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World Heritage Convention

Decision 40 COM 8B.8
Examination of nominations of natural properties to the World Heritage List

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Documents WHC/16/40.COM/8B and WHC/16/40.COM/INF.8B2,
  2. Inscribes Lut Desert, Islamic Republic of Iran, on the World Heritage List on the basis of criteria (vii) and (viii):
  3. Takes note of the following provisional Statement of Outstanding Universal Value:

    Brief synthesis

    The property Lut Desert is in the southeast of the Islamic Republic of Iran (hereinafter referred to as Iran) and straddles the three Iranian Provinces of Kermān, Sistāno Balūchestān and Khorāsān-e Jonūbi. It is an arid continental subtropical area notable for a rich variety of spectacular desert landforms. At 2,278,015 ha the area is large and is surrounded by a buffer zone of 1,794,134 ha which varies in width between 10 and 30 kms.

    In Persian language “Lut” refers to bare land without water and devoid of vegetation. The Lut Desert is situated in an interior basin surrounded by mountains, so it is in a rain shadow and, coupled with high temperatures, the climate is hyper-arid. The region often experiences Earth’s highest land surface temperatures: a temperature of 70.7C has been recorded within the property.

    The largest incoming river, the Rud-e Shur, drains a catchment to the north of the area. It is perennial but highly saline by the time it enters the core zone; so its banks are devoid of riparian vegetation and its channel is lined with salt crystals.

    A steep north-south pressure gradient develops across the region in spring and summer with the result that strong NNW-SSE winds blow across the area from between June and October each year. The long duration strong winds propel 1 mm quartz sand grains at great velocity creating transportation of sediment and aeolian erosion (by sand blasting) on a colossal scale. Consequently, the area possesses what many experts consider the world’s best examples of aeolian yardang landforms, as well as extensive stony deserts and dune fields. Yardangs are bedrock features carved and streamlined by sandblasting, although they are also eroded by gullying from rainfall runoff and by mass movement. Some are also undercut by floodwaters. Yardangs appear as massive and dramatic corrugations across the landscape with ridges and corridors oriented parallel to the dominant prevailing wind. The ridges are known as kaluts. In the Lut Desert some are up to 155 m high and their ridges can be followed for more than 40 km. Yardangs cover about one third of the area and are developed in consolidated lacustrine sediments (sands, silts, marls, evaporites) of mainly Plio-Pleistocene age that accumulated on the floor of the inland basin.

    The wind also strips hard rocky outcrops bare of soil, which leaves extensive stony desert pavements (hamada) with sand-blasted faceted stones (ventifacts) across about 12% of the area. An extensive, black stony desert covers the basaltic Gandom Beryan plateau in the northwest of the core zone. The stony deserts in eastern Lut cover (as a rubbly veneer) extensive pediplains, which are rock platforms that truncate bedrock and gently slope away from the foot of neighbouring hills.

    Sands transported by wind and washed in by intermittent streams have accumulated in the south and east, where huge sand-seas (termed rig or erg) have formed across 40% of the core zone. These areas consist of active dunes some reaching heights of 475 m. These are amongst the largest dunes in the world and are displayed in the Lut Desert in a wide variety of forms, including linear, compound crescentic, star, and funnel shaped. Where sands are trapped around the lee of plants at the slightly wetter margins of the basin, nebkhas form to 12 m or more in height, arguably being the highest in the world. Nebkhas cover about 3% of the area, particularly along its western margin.

    Dissolved minerals evaporated from incoming streams result in white efflorescences of crystals and evaporite crusts down river beds, in yardang corridors and in salt pans (playa). A variety of small scale evaporite landforms develop, especially along the edges of the Shur River where white crystalline pools are a widespread feature. Small landforms result from the pressure effects of crystal growth, including salt polygons, tepee fractured salt crusts, small salt pingos (or blisters), salt karren and gypsum domes. Various salt features are found over about 4% of the area, especially in the playa of Shurgaz-e Hamun.

    The region has been described in the past as a place of ‘no life’ and information on the biological resources in this area is limited. Nevertheless the nomination dossier documents the area’s known flora and fauna including an interesting adapted insect fauna and other species which have made their home in this extreme environment.

