The ‘rainbow island’ most travellers don’t know

With ochre-stained streams, crimson-hued beaches and enchanting salt caves, Iran’s Hormuz Island is a geologist’s Disneyland.

“You should get a taste of this soil,” said Farzad Kay, my tour guide on southern Iran’s Hormuz Island, as we stood at the foot of a ruby-red mountain that loomed majestically over the shoreline, engulfing the beach and waves in a crimson shadow. I approached his suggestion with some trepidation, as I was yet to understand this mysterious, mineral-laden landscape.

Set 8km off Iran’s coast amid the murky blue waters of the Persian Gulf, Hormuz is a teardrop-shaped shimmering¬†salt dome¬†embedded with layers of shale, clay and iron-rich volcanic rocks that glow in dazzling shades of red, yellow and orange due to the more than 70 minerals found here. Nearly every inch of Hormuz Island’s 42 awe-invoking sq km imparts a story of its formation.

According to Dr Kathryn Goodenough, principal geologist at the British Geological Survey who has previously worked in Iran, hundreds of millions of years ago, shallow seas formed thick layers of salt around the margins of the Persian Gulf. These layers gradually collided and interlayered with mineral-rich volcanic sediment in the area, causing the formation of the colourful landmass.

“Over the last 500 million years, the salt layers were buried deeply by younger layers of volcanic sediment. Since the salt is buoyant, over time, it has risen through cracks in the overlying rocks to reach the surface and form salt domes,” said Dr Goodenough. She added that these thick layers of salt, many kilometres below the land, are actually present across much of the Persian Gulf area.

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