The Dallol region of Ethiopia is a cauldron of burning salt, volcanic rock and sulfuric acid and is officially the hottest place on the planet.
Near the southern end of the Red Sea an immense, triangular, depression descends far below sea level – some points near the ghost town of Dallol are nearly 120m below sea level). Known as the Danakil/Dallol Depression, the northern part is extremely hot and dry and an extension of the Great Rift Valley. In this seemingly inhospitable area live the nomadic Afar people who number about 3 million and largely disregard the notional borders between Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somaliland.
The whole Afar Depression is a plate tectonic triple junction where the spreading submarine ridges that formed the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden emerge on land and meet the East African Rift. The Afar Depression is one of two places on Earth where a mid-ocean ridge can be studied on land, the other being Iceland. At present, the Afar is slowly being pulled apart at a rate of 1-2cm per year. The floor of the Afar Depression is composed mostly of basaltic lava. The Afar Depression and Triple Junction also mark the location of a mantle plume, a great uprising of the earth’s mantle that melts to yield basalt.
This place, which used to be part of the Red Sea, has kilometers of salt deposits. In some places the salt deposits are about 5km (3 mi) thick. Below many salt lakes are substantial sources of volcanic heat which causes hot water to rise through layers of salt and deposit anhydrites. Minerals also get dissolved and are deposited near the springs, and form shapes very much reminiscent (but smaller than) hornitos on basaltic lava flows. Sulphur, other minerals and possibly Thermopylae bacteria cause spectacular colors.
This is a vast expanse of blisteringly hot desert with lava flows and salt plains and lakes that lie below sea level. Active and extinct volcanoes lie along a south–north axis with the extremely salty Lake Afrera, at 120m below sea level, kept alive by the many thermal springs feeding it.
Dallol offers an opportunity to see the first signs of a new ocean basin forming. The Dallol volcano, the only volcanic crater below sea level on land, has remained dormant since 1926, as the seabed it will one day occupy gradually widens. South of Dallol, rectangular salt slabs are cut and transported up into the highlands in a near endless procession of camel caravans. The salt canyons south of Dallol Mountain are some of the most impressive geological features in the area. It looks like another planet because there are lots of colorful rocks in each meter of terrain. It looks like something out of a science fiction novel.
the Danakil Depression sits deep below sea level (more than 100 meters below at some of its lowest points) in northern Ethiopia’s Afar region. Not only is the depression one of the hottest places on the planet, it’s also one of the most geologically active: the depression is essentially a molten, acidic, and bubbling expanse of land unlike anything else you’ve ever seen.
The depression contains a mixed bag of minerals, salt, sulfur and dissolved iron, all of which manifest themselves in the vibrant combination of yellows, oranges, and reds that make the landscape look equal parts neon and deadly.
Some of the Danakil Depression’s pools boast a pH level below 1 (which in terms of acidity sits somewhere between battery and stomach acid), with thin salt crusts frequently disguising underlying pools of deadly acid. Life isn’t really a thing here, which means that Danakil is one of the most barren and desolate ecosystems in the world.