Danakil Depression

In this article, we will present the hottest place on Earth – Danakil Depression, its location and formation, volcanoes, inhabitants, and some advice of the governments of Australia, the UK, New Zealand, the US, and Canada, given to their citizens if they want to travel to Danakil Depression, which can be helpful for you as well.

Location and Formation of Danakil Depression 

Danakil Depression is in the northern part of the Afar basin on the border of Ethiopia and Eritrea, part of the namesake dessert.

Danakil Depression extends over 40 by 10 kilometers, and also borders mountains, and a high plateau.

In due time, the region was covered with ocean waters, and thick layers of sedimentary rocks and limestone remained there.

The Danakil Depression was formed at the junction of the three tectonic plates underlying Africa and Asia.

When the plates moved further apart, a rift valley formed with a recess inside.

Currently, the surface is settling as the old African plate gradually breaks up into Nubian and Somali plates.

Danakil Depression is one of the lowest places on the planet located 125 meters below sea level and takes third place in the list of the lowest places in Africa, second only to Lake Assal (−153 meters) and the Qattara Basin (−133 meters).

The American paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson and his colleagues, who in 1974 discovered the remains of an Australopithecus afar named Lucy, consider the Danakil Depression the ancestral home of the hominids.

The age of Lucy is estimated at 3.2 million years.

The place where they found her is the Afar Triangle – geological Depression in the Horn of Africa, in Djibouti, Somalia, Eritrea, and the Afar region of Ethiopia.

Despite the considerable distance from civilization, the lack of roads and airports nearby, this “hell on Earth” is a tourist attraction.

Danakil depression is not the only kind of depression.

There is another similar depression in Egypt, called the Qattara Depression.

                                                                                                   Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Dallol is the Hottest Place on Earth

Dallol (means disintegration in Afar language), located in Danakil Depression, is considered the hottest place on Earth because, Between 1960 and 1966, an absolute record for the average annual temperature (+34 ºC) was set there. 

In the Danakil Depression, the temperature is not “record high,” but “medium-high” throughout the year.

For example, on a winter morning, the air temperature can reach 37°C.

The maximum temperature (not in the shade) is 63°С, during the summer the temperature never drops below 40°С.

It is not raining here most of the year.

                                                                                                               Dallol, Ethiopia

Volcanoes in Danakil Depression

On the territory of the Depression are the sleeping volcano Ayalu (2145 meters), the dormant Dallol volcano (−48 meters), which gave rise to several sulfur springs; and the active Erta Ale (613 meters), as well as the outfall of the Avash river, which in rainless years dries up here and crumbles into a chain of salt lakes, not reaching the Indian Ocean a bit. 

Inhabitants of the Danakil Depression

The Danakil region is populated by one of the most numerous tribes of Ethiopia – Afarami.

There is no sign of the Negroid race. Afars are long-Islamized (Sunnis) representatives of the East Cushitic group of peoples.

They live in primitive huts made up of varied, picturesque garbage in extremely unfavorable climatic conditions – sweltering heat and eating up all the rock-salt desert.

Afars live in Danakil Depression minimum for 2000 years, mining and selling the plain’s rich salt, which was used as currency in Ethiopia in the past. 

Nowadays, civilization has come here too – many of the inhabitants of the Afar villages go with simple mobile phones, and satellite dishes rise on the roofs of the slums.

The camel is the primary assistant and breadwinner for the inhabitants of these places, however.

The Wonderful Danakil Depression

Danakil Depression is like a fairy-tale country: you can see here some unusual miracles: bright yellow hot springs (the Yellow lake), lava that burns in blue, and lakes of seething mud. 

In conformity with tectonic plates, the land will continue to settle even lower than sea level.

Volcanic activity will continue as the split created by the movable plates, expands.

After several million years, the Red Sea will pour into this area, expanding it and, maybe, forming a new ocean.

