National Geographic

Calm Down, Cool It: Earth's Most Hyperactive Place

It seems an oxymoron that a depression could be hyperactive. Or that such a hot place could be so cool. According to a recent National Geographic article, "East Africa's Afar depression is one of the world's most geologically hyperactive regions."

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    Sulfur and algae turn hot springs into pools of living color. The water is condensation from hot gases rising from magma chambers. As the water evaporates, salts and minerals form a vivid crust.
    George Steinmetz/National Geographic
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    Workers at Lake Afrera process raw salt. Production was temporarily halted last year when a volcano in neighboring Eritrea erupted, blanketing the salt in ash.
    George Steinmetz/National Geographic
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    Groundwater heated to boiling goes up in steam at a geyser field northwest of Lake Abbe.
    George Steinmetz/National Geographic
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    A lake of lava bubbles atop Erta Ale, the region's most active volcano.
    George Steinmetz/National Geographic
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    Djibouti's Lake Assal is one of the world's saltiest lakes. Intense heat and strong winds fuel rapid evaporation, leaving a bathtub ring of minerals around the lake's shore.
    George Steinmetz/National Geographic
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    Lake Assal marks Africa's lowest point, 512 feet below sea level. A Djibouti-based salt-production company calls the lake the "largest undeveloped salt reserve in the world."
    George Steinmetz/National Geographic

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The Afar depression is also one of the hottest places on Earth; it's one of the lowest places on Earth; it's home to 12 active volcanoes, one of the Earth's few lava lakes and some of the earliest hominids like Lucy. More than 100 earthquakes can happen here in a month.

The depression, also called the Afar Triangle, is found in Ethiopia and touches both Djibouti and Eritrea. As Saudi Arabia literally tore itself away from East Africa, forming the Red Sea, magma pushed through the Earth's crust.

The magma cools, gets heavier, and the land sinks. And, when the Red Sea floods the region and evaporates, it leaves behind huge salt deposits — effectively creating a huge industry for the region. Though not necessarily a safe one: National Geographic cites one 2005 incident, in which the Earth opened its jaws and literally swallowed camels alive as herders watched.

It's no surprise that this would be a mecca for photographers, especially someone like George Steinmetz — who also has a geophysics degree. More of his photos can be seen with the article.

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