The Danakil Depression in Ethiopia is scorchingly hot and one of the most alien places on Earth. Yet a recent expedition to the region has found it is teeming with life.

By Jasmin Fox-Skelly (BBC) |

In a surreal landscape of colors, dominated by luminescent ponds of yellows and greens, boiling hot water bubbles up like a cauldron, whilst poisonous chlorine and sulfur gases choke the air.

Known as the “gateway to hell”, the Danakil Depression in Ethiopia is scorchingly hot and one of the most alien places on Earth. Yet a recent expedition to the region has found it is teeming with life.

In the heart of the Horn of Africa, the Danakil Depression is one of the most remote, inhospitable and least-studied locations in the world. It lies over 330ft (100m) below sea level in a volcanic area in north-west Ethiopia, close to the border with Eritrea, aptly named “Afar”. It is part of the East African Rift System, a place where the Earth’s internal forces are currently tearing apart three continental plates, creating new land.

The violent landscape is arguably the hottest place on the planet, and one of the driest. The temperature regularly reaches 45C (113F). It rarely rains, but seas of molten magma ooze just beneath the crust’s surface. There are two highly active volcanoes: one of them, Erta Ale, is one of only a handful of volcanoes to have an active, bubbling lava lake at its summit. The area is also littered with acid ponds and geysers, and features a deep crater called Dallol.

The vibrant colors are a result of rain and seawater from the nearby coast being heated by magma and rising up. The salt from the seawater reacts with the volcanic minerals in the magma, creating dazzling colors. In the hottest and most acidic pools, sulfur and salt react to form bright yellow chimneys. In cooler pools, copper salts create bright turquoise.

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