Explained: What is the Danakil Depression?

News: A new study published in Nature Ecology & Evolution has concluded that active and naturally occurring life cannot be sustained at Danakil depression.


About Danakil Depression:

  • The Danakil Depression is the northern part of the Afar Triangle or Afar Triple Junction in Ethiopia. It lies between the Danakil Alps (east) and the Ethiopian Plateau (west).
  • The Depression overlaps the borders of Eritrea, Djibouti and the entire Afar Region of Ethiopia. It is part of the great East African Rift Valley.
  • It is one of the lowest place on earth -about 125 m (410 ft) below sea level.
  • It is also the hottest place on Earth in terms of year-round average temperatures. Further, it receives extremely low rainfall.
  • Due to its extreme climatic conditions, all the water entering Danakil evaporates, and no streams flow out of it. It is covered with more than 10 lakh tonnes of salt.
  • In 1974, Donald Johanson and colleagues found the celebrated Australopithecus fossil known as “Lucy” in the region.

About the recent study

  • The hot springs in the Danakil Depression are home to microorganisms called extremophiles (which live in extreme conditions). These microbes have been a major interest to astrobiologists.
  • However, the recent study has concluded that active and naturally occurring life cannot survive here due to:
    • Magnesium-dominated brines that cause cells to break down; and
    • An environment having simultaneously very low pH and high salt, a combination that makes adaptation highly difficult.

Additional Information:

Afar Triple Junction:

  • The Afar Triple Junction is located along a divergent plate boundary (tectonic plates moving away from each other) dividing the Nubian, Somali, and Arabian plates. At this junction, the Red Sea Rift meets the Aden Ridge and the East African Rift.
  • It extends a total of 6,500 kilometers in three arms from the Afar Triangle to Mozambique. The connecting three arms form a triple junction (a name given to a place where three tectonic plates meet).
  • The northern most branching arm extends North through the Red Sea and into the Dead Sea. The eastern branch extends through the Gulf of Aden and connects to the Mid-Indian Ocean ridge further to the east.
  • The southern arm passes through the countries of Kenya, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi and, Mozambique. This arm is known as the East African Rift.