Al Hajar Mountains
Stone Mountains, Asabon Mountains
|Peak||Jebel Shams, Oman|
|Elevation||3,009 m (9,872 ft)|
|Native name||جِبَال ٱلْحَجَر|
|Countries||Oman and United Arab Emirates|
Al-Hajar Mountains (Arabic: جِبَال ٱلْحَجَر, romanized: Jibāl al-Ḥajar, The Rocky Mountains or The Stone Mountains) in northeastern Oman and also the eastern United Arab Emirates are the highest mountain range in the eastern Arabian peninsula. Also known as "Oman Mountains", they separate the low coastal plain of Oman from the high desert plateau, and lie 50–100 km (31–62 mi) inland from the Gulf of Oman.
Al (اَلْ) means "the", and Ḥajar (حَجَر) means "stone" or "rock". So al-Ḥajar (اَلْحَجَر) is named as "the stone" or "the rock".
Orography and tectonic setting
Al Hajar Mountains extend for 700 kilometres (430 miles) through the UAE and Oman. They are located on the north-east corner of the Arabian Plate, reaching from the Musandam Peninsula through to the east coast of Oman. The range is about 100 km (62 mi) wide, with Jabal Shams being the highest peak at 3,009 m (9,872 ft) in the central region of the mountains.
Currently, the Arabian Plate is moving north relative to the Eurasian Plate at 2–3 cm (0.79–1.18 in) per year. Continental collision is occurring at the Zagros fold and thrust belt west of the Musandam Peninsula. This collisional plate boundary transitions into a subduction zone, towards the east. Here, oceanic crust of the Arabian Plate is subducted northwards beneath Eurasia, called the Makran subduction zone.
The geology of the Hajar can be grouped into four major tectonostratigraphic groups. Group one are the pre-Permian basement rocks, a sedimentary sequence of clastics, carbonates and evaporites. Group two are a middle Permian to Late Cretaceous sequence of continental shelf carbonates, which were deposited unconformably above the basement. Group three are a series of nappes (allochthonous rocks) that were transported from the northeast to the southwest horizontally for more than 300 km (190 mi). This was a major tectonic event during the late Cretaceous. This process is called obduction, where Permian to middle Cretaceous continental slope-rise (shallow to deep marine) sedimentary rocks and late Cretaceous oceanic crust (Semail ophiolite) were thrust (obducted) above the rocks from groups one and two. Lastly, group four are late Cretaceous to Miocene shallow marine and terrestrial sedimentary rocks that were deposited on top of all three previous groups.
The high topography is around two major culminations: Jabal Akhdar and Saih Hatat, which are large scale anticlines. The Saih Hatat culmination contains eclogite in the northeast at As Sifah. These rocks were subducted to about 80 km (50 mi) depth into the mantle, and then exhumed back to the surface. This exhumation event created possibly the largest megasheath fold on Earth, the Wadi Mayh megasheath fold. The common view is that these eclogites were originally basic volcanic rocks within the leading edge of the continental crust of the Arabian Plate. This leading edge was then subducted by a NE-dipping subduction zone. However, some geologists have interpreted that these eclogites were subducted through a SW-dipping subduction zone.
The two culminations are separated by the Semail Gap. This is a prominent linear structure, trending NNE—SSW. However, it is still debated as to what this structure is. Different geologists claim that it is a left-lateral (sinistral) strike-slip fault, a normal fault, a lateral ramp, a monocline due to a blind thrust, or a fault with multiple phases of deformation.
The late Cretaceous obduction event created the proto-Hajar Mountains. However, this topography subsided and shallow marine sedimentation covered the region, beginning in the Paleocene. Paleocene to Eocene sedimentary rocks are found at 2,200 m (7,200 ft) above sea level within the Hajar, and are folded. This indicates that the present day topography formed after the late Eocene. The exact timing is debated, and various interpretations indicate the topography formed anywhere between the late Eocene through to the Miocene.
The driving forces that formed the Hajar is also debated. Many geologists relate the Zagros Collision as the reason for the uplift forming the mountains, as currently the Musandam Peninsula (northwest corner of the mountain range) is uplifting due to this collision. However, Jabal Shams, the highest peak of the central mountains is over 300 km (190 mi) away from this zone. In addition, there is no major seismicity within the central mountains, indicating that the mountains are not currently deforming, even though the Zagros collision is. This indicates that the uplift that created the present day topography occurred in the past, possibly before the initiation of the Zagros collision, by a mechanism that is not fully understood.
Oman's geological record is extremely valuable to geologists, and needs to be preserved. It contains the most complete ophiolite on Earth, of which it is most famous for among geologists. The ophiolite sequence has spectacular pillow basalt (Geotimes pillow lava), as well as exposures of the fossil crust-mantle boundary (moho). Generally, ophiolites are obducted prior to continental collision, which highly deforms the structure of the original oceanic crust. However, because continental collision has not occurred in the Hajar, the Semail ophiolite is still intact. Oman also has one of the best exposed mega-sheath folds ever discovered, the Wadi Mayh sheath fold. Additionally, the relatively small outcrop of eclogite is important. Eclogite is rare on the Earths surface, as it is a rock that forms at high pressures deep within the crust or mantle. Geologists can learn about what is occurring in the Earths interior and tectonic processes from these rocks. There are also various fossil localities in Oman that need to be protected. There is concern in the geological community that with the development of infrastructure these rocks that contain a great deal of information will be excavated and destroyed.