    Within the area, only the western edge includes settlements (there being 28 villages, the largest with just over 700 people). In the buffer zone there are 15 villages and Shahdad town with a population of nearly 6,000. The region has evidence for habitation going back 7,000 years, however this has always been around the periphery of the area, because the aridity of the core zone rendered most of it uninhabitable.

    Criterion (vii): The Lut Desert protects a globally recognized iconic hot desert landscape, one of the hottest places on earth. It is renowned for its spectacular series of landforms namely the yardangs (massive corrugated ridges) in the west of the property and the sand sea in the east. The yardangs are so large and impressive that they can be seen easily from space. Lut is particularly significant for the great variety of desert landform types found in a relatively small area. Key attributes of the aesthetic values of the unspoilt property relate to the diversity and sheer scale of its landforms; a visually stunning mosaic of desert colours; and uninterrupted vistas across huge and varied dune system that transition into large flat desert pavement areas.

    Criterion (viii): The property represents an exceptional example of ongoing geological processes related to erosional and depositional features in a hot desert. The yardang/kalut landforms are widely considered the best-expressed in the world in terms of extent, unbroken continuity and height. The Lut sand-seas are amongst the best developed active dune fields in the world, displaying a wide variety of dune types (crescentic ridges, star dunes, complex linear dunes, funnel-shaped dunes) with dunes amongst the highest observed anywhere on our planet. Nebkha dune fields (dunes formed around plants) are widespread with those at Lut as high as any measured elsewhere. Evaporite (salt) landforms are displayed in wide variety, including white salt-crusted crystalline riverbeds, salt pans (playa) with polygonally fractured crusts, pressure-induced tepee-fractured salt crusts, gypsum domes, small salt pingos (or blisters), and salt karren. Other dry-land landforms include extensive hamada (stony desert pavements or reg) usually located on pediment surfaces with wind faceted stones (ventifacts), gullied badlands and alluvial fans (bajada).

    Protection and management requirements

    Due to its remoteness from major population centres and its extreme environmental conditions, including extreme heat and lack of water, much of the Lut Desert has been largely inaccessible and therefore naturally protected. The nomination reports that, apart from some small private landholdings in villages in the area and buffer zone of western Lut, the majority of the land within the Lut Desert is state-owned. The property is subject to a complex and multi-level protection regime and a range of legislation, regulations and protective mechanisms apply (14 legal instruments). Legal protection and management is provided by state level authorities that work under their specific mandates. Three agencies principally share conservation and management responsibility for the property, namely the Forests, Range and Watershed Management Organization; Iranian Department of Environment; and the Iran Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization (ICHHTO).

    Protection of non-conservation lands, study and execution of projects of watershed and rangeland management and desertification is under the control of the Organization of Forests, Range and Watershed Management. This agency is responsible for the prevention of illegal exploitation of deserts. Two protected areas located in the northwest and southeast are under the management and protection of the Iranian Department of Environment. The Darband-e Ravar “wildlife refuge” in the northwest partially overlaps with the area but the Bobolab “no hunting” area in the southeast only overlaps with the buffer zone. In addition to management of the protected area, the Department of Environment is responsible for environmental assessment of development projects. The Lut Desert is also on the national heritage registration list of ICHHTO.

    Additionally, based on the documents provided by the State Party, ICHHTO is the sole responsible authority for the management of the property as well as coordination between all other relevant institutions. 

  4. Recommends the State Party to:
    1. progressively build technical capacity to manage the natural values of the Lut Desert in light of the intrinsic links between the property’s geomorphology, geology and its desert adapted biodiversity and ecology, and
    2. further study and assess the biodiversity and ecological values of the property with a view to considering nomination also under criteria (ix) and/or (x) at some future time;
  5. Welcomes the efforts of the State Party of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its partners to nominate the country’s first natural World Heritage property.

Decision Code
40 COM 8B.8
Inscriptions on the World Heritage List
Properties 1
Report of the Decisions adopted during the 40th session of the World Heritage Committee (Istanbul/UNESCO, 2016)
Context of Decision