The Sabkha salt flats of Al Gharbia, in the UAE’s Western Region, are amongst the world’s most dangerous and inhospitable landscapes. Al Gharbia includes the famous Liwa Oasis, on the edge of the Rub’ al Khali or Empty Quarter, an area famous for it’s dramatic sand dune landscape. But closer to the coast is another type of landscape not often talked about: the Sabkha, or salt plain.The Sabkha are inter-tidal saline desert flats devoid of any obvious vegeta-tion. On first sight they appear to be without any life at all, and of little value for humans because of the absence of fresh water and rangeland for live-stock. Consequently, they have been historically regarded as wastelands.Studying and spending time in the Sabkha leads one to question the way we perceive, and consequently value, natural landscapes. Closer examination of the Sabkha reveals an infinite variety of surface texture and color, and the many complex geological, physical and chemical fac-tors that have created this subtle palette. The distinctive Cyanobacterial mats that form on the coastal strips of the Sabkha offer a currently un-tapped potential in the fields of human health, global ecology, energy-pro-duction, and more. But probably most significantly, Cyanobacteria were amongst the earliest life forms on Earth. As one of the first photosyn-thesizing organisms, they are credited with changing the early carbon-rich atmosphere of our young planet into an oxygen-rich one, which facilitated the development of diverse and sophisticated life forms – including us.
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