Unseen Sahara

 

Unseen Sahara

 

A rare aerial look at Libya's remote Fezzan region, where ancient societies
 thrived and collapsed as the rains came and went.

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In the heart of the Sahara, water from rains that fell millennia ago pools in
the Waw an Namus volcanic crater.
Winds carried black ash from the last eruption 12 miles out across the desert.




Even half submerged in dunes, sandstone pinnacles dwarf a truck (lower right) at Maridet.
 Long ago, in a green Sahara, tropical rains dissolved surrounding rock, helping create spiky peaks.




Date palms and reeds fed by an underground aquifer fringe the shore of Umm al Maa,
one of about a dozen salty pools in the Ubari Sand Sea—reminders of the ancient Lake Megafezzan.




Tourists traveling to Waw an Namus to view the total solar eclipse on March 29, 2006, left a record
of their passing in desert stones.
Thousands of people gathered in a temporary "eclipse city" to see the event.



Traffic accidents are few, but billboards featuring Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi are everywhere
 in Fezzan's major city, Sabha, where less than half an inch of rain falls yearly.
 Beyond the city and a handful of towns lies the roadless Sahara.



Pushed to and fro by alternating winds, undulating dunes in the Murzuq Sand Sea end up in much
the same positions year after year.
 Medieval caravans navigated these crests to cross the Sahara.



Sand powered by strong winds carved an arch in the Akakus Mountains.
A drying climate forced ancient people to retreat, leaving Fezzan's parched beauty quiet under desert skies.




Date palms and reeds form a lush fringe along a finger of Umm al Maa Lake in the Ubari Sand Sea.
Umm al Maa is one of about a dozen salty reminders of the vast, freshwater Lake Megafezzan,
which covered an area the size of England some 200,000 years ago.




Colored deep red by algae adapted to survive in its hypersaline waters, this lake in the Ubari Sand Sea is fed
by springs from an underground aquifer created by ancient rains.
Fresh water that wells up from underground is lost to evaporation, leaving ever greater concentrations of salt.




In a twisting line of massive boulders, towering pillars, and steep-sided plateaus, the heavily eroded Akakus Mountains
cut across Fezzan.
Rock art and carvings as much as 8,000 years old have been found in caves in these sandstone mountains.




Carefully chosen light and dark stones mark the isolated grave of a herder who died between 5,000 and 3,000 years ago.
As rainfall dwindled, Fezzan's inhabitants congregated around scattered oases.





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