Geology and Topography

 

The north of Oman is dominated by the Hajar Range, a chain of rugged limestone and dolomite mountains, stretching from Musandam to Sur and rising to just over 3,000m at the highest point of the Jebel al Akhdhar. They are flanked by lower mountains of ophiolite, an igneous rock originating from upheavals of oceanic crust.


Topography of Oman

Along the north-east of the range is the alluvial plain of the Batinah region, whilst to the west and south gravel plains stretch to the southern governorate of Dhofar.


These plains cover some 80% of the surface of Oman and border the Arabian Sea. In the west the extensive sand dunes of the Rub' al Khali stretch beyond the border with Saudi Arabia.

 

The separate Sharqiyah Sands, covering some 9,300 sq km, lie to the east, near the southern extemity of the Hajar range. In the Governorate of Dhofar the gravel plains rise southwards to the escarpment of the Dhofar mountains, reaching 1,800 m and comprising mainly tertiary rocks, including calcareous shale, limestone, and massive gypsum.
 

 

Climate

 

With the exception of the mountain regions and Dhofar, the climate is hot and dry, with annual rainfall less than 100 mm. Summer temperatures can reach as high as 54°C with mean temperatures in Muscat of 33°C. Winter temperatures are mild and pleasant ranging between 15°C – 23°C.

 

The Hajar range attracts higher but sporadic rainfall, more often in the winter months, but also from occasional thunderstorms in the summer.

 

Climate in Muscat and Salalah
Source: Oman Meteorological Affairs

 

The climate of Dhofar is dominated by the south-west monsoon, which brings dense mists and some rain to the escarpment and the Salalah plain during the months of July, August and September, resulting in a belt of grass and woodland in the mountain region, densest on the steep slopes facing south to the Arabian Sea.

 

The remainder of the country is arid with sporadic winter rain and occasional thunderstorms in the summer. Rainfall is higher in the Hajar range, bringing more vegetation, though limited by lack of soil in the rugged terrain.

 

Fog moisture, especially in the spring and autumn, benefits the vegetation of the central plains of the Jiddat al Harasis.

 

Vegetation

 

Mubsaylah Hambasis al Kilab (Asphodelus tenuifolius)
© D Insall

 

The flora of the Sultanate reflects the influence of Iran in the north, with an increasing influence of African species from the Eastern Hajar mountains southwards to Dhofar. Of approximately 1,200 species found in Oman, some 87 are endemic or near-endemic – occurring only in Oman or shared with its immediate neighbours. Of these, 75 are endemic to Dhofar, mainly found in the mountains within the monsoon belt.

 

Mammals

 

Arabian Oryx (Oryx leucoryx)

 

Some 86 mammal species or sub-species occur in Oman offering a wide variety of wildlife including some endangered, endemic Arabian animals such as the Arabian Tahr (Wa'al al Arabi), Arabian Oryx and the Arabian Leopard.

 

Of the regionally endemic large mammals, the Arabian Tahr - Wa'al al Arabi (Hemitragus jayakari), classified as 'endangered', occurs only in the northern mountains including those of the UAE. The 'critically endangered' Arabian leopard (Panthera pardus nimr), a regionally endemic subspecies, can be found in the Dhofar mountains.

 

Birds

 

Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)
© A Elliott

 

Over 480 species have been recorded in Oman, the majority being migrants travelling seasonally between northern Asia some as far north as the Arctic, and Africa. Around 100 species are breeding residents.

 

Other Terrestrial Fauna  

 

Many species of reptiles, arthropods, amphibians, insects and lower order fauna occur throughout Oman. A visit to the Oman Natural History Museum at the Ministry of Heritage and Culture is strongly recommended for a closer look at the full range of Oman's biological diversity.

 

The Landscape

 

Oman's natural and cultural landscapes are famous for their astonishing beauty, from dramatic high peaks and canyons, ancient oasis settlements with their traditional forts and houses, dense monsoon forests, barren gravel wildernesses, sand seas furrowed by high dunes, to coastal cliffs and fjords. To geologists they tell the story of millions of years of Oman's history because, unlike temperate countries where rock formations are mostly covered by soil and vegetation, the geology of Oman is visible for all to see.

 

Ancient Fortress, Nizwa
© M Paulose

 

In today's crowded industrial world, wildernesses have a special appeal to the international tourist, many of whom wish to go to places where they will not be among crowds of other tourists: Oman is able to offer this experience as well as the more conventional types of holiday.

 

The landscape is the foundation of responsible tourism, a sustainable way to support the economy of rural areas, through employment. It contains all Oman's terrestrial species, so care of the landscape helps to protect what is within it. Aside from tourism, a beautiful landscape sustains the quality of life for all those who live and work within it, encouraging their sense of ownership and pride.

The Mountainous North

 

Wadis (valleys) dissect the mountains of northern and central Oman and provide the only means of access to many areas. While most wadis are seasonal, some have a constant flow of water, attracting settlement and wildlife. Red Foxes, mountain gazelle, hares (which include a race unique to Oman), small rodents and even wolves may still be found, although the latter are more likely to be seen further south.

