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The Danakil desert located in the Afar triangle by the name of the tribes who live there, the Afar people, in northern Ethiopia on the Erythrean border, is 155 000 km2 large. In this desert, considered as the hottest on Earth (max. 60° C) and maybe the most inhospitable, we witness in real time the spectacular genesis of an ocean! Here on a geological scale, inexorably, the African horn is drifting away from the continent, and under our eyes is undergoing one of the greatest achievement of Gaia, the creation of a mid ocean ridge within the African Great Rift Valley.

The birth of an ocean in the hottest desert on Earth. Photos and text ŠEitan Haddok/Lightmediation Contact - Thierry Tinacci Lightmediation Photo Agency +33 (0)6 61 80 57 21 thierry@lightmediation.com


1505-10: Halloween ? Some say that here Nature meets with the devil because of the terrible conditions there, but careful from these eyes emanate strong toxic vapours.


1505-01: Hydrothermal springs of Dallol crater The Danakil desert is located in the Afar triangle by the name of the people who live there, the Afar

1505-02: Hydrothermal springs of Dallol crater, pure natural sulphuric acid (PH 0.5), salts, sulphur, and mineral oxydes concretions, raised up from the magmatic underground by the hydrothermal fluids. This

1505-03: Dallol hydrothermal activity: colourful hot and acid hydrothermal springs of the Dallol craters system.

1505-04: Like planet Mars: Such hydrothermal springs exist in the deep ocean floor, but here the ocean floor to come is still here on Earth; some recent studies have shown that certain forms of life develop


1505-16: Open window within the Earth mantle: Volcanic activity within the crater of Erta Ale volcano and its lava lake, one of very few active lava lake on Earth. A delicate state of equilibrium between the heat flux from the deep magma, and the cooling down surface. On the surface of the lake, blocks of solid lava perpetually form and float like icebergs on the bubbling liquid magma, and then melt within the fusing magma. Erta Ale means the smoking mountains , it is told that some Afar people hesitate to approach its summit by fear of evil spirits of ancient cattle guardians, riding on flying horses.


1505-05: Like planet Mars: Such hydrothermal springs exist in the deep ocean floor, but here the ocean floor to come is still here on Earth; some recent studies have shown that certain forms of life develop

1505-06: These salts spires acts as chemneys for the hot brine that continuously bubbles up through the salts layers. When the hydrothermal fluid cools up at the surface salts and minerals deposits creating

1505-07: Sub aerial vent. From a conducting system such aerial vent will build up as the hydrothermal fluid flow out and cristallizes as it reaches the hot surface. Under the ocean this would be a "smoker".

1505-08: Grapic mineral shapes


1505-07: Sub aerial vent. From a conducting system such aerial vent will build up as the hydrothermal fluid flow out and cristallizes as it reaches the hot surface. Under the ocean this would be a "smoker".

1505-13: Geyser activity: field of bubbling hot iron rich water from which emanate strong odours of hydrocarbon. It is common to see dead birds in these waters, lured down from their migratory paths by the


1505-09: Hydrothermal springs are rather ephemeral; Their length of life unknown but we know that some day they shut down within a varying period of time. Rain regime, earthquakes, accumulation of sulfur,

1505-10: Halloween ? Some say that here Nature meets with the devil because of the terrible conditions there, but careful from these eyes emanate strong toxic vapours.

1505-11: Delicate salt and sulphur crystallization in an acid pond.

1505-12: Egg shell shaped and crystallisation of the salts on the surface due to hydrothermal activity underground. From these "aeration mouths" emanate strong toxic vapours. Looking like some deep


1505-04: Like planet Mars: Such hydrothermal springs exist in the deep ocean floor, but here the ocean floor to come is still here on Earth; some recent studies have shown that certain forms of life develop within such similar hydrothermal environment of in acidic volcanic lake or under the oceans, leading to new theories on the origin of life, the hydrothermal environment could have led to the synthesis of the first organic molecules, where the first forms of life would have developed on Earth. Symbolically, not so far was found Lucy site, ?australopitecus Afarensis? by the name of the afar people who live in this area.


1505-13: Geyser activity: field of bubbling hot iron rich water from which emanate strong odours of hydrocarbon. It is common to see dead birds in these waters, lured down from their migratory paths by the

1505-14: Salt mushrooms. A metamorphosed landscape, the future oceanic floor. The origin of the salt is the past transgressions and evaporation of the Red Sea 200, 120 and 80 th yrs ago.

1505-15: Salt mushrooms. A metamorphosed landscape, the future oceanic floor. The origin of the salt is the past transgressions and evaporation of the Red Sea 200, 120 and 80 th yrs ago.

