The government has invited geologists in Oman to examine the country’s spectacular limestone caves. Research team systematically survey the caves, using satellite-based global positioning technology to pinpoint cave entrances, lasers to calculate interior volumes, and air-monitoring sniffers to check for harmful levels of gases, such as carbon dioxide. The team’s biologists gather and analyze water samples and inventory the flora and fauna both above and below the surface.
Someday Oman’s lucrative oil reserves will be pumped dry, so the government is encouraging economic diversification of all kinds—from copper mines to cookie factories. The caves, they hope, could be developed into a tourist attraction like New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns National Park, which generates more than 30 million dollars a year.
Tawi Attair, the Well of the Birds, a huge sinkhole within the massif. Twenty miles (30 kilometers) east of Salalah the mountains squeeze toward the sea, and we turn away from the coast onto a road that rises into the highlands. Walls of stacked limestone blocks bound the fields, where cattle and camels graze on natural terraces—abundant herds that embody the wealth of these mountain tribesmen, the Jabalis.