World of Knowledge (Australia) - - Nature -

Iran’s Dasht-e Lut desert boasts dunes as high as the Eif­fel Tower and is (quite lit­er­ally) a hot­bed of smug­gling ac­tion

The Ker­man prov­ince in cen­tral south-east­ern Iran is home to the coun­try’s bru­tally arid Dasht-e Lut desert. Its trans­lated name – ‘Desert of Emptiness’ – is an apt moniker: not a lot lives or grows here thanks to the pun­ish­ing heat. Sur­face tem­per­a­tures of more than 70°C have been mea­sured, the high­est any­where in the world.

At 480km long and 320km wide, the Lut is a ma­jor smug­gling route for heroin traf­fic mov­ing from Pak­istan and Afghanistan to Tur­key. MERSAD, the mil­i­tary branch of the Ira­nian po­lice charged with stop­ping drug traf­fick­ing, faces an up­hill task. Not only do they have the heat to con­tend with, but Dasht-e Lut’s hills – known by ge­ol­o­gists as yardangs – play an un­wit­ting part, too. These giant sand­cas­tle-like for­ma­tions, which can reach 75 me­tres in height, look like solid rock, but are sim­ply highly com­pacted sand. In ar­eas, they are so densely packed that they pro­vide con­cealed, criss-cross­ing path­ways for the smug­glers to use.

Other parts of the desert are more be­nign. In con­trast to the pun­ish­ing day­time heat, win­ter nights in the south­ern area sees the mer­cury drop­ping be­low zero. Here, large sweep­ing sand seas with dunes up to 300 me­tres high dom­i­nate the land­scape (left).

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