Saturday, October 16, 2021

    The World’s Saltiest Body of Water

    Photo: A. Savin/Wikimedia Commons

    Gaet’ale Pond, located near the Dallol crater in Ethiopia’s Danakil Depression, is a small pool of water with a salinity of 43 percent, making it the saltiest body of water on the planet.

    To put Gaet’ale’s salinity into context, the Dead Sea, the world’s most famous hypersaline body of water, has a salinity of 33.7 percent, whereas the world’s oceans have an average salinity of 3.5 percent. This small pond’s water is so heavily laden with iron salts that it feels sticky on the hand, as if it were oil. Because of how oily the water feels, the natives in this part of Ethiopia sometimes refer to it as “oily lake.”

    However, due of the toxic vapours generated by the water’s surface, some refer to it as “killing lake,” and the perfectly preserved bodies of birds and insects on its borders serve as a warning of the dangers of getting too close to the water.

    Although the Danakil Depression, a geological depression formed by the divergence of three tectonic plates in the Horn of Africa, is unique to Ethiopia and thus a popular geological tourism destination, experts warn that tourists should exercise caution around Gaet’ale and the other nearby salty pools. Toxic gases, most likely volcanically produced CO2, can sometimes be present in concentrations high enough to kill adult people, particularly near the surface, where gases tend to collect.

    The dozens of bird carcasses discovered by experts conducting a research at Gaet’ale serve as a caution to anyone who wishes to come too close. While the birds may have died as a result of drinking the excessively salty water, it was most likely the CO2 that killed them. The excessively salty water, on the other hand, was what kept their bodies alive, functioning as a brine and effectively pickling them. Because their bodies were partially covered in salt, some of the birds appeared to have been dead for a long period.

    Photo: A. Savin/Wikimedia Commons

    Nobody knows how ancient Gaet’ale is, but according to Landsat satellite images taken on February 6, 2003, it was about the same semi-circular shape. However, it was a 2005 earthquake that revived the volcanic spring that supplies it with very salty water on a continual basis.

    With a temperature of around 50 – 55 degrees Celsius, the water of Gaet’ale Pond may appear appealing, but it is actually extremely acidic, with a pH of 3.5 to 4, and could cause scalding to inexperienced bathers.

    Going near the lake’s surface is also not suggested for tourists, as the salty crust that grows constantly surrounding it may be brine-saturated and very weak, and may not hold a person’s weight.

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