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Scientists Uncover Secrets of Giant Moroccan Sand Dune Formed 13,000 Years Ago

Scientists Uncover Secrets of Giant Moroccan Sand Dune Formed 13,000 Years Ago

In a groundbreaking study, scientists have unraveled the mysteries surrounding the age and formation of a colossal star dune in Morocco, shedding light on Earth’s geological history. This landmark discovery, led by researchers from Aberystwyth University, Birkbeck, and University College London, marks a significant milestone in understanding the planet’s ancient landscapes.

The star dunes, characterized by their distinctive star-like shape with arms extending from a central peak, are a common feature in deserts worldwide, including the UAE. Despite their prevalence, these dunes have remained largely unexplored in the geological record, until now.

Using advanced dating techniques, the research team determined that the Lala Lallia star dune, located in southeast Morocco’s Erg Chebbi region, formed approximately 13,000 years ago. This revelation provides crucial insights into the rapid growth and evolution of these geological formations.

Professor Geoff Duller from Aberystwyth University highlighted the significance of the study, stating, “One of the odd things is, today, if you look around the world, including in the UAE in the Liwa (Empty Quarter) desert, there are some fabulous star dunes. They are quite common. But when you look in the geological record – and these deserts produce some fabulous geology that’s really important for water, aquifers, for gas and oil storage – we can only find a record of one place where someone has described a star dune.”

The research sheds light on the rapid growth of the Lala Lallia dune, which reached heights of 100 meters and widths of 700 meters over the past millennium, shifting gradually to the west. This newfound understanding challenges previous assumptions about the formation and evolution of star dunes, offering valuable insights into their dynamic nature.

Moreover, the study suggests a correlation between the dune’s formation and the Younger Dryas event, a period of abrupt cooling in Earth’s history. It reveals a hiatus in the dune’s growth lasting 8,000 years, possibly attributed to wetter conditions caused by an expanded monsoon. The presence of pottery at the site further supports this hypothesis, indicating a period of stability before a prolonged drought.

Professor Charlie Bristow of Birkbeck and UCL emphasized the significance of the study’s findings, stating, “Using ground penetrating radar to look inside this star dune has allowed us to show how these immense dunes form, and to develop a new model so geologists know better what to look for in the rock record to identify these amazing desert features.”

The research, made possible by luminescence dating techniques developed at Aberystwyth University, offers valuable insights into Earth’s geological processes and climate variability. As Professor Duller remarked, “It’s quite a privilege to think that the luminescence dating techniques developed here in Aberystwyth are unlocking some of the secrets of the most challenging climates in the world.”

This groundbreaking study not only advances our understanding of Earth’s geological history but also underscores the importance of continued scientific exploration in unraveling the planet’s ancient mysteries. As researchers continue to delve into the secrets of star dunes and other geological formations, they pave the way for a deeper appreciation of our planet’s rich and complex history.

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