The central section of the Hajar is the highest and wildest terrain in the country. Jabal Shams is the highest of the range, followed by Jebel Akhdar. The latter and the smaller Jebel Nakhl range are bounded on the east by the low Sama'il Valley (which leads northeast to Muscat).
East of Samail are the Eastern Hajar (Arabic: ٱلْحَجَر ٱلشَّرْقِي, romanized: Al-Ḥajar Ash-Sharqī), which run east (much closer to the coast) to the fishing town of Sur, almost at the easternmost point of Oman.
The mountains to the west of Sama'il Valley, particularly those in Musandam Peninsula and the UAE, are known as the Western Hajar (Arabic: ٱلْحَجَر ٱلْغَرْبِي, romanized: Al-Ḥajar Al-Gharbī), also known as the "Oman proper". Since Jabal Akhdar and mountains in its vicinity are west of the valley, they may be regarded as Western Hajar.
In the region of Tawam, which includes the adjacent settlements of Al-Buraimi and Al Ain on the border of Oman and the UAE Emirate of Abu Dhabi, lies Jebel Hafeet (1,100–1,400 m (3,600–4,600 ft)), which can be considered an outlier of the Hajar. Due to its proximity to the main Hajar range, it may be treated as being part of the range, sensu lato. This mountain has ridges which stretch northwards to the city of Al Ain.
The northernmost mountains of the Hajar range are found on the Musandam Peninsula. For this reason, the phrase Ru'us al-Jibal ("Heads of the Mountains") is applied to them, or the peninsula itself. Despite being physically part of the western Hajar, they differ in geology and hydrology to the rest of the range. The highest point in the UAE is located at Jebel Jais near Ras Al Khaimah, which measures 1,934 m (6,345 ft) from sea level, but since the summit is on the Omani side, Jabal Yibir, measuring over 1,500 m (0.93 mi), has the highest peak in the UAE.
The mountains bordering the Shamailiyyah (شَمَيْلِيَّة) coast on the Gulf of Oman, forming parts of the northern UAE Emirates of Sharjah, Ras Al-Khaimah and Fujairah, may also be called the Shumayliyyah (شُمَيْلِيَّة). In this region is Jebel Al-Ḥeben (جَبَل ٱلْحبن; ).
Flora and fauna
The mountains are rich in plant life compared to most of Arabia, including a number of endemic species. The vegetation changes with altitude, the mountains are covered with shrubland at lower elevations, growing richer and then becoming woodland, including wild olive and fig trees between 3,630 and 8,250 ft (1,110 and 2,510 metres), and then higher still there are junipers. Fruit trees such as pomegranate and apricot are grown in the cooler valleys and in places there are rocky outcrops with little vegetation. The flora shows similarities with mountain areas of nearby Iran, as well as with areas along the Red Sea in the Horn of Africa. For example, the tree Ceratonia oreothauma is found here and also in Somalia.
A number of birds are found in the mountains including Egyptian and lappet-faced vultures (Torgos tracheliotus). Mammals include mountain gazelles (Gazella gazella) and the Arabian tahr (Arabitragus jayakari). Other endemic species include a number of geckos and lizards: Asaccus montanus, Asaccus platyrhynchus and a subspecies of Wadi Kharrar rock gecko (Pristurus gallagheri) are found only in Oman while Musandam leaf-toed gecko (Asaccus caudivolvulus), Gallagher's leaf-toed gecko (Asaccus gallagheri), Oman rock gecko (Pristurus celerrimus), Jayakar lizard (Omanosaura jayakari) and Oman blue-tailed lizard (Omanosaura cyanura) are found only in the Hajar. The endangered Arabian leopard (Panthera pardus nimr) had been recorded here, particularly in the area of Khasab in northern part of the Musandam.
Like the Ru'us al-Jibal, the area of Jebel Hafeet is noted for hosting rare flora and fauna. For example, in February 2019, an Arabian caracal was sighted here, and in March, a Blanford's fox, which has also been reported in the mountains of Ras Al-Khaimah.
Threats and preservation
The Hajar are extensively grazed by domestic goats, camels and donkeys and the landscape has been cleared in parts for urban areas and for mining, which has damaged both vegetation and water supplies and uprooted traditional rural land management behaviours. Poaching of wildlife is another issue. The Oman government has created the Wadi Sareen Reserve and an area of Jebel Qahwan-Jebal Sebtah in the Eastern Hajar, for the protection of Arabian tahr and mountain gazelle. For visitors, there is a road into the mountains from the town of Birkat al-Mawz (on the road to Nizwa from Muscat) and a walking route through Wadi al-Muaydin to the Saiq Plateau.
Trekking and hiking
There are 11 marked trails/routes of varying intensity (between Grade 1 to 3) and duration (between 1.5 hours to 18 hours) published by Ministry of Tourism, Oman along the Hajar range. Some areas are inaccessible, and requires special equipment, as shown in a Steve Backshall TV documentary.
- Gabal Hagar El Zarqa
- Hafit period
- Hatta Heritage Village
- List of tourist attractions in the United Arab Emirates
- Hills of Masirah Island
- Ras al-Jinz
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