1505-16: Open window within the Earth mantle: Volcanic activity within the crater of Erta Ale volcano and its lava lake, one of very few active lava lake on Earth. A delicate state of equilibrium between the heat


1505-27: Mirage or hallucination ? The ocean seems to be already here and the salt caravan walks on the water crossing the Red Sea! The rain season and the floods have been particularly violent this year , another sign of climate change ? so much so that the area here has been completely covered with floods coming down from the highlands , the caravan has then to cross the new sea in order to reach higher and dryer zones for salt extraction. Some futuristic vision of the tidal wave consequence when the Red Sea will flood over today's natural rampart, the Ethiopian plateau, an ocean will give birth and Africa will loose its horn, in several million years.


1505-17: Open window within the Earth mantle: Volcanic activity within the crater of Erta Ale volcano and its lava lake, one of very few active lava lake on Earth. A delicate state of equilibrium between the heat

1505-18: A Lava lake is delicate state of equilibrium between the heat flux from the deep magma, and the cooling down surface, and some years the lake can "freeze" like today in the southern pit of the caldera.

1505-19: The Danakil is often called the "Land of Death" because it is so inhospitable to life; here is a miracle oasis on the future oceanic floor. This basalt flow is the same type as oceanic floor basalt.

1505-20: Afar girl drawing water to be carried in traditional goat skin in Danakil volcanic area. Although the afar people might be considered as dangerous kidnappers after this year events in this remote place of the


1505-24: Space and time like frozen by salt.


1505-21: Salt crust at Karoum lake. The origin of the salt is the past transgressions and evaporation of the Red Sea 200, 120 and 80 th yrs ago.

1505-22: Salt crust at Karoum lake. The origin of the salt is the past transgressions and evaporation of the Red Sea 200, 120 and 80 th yrs ago.

1505-23: Salt extraction from Efdera site; here the extraction is realised by brine evaporation from salty lake at Efdera.

1505-24: Space and time like frozen by salt.


1505-25: Salt extraction using ancestral methods, wooden stake and hatchet. The caravan will then carry the salt during 6 days up to the ethiopian highlands for selling or exchange.


1505-25: Salt extraction using ancestral methods, wooden stake and hatchet. The caravan will then carry the salt during 6 days up to the ethiopian highlands for selling or exchange.

1505-26: Salt extraction using ancestral methods, wooden stake and hatchet. The caravan will then carry the salt during 6 days up to the ethiopian highlands for selling or exchange.

1505-27: Mirage or hallucination ? The ocean seems to be already here and the salt caravan walks on the water crossing the Red Sea! The rain season and the floods have been particularly violent this year ,

1505-28: Afar guide on Erta Ale volcanoe in the Danakil. Although the afar people might be considered as dangerous kidnappers after recent events in this remote place of the Danakil, they are nomad pastoralists


1505-28: Afar guide on Erta Ale volcanoe in the Danakil. Although the afar people might be considered as dangerous kidnappers after recent events in this remote place of the Danakil, they are nomad pastoralists living in the toughest conditions, left apart and forgoten, they tenaciously hang on few resources, salt and rare guiding of scientists or few tourists. Despite all they have preserved their proud warrior spirit and still rule on their territory where it is impossible to venture without their guiding.


The birth of an ocean in the hottest desert on Earth. The Danakil desert located in the Afar triangle by the name of the tribes who live there, the Afar people, in northern Ethiopia on the Erythrean border, is 155 000 km2 large. In this desert, considered as the hottest on Earth (max. 60째 C) and maybe the most inhospitable, we witness in real time the spectacular genesis of an ocean! Here on a geological scale, inexorably, the African horn is drifting away from the continent, and under our eyes is undergoing one of the greatest achievement of Gaia, the creation of a mid ocean ridge within the African Great Rift Valley. This undergoing process has been measured recently by geologists and geophysicists revealing that the phenomenon is getting fast especially after recent seismic events in the area; Within one million years the horn of Africa will form a new continent in the Indian ocean. Meeting point between three rift system, the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the East African rift, this sinking valley Graben 160 m under sea level, has been covered several times in the past by the Red Sea resulting in hundreds of meters deep layers of salts and evaporites. From this tectonic and seismic activity is born the volcanic chain of Erta Ale and its boiling lava lake, the colourful hot and acid hydrothermal springs of the Dallol craters system, the effusive geysers field, the lowest venting systems on Earth,

crystallized relief, spreading lava fields, all this creating some landscape reminding another planet ! Within this merciless world, some people isolated from the rest of the world, tenaciously cling to the only resource: salt. These men of legend, also called once the Danakils, are the Afars, proud pastoralist nomads with their gun on the shoulder, they have preserved their warrior spirit and still rule on their territory where it is impossible to venture without their guiding.

