Monday, April 16, 2012

Danakil Depression

This trip was expected to have many highlights, but one of them, standing out among the highlights, must be the Danakil Depression. It is not only the lowest point on the African continent (in places 116 m below sea level), not only the hottest place on earth (34-35 oC, on average (!), and hottest temperature ever measured, at 64.4 oC). It is also one of these places without any infrastructure, no roads, no towns, forget about hotels, even of the Assaita standard – why on earth are we going here in the first place?

Danakil is the only place on earth where one can observe continental spreading. Continental what? Continental spreading, the actual moving apart of continents, and the widening of the ocean in between. Well, observing is a big word, this process, although one of the fastest in geological terms, still only takes place at a rate of a few centimeters per year. And nobody is sure whether the East African Rift will in fact succeed in creating an ocean – it isn’t there yet, and the geological record is full of failed rifts: if anything this will take another 10 or 20 million years. But the process is in full swing, with all its expressive features. We are talking emerald salt lakes with hot springs, a permanently active volcano with bubbling lava at the bottom of the caldera, yellow-caked rock formations around sulphurous springs, thick salt packages in evaporated lakes: for a geologist, even a retired one who has hung his hammer in the willows (I know, I know) years ago, this is exciting stuff.

Watch this space....

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