After the rainy season, the shifting dunes of Lençóis Maranhenses National Park in northeastern Brazil become pockmarked by ephemeral lagoons that dry up as the year wends on. Photographer George Steinmetz has captured the beauty of these fleeting oases.
Even though the 600-square-mile park is covered with sand, its plentiful rainfall allows the area to support freshwater fauna. Says National Geographic:
Actually, by the most technical of standards, the Lençóis isn't really a desert, says Antonio Cordeiro Feitosa, a geographer at the Federal University of Maranhão. Forty-seven inches or so of rain fall on the region a year. By definition, a desert averages fewer than ten inches a year [...] Lagoons are born anew each year after the January-to-June rains fill the valleys between the dunes. Some of these temporary bodies of water are more than 300 feet long and up to ten feet deep. In early July, at their fullest, the lagoons can become interconnected when rivers, such as the Rio Negro, cut through the dunes. So fish have a route to migrate into the lagoons, where they feed on other fish or the larvae of insects buried in the sand. A few fish species, such as the wolffish (Hoplias malabaricus), even spend the dry season dormant in the mud, emerging when the showers return. Once the rainy season ends, the lagoons begin to evaporate in the equatorial heat; their water level may drop by as much as three feet a month.
The Lençóis Maranhenses is constantly being reshaped by rain and winds — talk about phantom geography.