 

Other creatures to watch out for include the Blue-Headed Agamid Lizards, 'water snakes' (most commonly, racers) and Arabian Toads. Bats can be found in many of the extensive cave systems and birds of prey such as Egyptian Vultures and, for the lucky, Golden Eagles, circle above magnificent mountain panoramas.

 

Blue-Headed Agama Lizard (Acanthocerus atricollis)
© T Horton, Further to Fly Photography

 

Breathtaking views and a remarkable juniper forest are to be found at the summit of Jabal Shams (Sun Mountain), Arabia's highest peak standing at 3000 metres. One of the few places in the peninsula where snowfall is not unexpected in winter months. Most importantly, this region is home to the nimble-footed Arabian Tahr (Wa'al), the rare and shy goat-like animal confined and unique to this small, mountainous part of the world.

 

Deserts

 

Sharqiyah Sands
© A Thacker

 

The deserts of Oman vary from the rolling sand seas of the Sharqiyah, with classic dunes of rich gold, to the flat stony Jiddat al Harasis in central Oman and the Rub al-Khali or 'Empty Quarter' further south, where individual mountains of sand rise from a flat desert and stretch endlessly across the border into Saudi Arabia. However, far from being empty, the desert is host to a surprising amount of wildlife. Caracal Lynx, Sand Foxes and Wild Sand Cats, with hair-covered feet that help provide grip in soft sand, are some of the larger predators. Rheem Gazelle, Arabia's largest gazelle, also seem to prefer sandy regions.

 

Nubian Ibex (Capra ibex nubiana)
© L Karunungan

 

On rocky outcrops, such as the Huqf escarpment to the east of the Jiddat al Harasis plains, live Nubian Ibex. They are also found in more mountainous areas. The males, in particular, with their magnificent horns, are an impressive sight. The desert provides habitat too for skinks, lizards and geckos and their more deadly cousins, such as the Saw-Scales or Carpet Viper and the Horned Adder. A host of small rodents survive the desert heat despite the high metabolic rates of small mammals. A number of species of gerbils, jirds, jerboas, mice, shrews and rats have all adapted to life under harsh conditions.

 

Flocks of Coronetted, Chestnut-Bellied, Spotted and Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse can be regularly seen soaking their naturally engineered, water bearing breast feathers in precious watering holes and transporting the stored water to ground nests some distance away.

 

Dhofar

 

Precambrian basement sediments formed the Dhofar mountains in the far south of Oman. The annual monsoons brought by the khareef (south-west winds), between early July and the end of August, create lush green hillsides and cool temperatures along the coast and mountain regions. Immediately behind the mountains the desert heat continues to scorch the earth. This seasonal transition creates a haven for wildlife as well as spectacular mountain drives and hikes.

 

The best time to visit is September.

 

The capital of Dhofar is Salalah, known throughout Arabia as 'The Garden City' - relaxed, cool and humid and rife with banana, coconut, sugarcane and papaya plantations. Beyond the plains of Salalah where frankincense trees grow, rise the wooded hillsides of Jabal Qara. The vegetation that clads the southern mountains is unique in Arabia. The dominant and endemic Anogeissus dhofarica was only scientifically described in 1979. Among the vegetation are trees more commonly associated with Africa and Asia, such as the magnificent baobab.

 

Frankincense Tree (Boswellia sacra)
© PW

 

The desert rose is an attractive and distinctive plant which was used for medicinal purposes by the Jibbali people of the Dhofar hills. During the monsoon great waterfalls tumble over limestone cliffs into the sea several hundred feet below, and springs such as those at Ayn Razat and Ayn Jarsis bubble with freshwater. Some pools remain year round in many of the wadi beds, such as Wadi Darbat, offering a constant supply of water for resident and passing wildlife.

 

Even where the greenery ends, wildlife thrives. Leopard, Caracal, Hyena, Wolf and Ratel all find territories along with many others. Hedgehogs and the nocturnal vegetarian Porcupines leave evidence of their presence with a handful of shed quills, and birds pass through in their thousands.

 

Lush valley, Dhofar
© A Al Wosaibie

 

Where wadis reach the sea, lagoons (khors), form along the coast, acting as a focal point for wildlife, especially birds. Reeds and reedmace typically line the landward rims of the khors while the salt tolerant mangrove trees spread seaward. Some of the more spectacular birds to frequent Oman are to be found in khors such as the stately Flamingo, colourful ducks, storks, stilts, plovers, sandpipers, egrets, herons and the Glossy Ibis.

 

Coastline, Salalah, Dhofar
© T S Al Said

 

To the north-east of Salalah, is a beautiful sand beach 30 km in length that sweeps the bay forming the mouth of Oman's largest and probably most spectacular wadi - Wadi Shuwaymiyah. The wadi forms a huge snaking canyon with dramatic vertical cliffs of white limestone. Long fingers of porous travertine form stalactites along overhanging cliff edges and deep pools of sweet water are surrounded by vegetation. Breathtaking scenery and wildlife is to be found in this remote haven of natural beauty.