At the moment, Danakil is attracting scientists to study the types of life that exist in this region. Residents continue to mine salt.

Astronomers are also interested in the geology and life forms of this area because they can hold the key to whether similar regions in other parts of the solar system can also support life. 

Nowadays, the Danakil Depression is not enough studied.

In early April, a group of scientists from the Astrobiological Center of Spain in Madrid, led by Felipe Gomez, worked here.

The expedition, which took only three days, was the first of a series planned for the future.

However, even the primary information collected in such a short time provides a large field for research.

In the final article, published in the scientific publication EuroPlanet, Felipe Gomez notes that the water that comes to the surface through the layers of rock heated by the lava is unique in composition.

A liquid as saturated with inorganic compounds was found on Earth only at the dawn of the birth of life.

Three unusual ecosystems have also been identified here. Microorganisms live in almost boiling liquid at temperatures from +40 ºC to +90 ºC, in liquids saturated with acids, sulfur, and copper salts in different combinations.

Such extreme conditions are not uncommon on other planets, but for the Earth, the birth of life in such a hostile environment is extremely atypical. 

A team of researchers led by Dr. Felipe Gomez of the Astrobiological Center in Spain reports the discovery of traces of bacteria in samples of salt deposits taken in the Dallol geothermal zone, where the water temperature was 90 degrees Celsius, and the pH value was at 0.25. Molecular studies, including electron microscopy analysis of samples, and phylogenetic analysis of amplified rDNA sequences revealed the presence of ultra-small microorganisms associated with the order Nano Haloarchaea, which formed compact, dense colonies.

The combination of these parameters led to the creation of a unique multi-extreme environment, which is considered an ideal analog for studying hydrothermal media on Mars, such as the Nili Patera caldera in the equatorial region of Big Syrt and Gusev Crater, where the Spirit rover worked.

However, previously, no biological studies have been conducted in the area of the volcano.

Stay safe

As of April 2018, the governments of Canada, New Zealand, and Australia recommend not to travel to Danakil Depression.

The American government recommends for its citizens to “rethink travel” connected to a crime, a slightly lower degree of anxiety.

The government of the UK mentions that there is an increased military and police presence in the area.

Travel may be disrupted, and entry to some sites may be prohibited at short notice.

If you are in the area, you should be cautious and follow the advice of the local authorities.

You should only travel to this area with a known tour company; such tours are usually supported by armed police or military escort.” 

                                                                                                               Danakil Desert

Recommended books and sources

  1. Desert and forest: The exploration of Abyssinian Danakil
  2. HFNE “Agoraphobia Treatment”
  3. HFNE “Existential Depression”
  4. The Danakil Deception
  5. The Danakil Diary
  6. Video – The Danakil Depression: Salt mining in one of the hottest places on Earth
  7. Video – The Unearthly Scenery of Dallol, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia 
  8. Video – Visiting Dallol in the Danakil Depression, Ethiopia

Conclusion

Danakil Depression is in the northern part of the Afar basin on the border of Ethiopia and Eritrea, part of the namesake dessert.

It is one of the lowest places on the planet located 125 meters below sea level and takes third place in the list of the lowest places in Africa, second only to Lake Assal (−153 meters) and the Qattara Basin (−133 meters).

Dallol, located in the Danakil Depression, is considered the hottest place on Earth because, Between 1960 and 1966, an absolute record for the average annual temperature (+34 ºC) was set there. 

On the territory of the Depression are the sleeping volcano Ayalu, the dormant volcano Dallol, and the active Erta Ale.

The Danakil region is populated by one of the most numerous tribes of Ethiopia – Afarami.

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Despite the considerable distance from civilization, the lack of roads and airports nearby, this “hell on Earth” is a tourist attraction.

Please feel free to comment on the content or ask any questions in the comments section below.

References

  1. Curiosities of the Danakil Depression
  2. Gazing Into Danakil Depression’s Mirror, and Seeing Mars Stare Back

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