Danakil Depression Ethiopia
The Danakil Depression formed from the continental drift of the African and Asian tectonic plates. As the plates drifted apart at a rate of 1-2 cm per year, they leave behind a geological depression, known as the Danakil Depression (or Afar Depression). The Danakil Depression sits at the triple junction between three tectonic plates. The Afar Depression spans Djibouti, Eritrea, and the Afar region of Ethiopia. The Northern part of this depression is the Danakil Depression, which sits more than 100m below sea level and contains some of the world’s most extraterrestrial landscapes.
Beyond its fascinating geology, the Danakil holds the keys to some of biology’s most profound questions. In 1974, researchers found the remains of ‘Lucy’ in the Danakil Depression, an early ancestor of modern humans dating back 3.2 million years (now on display at the National Museum in Addis Ababa). The acidic springs of the Dallol Crater have attracted scientists in the search for extremophile microbes as they seek to understand the origins of life on Earth, as well as the possibilities for early-stage life on Mars.
Danakil Depression Geological
The Danakil Depression is home to some of the most fascinating geological structures on the planet. The Danakil is a new ocean basin, meaning millions of years in the future, the Danakil will be submerged in water as the continents are pulled far enough apart such that the Red Sea spills over into the rift, forming a new ocean that splits the African continent in two. For now, the depression is a showcase of incredible geology that looks more Martian than terrestrial. For tourists, the main attractions are the active volcano Erta Ale, the kaleidoscopic landscape of the Dallol Crater, the contrasting salt lakes Karum and Afdera, and the sprawling salt pans whereupon local Afar people toil under the sun to export salt back to Mekele on the backs of hundreds of camels that form the famous camel caravans that wind through the desert.
The salt lakes of the Danakil represent the resting place of the Awash River, which flows upwards from the Northern Highlands into the Danakil, where it evaporates under the heat to form salt pans. The two saline lakes, Lake Afrera and Lake Karum, remain liquid as they are fed by surrounding hot springs.
Erta Ale Volcano
Erta ale (meaning ‘Smoking Mountain’ in the Afar language) is Ethiopia’s most active volcano and contains one of just six active lava lakes on Earth. Sitting in the Danakil Depression under 40°C (104°F) heat, it’s as unforgiving as it is visually staggering.
Characterized by bright, multi-coloured springs, fissures, and geysers, and with average annual temperatures of 35°C (95°F), Dallol is one of the most visually compelling and geologically fascinating destinations on Earth.