Geological background In order to better understand the present phenomenon, let's go back some 30 million years ago in the past. The region witnesses very intense volcanic and tectonic activity; Africa and Arabia which until then formed one continent start to separate from each other, leaving place to two rifts, the future Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. During this spreading, the continental crust is getting thinner and then tears apart forming two distinct plates, the Arabian peninsula and Africa; since then the two plates keep on getting away one from the other at a rate of 1-2 cm/year, and the magma rising up along this oceanic ridge form the new oceanic crust. The 300 km wide Afar depression in northern Ethiopia is born from this geological process, where spreading occurs at a rate of 16 mm/year, the thickness of the crust here does not exceed few kilometres. This opening and sinking process of the Afar Triangle some 150 m under sea level, is the result of a hot spot, the rising up of a mantle plume deep under the crust which in turn get fractured and fissured by this movement and the eruptions and lava flow that occurs as a result. Such fractures could be observed in real time during the memorable event on 26th September

2005 by Geologist Dereje Ayalew and his team from Adis Abbeba university. On that day the whole region is shaked with a series of violent earthquakes, the Dabbahu volcanoe starts to erupt and when the team arrives to the area, the land starts to move under their feet, huge fissures open in front of them, a moment of intense fear; After few seconds when everything calms down, Ayalew and his colleges realise they have witnessed a very unique step in the birth of an ocean ! In the same time, the study carried out by Tim Right from Oxford university and the British - Ethiopian team, using radar satellite measurements, could establish that during that period of time, a 60 km segment sometimes as wide as 8 meters opened up in the Afar. But here the more extraordinary aspect of this event is the speed at which the whole process took place, one week only, nothing on a geological scale. The scientists expect that this process will lead to a final marine transgression from the Red Sea, giving birth to a new ocean and in the same time to a new continent, all this within some million years?

Dallol, a small volcanic island " floating " on the salt crust. Some say that here Nature meets with the Devil. The landscape is metamorphosed, sublimated by the thermo volcanic activity, and where the Danakil represents the future oceanic floor, then Dallol is one of these hydrothermal fields that can be found at the bottom of the oceans. Located in northern Ethiopia, several kilometres from the Erythrean border, this extraordinary site is the result of phreatic explosion, the last one occurring in 1926, and then from the interaction between underground volcanism and hydrothermal

activity through the thick beds of evaporites which characterize this area. In the sinking depression of the Danakil, 160 m under sea level, Dallol is a dome 48 m high and few kilometres long which raised up under volcanic and magmatic pressure. "Protected" by its geographical isolation, political instability and inhuman conditions ( heat record of 60 째 C), very few scientific missions are realised there. The origin of this surrealistic scenery of colors and matters is the rain water from the Ethiopian surrounding highlands; these waters percolate through the numerous fissures in this active area, down to the magmatic underground, then boil up and raise up through the evaporites beds. During this rising up to the surface, the hydrothermal fluid heats up in contact with the magma, leaches the salt beds and get charged and enriched with minerals before springing out at the surface. From this activity little acid lakes are formed with a PH sometimes close to Zero ! almost absolute natural sulphuric acid, the result of the interaction between water and magmatic gazes according to: SO2 (sulphur dioxyde) + H2O (water) -> H2SO3 then H2SO4 (sulphuric acid). Once at the surface, these hydrothermal fluids crystallise under the effect of heat, resulting in mineral oxides, salts and sulphur exhibiting a fantastic scale of colours. But careful, this idyllic looking scene is characterised with strong toxic emanations of aggressive gases which added to the unbearable heat can sometimes become unbearable and a gas mask is then needed; it is not rare to find dead birds which were looking for water, worse, some people have been victims of the terrible conditions there. The origin of salt: true that within few million years the sea will invade the area but it already happened 3 times during the past (200, 120 and 80 th yrs ago) when


the Red Sea got trapped by the Ethiopian plateaux, evaporated and leaving place to the salts layers. From this crust, the Afar people try to make a living or to survive in these terrible conditions under the heat, the salt corrosion, war conflicts, outlaws, malaria, lack of water; they cut salt brickets with ancestral tools: a hatchet and a wooden stake; Then they will climb up to the highlands 2500 m high during 6 days with their caravan to finally sell or exchange their only resource, salt, against basic necessary goods. Such looks the Danakil like, a place out of time and space.

