107721010

107721010

Aerial view of Lesser Flamingos (Phoeniconaias minor) Lake Natron, Tanzania

Photo by: Anup Shah

Anup Shah

This Tanzanian Lake is a Vision in Red- And You Can Visit

By: Ashley Gabriel

This picturesque lake in northern Tanzania is harsh enough to burn anything that touches it. Unless, of course, you're one of the select few species adapted to thrive in it.

February 05, 2020

Don't Be Salty

Lake Natron is a salt lake that stretches for 35 miles (56 kilometers) over the Arusha Region of northern Tanzania. Characterized by algae-rich, blood-red water and a barren landscape devoid of human development, Lake Natron is known for some less-than-attractive features. Its chemical composition, however, tops the list.

While the waters of most freshwater lakes eventually drain into the ocean, salt lakes are different. Known as endorheic lakes, these bodies of water allow precipitation to collect within them but won't allow it to flow out. That leads the water to build up high concentrations of salt and other minerals. Two well-known examples are Utah's Great Salt Lake and the Dead Sea. While Lake Natron does, in fact, fall into the same category, one specific difference sets it apart — extremely alkaline waters. With pH levels measured as high as 10.5 — almost as high as ammonia — you begin to understand why very few life forms survive in this harsh environment. But the Dead Sea doesn't have a pH anywhere near that high. How did Lake Natron get so alkaline? A nearby geological feature is largely responsible.

Up above Lake Natron, in the Rift Valley, sits the Ol Doinyo Lengai, an active volcano that spews alkali-rich natrocarbonatites. Via runoff from rainwater and nearby hot springs, these dark lava flows release natron — a mix of sodium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate once used in Egyptian mummification — that makes its way into Lake Natron below, resulting in a rising pH and some pretty fascinating biodiversity.

Some Like It Hot

85180391

85180391

Patterns in Lake Natron.

Photo by: Michael Poliza

Michael Poliza

Despite its ominous chemical composition, Lake Natron is actually a thriving ecosystem for a select few species adapted to its caustic waters. Extreme water temperatures of up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit promote blooms of haloarchaea, salt-loving microorganisms that give the lake its red appearance. Natron is home to only one species of fish: Alcolapia latilabris, a 2-inch (6-centimeter) cichlid that's endemic to those waters. Perhaps most memorable, however, is one unexpected and visually striking species that flocks to Lake Natron's water yearly: the lesser flamingo.

Smaller and lighter in color than their "greater" counterparts, the lesser flamingo is categorized as near threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Yet three-quarters of the world's lesser flamingos live in this region of Africa. When the water level and food availability is high, thousands of the spectacular birds use Lake Natron as their nesting grounds. The birds congregate on inaccessible islands within the shallow salt lake, forcing researchers to study them from aircraft above. It's just this inaccessibility that protects the flamingos' nests from predators like hyenas, making Lake Natron the perfect habitat for the birds.

This chemically unique ecosystem is surely one of a kind. But don't let the flourishing microorganisms and crafty flamingos fool you — Lake Natron is still one body of water you do not want to fall into.

This article first appeared on Curiosity.com.

Next Up

Tanzania: Beyond the Wildlife

Most people know that Tanzania is home of the Serengeti and an amazing diversity of wildlife. The country is made up of 430 species of wildlife and 17 national parks. But did you know that it’s where 51 million people call home as well?

The Lost World of Socotra Archipelago

If aliens ever visit Planet Earth, Yemen’s “Dragon’s Blood Island” is probably where they would make their first contact.

Adventure and Exploration in Israel’s Ancient Deserts

Israel is a country packed full of history and culture. Head out on an adventure to discover ancient ruins, crumbling monasteries, and lush oases.

Exorcisms, the Ark of the Covenant, and Ethiopia: The Adventures of Justin Fornal

"There are all different kinds of demons inside of people, some of them go easy, some want to negotiate, others want to fight."

New Year, New Adventures: What the World has to Offer

With a new year comes new opportunities, and there’s no time like the present to start learning more about parts of the world you’ve never dreamed of before. Please review and follow all state and local guidelines while traveling. Updated December 17, 2021

7 Places for the World's Best Stargazing

For those of you who have already got your telescopes packed, here are some of the world’s best destinations to make you feel truly humbled.

An Epic Plan to Build a Giant Green Wall in Africa

King Canute couldn’t stop the ocean's tide from rolling in – can Africa hold back the desert? That’s certainly what the continent is trying to do with its proposed “Great Green Wall”, 8,000km (almost 5,000 miles) worth of trees that officials hope will stop the advancement of the Sahara desert, which has been rapidly expanding southward.

Kwanzaa: The African Celebration of Unity and Culture

Kwanzaa may be a festival celebrated by millions of African Americans and pan-Africans, but it has only been around for a few decades. Introduced to the United States in 1966 as a ritual to welcome the first harvest to the home, the festival, which takes place from December 26 to January 1, is a celebration of life, unity, family, and culture.

3,000-Year-Old Lost City Found in Egypt

3,000-year-old city of Aten has been discovered to be the next best “extraordinary” finding since the tomb of boy king Tutankhamen.

Is This Mars-like Desert the World’s Best Spot to Watch the Stars?

Forget Chile’s Atacama Desert, or Hawaii’s Mauna Kea. A petrified forest in Colombia is where you want to go for the best stargazing on the planet.