the sea levels were lower or deflated from older Miocene rocks. Ultimately the quartz sand came from the mountainous highlands of Saudi Arabia where rivers brought it down into the Arabian Gulf around 8 million years ago.
|'Camel Jam' on the road to the Liwa, Al Gharbia, UAE|
One blessed relief, the desert is too dry for most insects and we were free of these usual field work pests!
Whoever said desert geology is boring, surely it’s all just sand isn’t it? Well, there is plenty of exposure in the interdune areas which are surprisingly free of modern dune sand. In addition, in the same way that Eskimos are claimed to have over 100 words for snow, the BGS have managed a dozen for sand! Aeolian sand, low dunes, sand sheet, ribbed sand sheet, dune ridge, Barchan dunes, Mega-Barchan dunes, Zibars dunes, palaeo dunes (carbonate- or quartz-rich), star dunes and beach ridge deposits (I’ve probably missed some out!).
|Etihad Rail line, Al Gharbia, UAE|