The origin of Life ? In the middle of the brine cover and the colourful fields of salts, these salt sculptures several meter high have formed due to the successive crystallization of the salts during the way up of the hydrothermal fluids from the deeper magmatic crust. Such hydrothermal springs exist in the deep ocean floor, but here the ocean floor to come is here on Earth; some recent studies have shown that certain forms of life develop within such similar hydrothermal environment of in acidic volcanic lake or under the oceans, leading to new theories on the origin of life, the hydrothermal environment could have led to the synthesis of the first organic molecules, where the first forms of life would have developed on Earth. These micro organisms called extremophiles can develop showing that such extreme environment can also give birth to life.


Captions. 1505-01: Hydrothermal springs of Dallol crater The Danakil desert is located in the Afar triangle by the name of the people who live there, the Afar people, in northern Ethiopia on the erythrean border and has a surface of some 155 000 km2 . In this desert, considered as the hottest on Earth (max. 60° C) and maybe the most inhospitable, we witness in real time the spectacular genesis of an ocean! In the shadow of the Eastern African conflict, on another scale, geological, inexorably, the African horn is drifting away from the continent, and under our eyes is undergoing one of the greatest achievement of the Earth, the creation of a mid ocean ridge within the African Great Rift Valley. Meeting point between three rift systems, the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the East African rift, this sinking valley Graben, 160 m under sea level, has been covered several times in the past by the Red Sea resulting in deep layers of salts and evaporates. From this tectonic and seismic activity is born the volcanic chain of Erta Ale and its boiling lava lake, the colourful hot and acid hydrothermal springs of the Dallol craters system, the effusive geysers fields, the lowest geothermal venting systems on Earth, impressive cristallized relief, spreading lava fields, all this, creating some landscape reminding another planet. 1505-02: Hydrothermal springs of Dallol crater, pure natural sulphuric acid (PH 0.5), salts, sulphur, and mineral oxydes concretions, raised up from the magmatic underground by the hydrothermal fluids. This scenery is the result of rain water percolation to the underground, heated up

in contact with magma gases and rising up to the surface through the thick salt layers. 1505-03: Dallol hydrothermal activity: colourful hot and acid hydrothermal springs of the Dallol craters system. 1505-04: Like planet Mars: Such hydrothermal springs exist in the deep ocean floor, but here the ocean floor to come is still here on Earth; some recent studies have shown that certain forms of life develop within such similar hydrothermal environment of in acidic volcanic lake or under the oceans, leading to new theories on the origin of life, the hydrothermal environment could have led to the synthesis of the first organic molecules, where the first forms of life would have developed on Earth. Symbolically, not so far was found Lucy site, « australopitecus Afarensis » by the name of the afar people who live in this area. 1505-05: Like planet Mars: Such hydrothermal springs exist in the deep ocean floor, but here the ocean floor to come is still here on Earth; some recent studies have shown that certain forms of life develop within such similar hydrothermal environment of in acidic volcanic lake or under the oceans, leading to new theories on the origin of life, the hydrothermal environment could have led to the synthesis of the first organic molecules, where the first forms of life would have developed on Earth. Symbolically, not so far was found Lucy site, « australopitecus Afarensis « by the name of the afar people who live in this area. 1505-06: These salts spires acts as chemneys for the hot brine that continuously bubbles up through the salts

layers. When the hydrothermal fluid cools up at the surface salts and minerals deposits creating these spires looking like stalagmites. 1505-07: Sub aerial vent. From a conducting system such aerial vent will build up as the hydrothermal fluid flow out and cristallizes as it reaches the hot surface. Under the ocean this would be a "smoker". Hydrothermal springs are rather ephemeral; Their length of life unknown but we know that some day they shut down within a varying period of time. Rain regime, earthquakes, accumulation of sulfur, finally contribute to block the conducting system that feed a particular venting system, and a new spring will eventually raise up elsewhere. 1505-08: Grapic mineral shapes 1505-09: Hydrothermal springs are rather ephemeral; Their length of life unknown but we know that some day they shut down within a varying period of time. Rain regime, earthquakes, accumulation of sulfur, finally contribute to block the conducting system that feed a particular venting system, and a new spring will eventually raise up elsewhere. 1505-10: Halloween ? Some say that here Nature meets with the devil because of the terrible conditions there, but careful from these eyes emanate strong toxic vapours. 1505-11: Delicate salt and crystallization in an acid pond.

