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Island of salt in the Persian Gulf

Sir Bani Yas Island

The unusual Sir Bani Yas Island is home to a nature reserve and orchards.

Sir Bani Yas Island is located in the Persian Gulf near the western coastline of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Roughly 14 kilometres (9.7 miles) by 9 kilometres (6 miles), the island is the surface expression of a salt dome, which is a pocket of salt minerals that balloons upward into overlying layers of sedimentary rocks.

Salt domes start during periods of alternating wet and dry climate. A common scenario is an enclosed basin that is alternately flooded and then subjected to extreme drying. High rates of evaporation deposit thick layers of salt minerals, such as common table salt and gypsum (a chalky mineral that is a major component of wallboard). These layers are eventually buried by sediments.

If the salt layers are buried deeply enough, the pressure can cause them to flow. Salt has lower density than the surrounding rock, so it tends to flow upwards, pushing up the overlying layers of rock to form a dome. While many salt domes retain a cap of the youngest rock layers at the surface, in some cases the underlying salt extrudes all the way to the surface.

This astronaut photograph illustrates the varying character of surfaces on Sir Bani Yas. The central mountains of Jebel Wahid (image centre) mark the location of the Sir Bani Yas salt dome. The dome has breached the surface but exposed salt, primarily gypsum, is eroded, leaving a rugged, insoluble cap made of fragments of the overlaying sedimentary and volcanic rocks. Sand and silt derived from the Jebel Wahid and surrounding gravel-covered areas form beaches along the outer edge of the island.

Sir Bani Yas Island was the personal retreat of the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan who was president of the UAE from 1971-2004. He established a nature preserve on the island for animals native to the Arabian Peninsula (including striped hyena, cheetah, oryx, ostrich, and gazelle) that is now open to the public.

The numerous orchard plots that cover much of the island were part of a desert agricultural research program also started by the late Sheikh. Tan graded areas along the western and north-eastern coast of the island (image bottom and image left) may be revegetated with additional plots or developed for other land uses.

The image was taken by the ISS Expedition 22 crew, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment and Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space Centre. Text adapted from information issued by William L. Stefanov, NASA-JSC.