Have you ever seen the Danakil Desert? Ethiopia is a country that is often overlooked or overlooked, but it has some of the most beautiful scenery in Africa and is well worth a visit. The Danakil Depression is one of the world’s most fascinating geological features because it is the location of a massive depression caused by three tectonic plates diverging in the Horn of Africa. Keep reading with PowerPAC plus to learn more!!
Location & Character
It’s in Northern Ethiopia’s Afar department, close to the Eritrean border. Only the first hour of the drive from Mekele was on asphalt; the rest was a dusty, bumpy ride on dirt tracks, if at all. We were following faint tire marks when we arrived in the desert. It’s a miracle our drivers knew where we needed to go without GPS or a compass.
It is populated by a few Afar who work in salt mining. The region is known for its volcanoes and extreme heat, with daytime temperatures exceeding 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit). Each year, less than 25 mm (1 in) of rain falls. The Danakil Desert is one of the world’s lowest and hottest area.
- The mesmerizing land:
Ethiopia’s Danakil Depression (or Afar Depression) is a fantastical land conjured up by a storyteller, with lava that burns blue, bright yellow hot springs, and lakes of bubbling mud. These otherworldly occurrences are all the result of a tectonic process known as continental rifting. In other words, the Earth is separating at the seams.
The Arabian, Somali, and Nubian (or African) plates are separating in northeastern Africa, thinning the Earth’s crust as they do so. The Danakil Depression is located between the Danakil Alps (east) and the Ethiopian Plateau (west), which were once connected until the rifting process separated them. The land is gradually sinking, and the Danakil Depression will eventually fill with water as a new ocean or great lake forms. However, for the time being, the region is brimming with other intriguing liquids.
- Ghost town of Dallol:
Dallol, a ghost town made of salt blocks, is located near the southern end of the Red Sea and at the northernmost extension of the Great Rift Valley. The location is far below sea level – at some points, it is nearly 120m below sea scale. There’s a reason Dallol is known as the “gateway to hell.” There, the average temperature is around 35 degrees Celsius.
But from the outside, this strange place appears to be heaven! It presents a nearly surreal color landscape dominated by luminescent yellows and greens. However, visitors quickly realize that this breathtaking view is merely an illusion. It combines with boiling hot water bubbles, poisonous chlorine and sulfur gasses, all of which suffocate the air. And heat isn’t Danakil’s only issue. Earth tremors are a common occurrence. There are also several active volcanoes, the most well-known of which is Erta Ale. It is a spectacular natural phenomenon, standing 613 meters tall and featuring a lava lake at its summit, one of only five in the world.
Even with its near-impossible living conditions, this strange place and the surrounding region, known as The Afar Depression and Triple Junction, are alive and well. The oldest direct evidence of stone tool manufacture was discovered here in June 2010. It is thought to have existed more than three million years ago!
- Life in Danakil:
Hot springs in the Danakil area provide access to mineral-rich waters that support extreme life forms. Rolf Cosar, Wikimedia Commons The hydrothermal pools and hot springs in this area are teeming with bacteria. These creatures are called “extreme” because they don’t thrive in harsh environments, like the harsh Danakil Crisis. These extremes can withstand high temperatures, toxic volcanic gases in the air, high concentrations of metals in the ground, as well as high salt and acid content. Most of the extreme species in the Danakil Depression are extremely primitive, prokaryotic bacteria, some of the most ancient life forms on our planet.
Since it was not taken care of like Danakil’s surroundings, it seems that this area played a role in the evolution of humanity. In 1974, researchers led by anthropologist Donald Johnson found the fossilized remains of an Australopithecus woman nicknamed “Lucy”. The scientific name for her species is “australopithecus afarensis” as a tribute to the area where she and other fossils of this type have been found. That discovery has led to the area being dubbed the “cradle of mankind”.
Why is the Danakil Desert called the deadliest place?
According to CNBC, the Danakil Desert is one of the lowest places on the planet, measuring 400 feet below sea level. It’s also one of the hottest, with highs of 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius). The Danakil Desert was formed as a result of volcanic activity, which adds to the dangers of visiting it. The air is polluted with gases such as sulfur and carbon dioxide, making it dangerous to breathe. Some researchers believe that even brief stays in the Danakil Desert can be harmful to one’s health (via Orange Smile).
The Danakil Desert’s famous brightly colored hot springs pose their own set of dangers. The water in these pools has a pH of 0.2 on average, making it more acidic than battery acid (via CNBC). The crust surrounding these hot springs, like that of other geothermal hotbeds such as Yellowstone National Park, can be brittle, and failing to take proper precautions can result in a less-than-pleasant dip in superheated water. That is why the Danakil desert is known as one of the deadliest places on the planet.
The future of Danakil
Volcanic activity in the Danakil Region continues as the valley widens. Wikimedia Commons, Iany 1958. The land will continue to sink below sea scale as the tectonic plates beneath the Danakil Depression move slowly (about three millimeters per year). Volcanic activity will continue as the crack caused by moving plates widens.
The Red Sea will flood into the area in a few million years, expanding its reach and possibly forming a new ocean. Currently, the area attracts scientists who study the different types of life that exist there and map the “extended” hydrothermal plumbing that runs beneath the ground. People are still exploiting salt. Planetary scientists are also interested in the geology and life forms found here because they may provide clues as to whether similar regions in the solar system could support life as well. There is even a limited amount of travel that will immerse the discerning traveler in “this hell on earth.”
However, Gomez and Cavalazzi’s team may have been premature in claiming that there is life in Dallol. In October 2019, the team led by Purificacion Lopez Garcia published their findings in Nature magazine. Gomez’s team presented their findings as evidence for the possibility of life on Mars or other planets, but Lopez Garcia’s team warns against drawing such conclusions. “Our work helps circumscribe habitability and calls for cautionary interpretations of morphological biosignatures on Earth and beyond,” Lopez Garcia’s team writes.
“We have verified that there is no microbial life in these salty, hot, and hyperacid pools or in the adjacent magnesium-rich brine lakes after analyzing many more samples than in previous works, with adequate controls to not contaminate them and a well-calibrated methodology,” Lopez Garca says, as quoted by SINC.