Tanzania’s Lake Natron is so harsh that it can burn anything that touches it. However picturesque it may be, you better not be deceived by its looks. By Tanvi Jain
Lake Natron stretches for 56 kilometres over northern Tanzania’s Arusha region. Rich in algae, blood red water, barren landscape, and chemical composition are some of the characteristics that define this deadly lake.
It’s an endorheic lake that allows precipitation to collect within the water body but doesn’t allow it to flow out. This in turn results in building of high concentrations of salt and other minerals in the lake. However, unlike the famous Great Salt Lake and the Dead Sea, Lake Natron has extremely alkaline water. Its pH levels are almost 10.5 — as high as that of ammonia — and temperatures here can go up to 60 degrees Celsius. The lake is not for everyone, as only few life forms can survive in this level of concentration.
Now what’s making this lake so rich in alkaline level is a volcano in northeastern Tanzania called Ol Doinyo Lengai, or the ‘Mountain of God’, sitting in the Rift valley, above Lake Natron. Around 7,650 feet tall, this is the only known active volcano that discharges lava rich in carbonatite. The lava flow releases natron – a mixture of sodium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate. This lava makes its way to the lake via runoff from rainwater and hot springs, thereby making it so dangerous.
Moreover, as the volcano lies approximately 112 kilometres from Arusha, this makes it really close to some of the world’s most important paleoanthropological sites. For example, Olduvai Gorge — a collection of 3.6-million-year-old hominin footprints, which lies at a site called Laetoli, and a ‘dance hall’ of ancient Homo sapiens footprints at another site Engare Sero.
Like Lake Natron, another East-African lake called Lake Bahi also doesn’t drain out in any river or sea.