The Lut Desert (registered as a UNESCO Natural Heritage Site) is in the southeast of the Islamic Republic of Iran, an arid continental subtropical area notable for a rich variety of spectacular desert landforms. At 2,278,015 ha the area is large and is surrounded by a buffer zone of 1,794,134 ha. In the Persian language ‘Lut’ refers to bare land without water and devoid of vegetation. The property is situated in an interior basin surrounded by mountains, so it is in a rain shadow and, coupled with high temperatures, the climate is hyper-arid. The region often experiences Earth’s highest land surface temperatures: a temperature of 70.7°C has been recorded within the property.
A steep north-south pressure gradient develops across the region in spring and summer causing strong NNW-SSE winds to blow across the area between June and October each year. These long periods of strong winds propel sand grains at great velocity creating transportation of sediment and aeolian erosion on a colossal scale. Consequently, the area possesses what are considered the world’s best examples of aeolian yardang landforms, as well as extensive stony deserts and dune fields. Yardangs are bedrock features carved and streamlined by sandblasting. They cover about one third of the property and appear as massive and dramatic corrugations across the landscape with ridges and corridors oriented parallel to the dominant prevailing wind. The ridges are known as kaluts. In the Lut Desert some are up to 155 m high and their ridges can be followed for more than 40 km.
The wind also strips hard rocky outcrops bare of soil, which leaves extensive stony desert pavements (hamada) with sand-blasted faceted stones (ventifacts) across about 12% of the area. An extensive, black stony desert covers the basaltic Gandom Beryan plateau in the northwest of the core zone. The stony deserts in eastern Lut cover, as a rubbly veneer, extensive pediplains, which are rock platforms that truncate bedrock and gently slope away from the foot of neighbouring hills.
Sands transported by wind and washed in by intermittent streams have accumulated in the south and east, where huge sand-seas have formed across 40% of the property. These areas consist of active dunes some reaching heights of 475 m and are amongst the largest dunes in the world. The Lut Desert displays a wide variety of forms, including linear-, compound crescentic-, star-, and funnel-shaped dunes. Where sands are trapped around the lee of plants at the slightly wetter margins of the basin, nebkhas form to 12 m or more in height, arguably being the highest such features in the world.
Dissolved minerals evaporated from incoming streams result in white efflorescences of crystals and evaporite crusts down river beds, in yardang corridors and in salt pans (playa). Small landforms result from the pressure effects of crystal growth, including salt polygons, tepee fractured salt crusts, small salt pingos (or blisters), salt karren and gypsum domes.
The region has been described in the past as a place of ‘no life’ and information on the biological resources in this area is limited. Nevertheless the property possesses flora and fauna adapted to the harsh conditions including an interesting adapted insect fauna.
1. Camp outside under the stars and you will feel tiny between the surreal rock formations.
2. Visitors, of course, are advised not to explore Lut Desert in the summer; however beware that in winter and spring the nighttime temperatures drop below zero.
3. Lut is the Arabic name for the Prophet Lot. This is the same Lot of the Old Testament, and the Qu’ran, related to be the messenger sent by God to Sodom and Gomorrah.