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Land of Terror

This looks like an abstract painting, but it’s a satellite image of the Tanezrouft Basin, a part of the Sahara Desert in central Algeria known as the Land of Terror.

This natural-color image, acquired on October 22, 2017, by NASA/s Landsat 8 satellite, shows concentric rings of exposed sandstone strata that create stunning patterns across the Tanezrouft Basin. Viewed from 705 kilometers (438 miles) above Earth. Image via NASA.

The Tanezrouft Basin, a part of the Sahara Desert in central Algeria, lies just above the Tropic of Cancer, about 1200 kilometers (750 miles) south of the city of Algiers. The basin’s colloquial name is the Land of Terror because, for many, to traverse this land is to stare death in the face.

The land here is especially parched, with annual rainfall measured in millimeters (less than 5 millimeters or 0.2 inches). It’s a hyperarid place of soaring temperatures and scarce access to water or vegetation. There are no permanent residents here, only occasional Tuareg nomads.

Wind erosion — caused by constant sandblasting through millennia of frequent sandstorms — has exposed ancient folds in the Paleozoic rocks. The sandstone canyons in this region have walls that rise as high as 500 meters (1,600 feet), and with salt flats in their lower reaches. The flats indicate that water played a role in sculpting this landscape.

P. Kyle House, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. House explained:

Intermittent flooding has occurred often enough to mold the landscape pretty thoroughly over millions of years. There are numerous canyons in this region that both follow and abruptly cut directly across the grain of the tilted and folded strata. These patterns are striking and reminiscent of landscapes formed on folded strata in, for example, the Red Desert of southern Wyoming and even parts of the heavily forested Appalachian Mountains of the Eastern United States.

Fifty miles east of this area, the trans-Saharan highway — known as one of the world’s most brutal roads — makes its way through the desert.

Bottom line: Satellite image of the Tanezrouft Basin, a part of the Sahara Desert.

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