deep oceanic hydrothermal springs the formation process of these bubble shells remains very unclear. 1505-13: Geyser activity: field of bubbling hot iron rich water from which emanate strong odours of hydrocarbon. It is common to see dead birds in these waters, lured down from their migratory paths by the false promise of water. 1505-14: Salt mushrooms. A metamorphosed landscape, the future oceanic floor. The origin of the salt is the past transgressions and evaporation of the Red Sea 200, 120 and 80 th yrs ago. 1505-15: Salt mushrooms. A metamorphosed landscape, the future oceanic floor. The origin of the salt is the past transgressions and evaporation of the Red Sea 200, 120 and 80 th yrs ago. 1505-16: Open window within the Earth mantle: Volcanic activity within the crater of Erta Ale volcano and its lava lake, one of very few active lava lake on Earth. A delicate state of equilibrium between the heat flux from the deep magma, and the cooling down surface. On the surface of the lake, blocks of solid lava perpetually form and float like icebergs on the bubbling liquid magma, and then melt within the fusing magma. Erta Ale means the smoking mountains , it is told that some Afar people hesitate to approach its summit by fear of evil spirits of ancient cattle guardians, riding on flying horses

sulphur

1505-12: Egg shell shaped and crystallisation of the salts on the surface due to hydrothermal activity underground. From these "aeration mouths" emanate strong toxic vapours. Looking like some

1505-17: Open window within the Earth mantle: Volcanic activity within the crater of Erta Ale volcano and its lava lake, one of very few active lava lake on Earth. A delicate state of equilibrium between the heat flux from the deep magma, and the cooling down surface. On the surface of


and evaporation of the Red Sea 200, 120 and 80 th yrs ago.

the lake, blocks of solid lava perpetually form and float like icebergs on the bubbling liquid magma, and then melt within the fusing magma. Erta Ale means the smoking mountains , it is told that some Afar people hesitate to approach its summit by fear of evil spirits of ancient cattle guardians, riding on flying horses. 1505-18: A Lava lake is delicate state of equilibrium between the heat flux from the deep magma, and the cooling down surface, and some years the lake can "freeze" like today in the southern pit of the caldera. 1505-19: The Danakil is often called the "Land of Death" because it is so inhospitable to life; here is a miracle oasis on the future oceanic floor. This basalt flow is the same type as oceanic floor basalt. 1505-20: Afar girl drawing water to be carried in traditional goat skin in Danakil volcanic area. Although the afar people might be considered as dangerous kidnappers after this year events in this remote place of the Danakil, they are nomad pastoralists living in the toughest conditions, left apart and forgoten, they tenaciously hang on few resources, sometimes reduced to salt and water. 1505-21: Salt crust at Karoum lake. The origin of the salt is the past transgressions and evaporation of the Red Sea 200, 120 and 80 th yrs ago. 1505-22: Salt crust at Karoum lake. The origin of the salt is the past transgressions

1505-23: Salt extraction from Efdera site; here the extraction is realised by brine evaporation from salty lake at Efdera. 1505-24: Space and time like frozen by salt. 1505-25: Salt extraction using ancestral methods, wooden stake and hatchet. The caravan will then carry the salt during 6 days up to the ethiopian highlands for selling or exchange. 1505-26: Salt extraction using ancestral methods, wooden stake and hatchet. The caravan will then carry the salt during 6 days up to the ethiopian highlands for selling or exchange. 1505-27: Mirage or hallucination ? The ocean seems to be already here and the salt caravan walks on the water crossing the Red Sea! The rain season and the floods have been particularly violent this year , another sign of climate change ? so much so that the area here has been completely covered with floods coming down from the highlands , the caravan has then to cross the new sea in order to reach higher and dryer zones for salt extraction. Some futuristic vision of the tidal wave consequence when the Red Sea will flood over today's natural rampart, the Ethiopian plateau, an ocean will give birth and Africa will loose its horn, in several million years. 1505-28: Afar guide on Erta Ale volcanoe in the Danakil. Although the afar people might be considered as dangerous kidnappers after recent events in this remote place of the Danakil, they are nomad pastoralists living in the toughest

conditions, left apart and forgoten, they tenaciously hang on few resources, salt and rare guiding of scientists or few tourists. Despite all they have preserved their proud warrior spirit and still rule on their territory where it is impossible to venture without their guiding.

Birth of an ocean in the hottest desert.  

The Danakil desert located in the Afar triangle by the name of the tribes who live there, the Afar people, in northern Ethiopia on the Eryth...

Birth of an ocean in the hottest desert.  

The Danakil desert located in the Afar triangle by the name of the tribes who live there, the Afar people, in northern Ethiopia on the Eryth...