Lake Natron in Tanzania is known for its deadly conditions that turn animals into stone if they come into contact with it.
The lake is a mating ground for lesser endangered flamingos, but other animals risk being frozen forever in its salt if they go near its shores. The lake’s bacteria give the water its blood-red color, and it has an average temperature of 78°F (26°C) with a fatal salt concentration and alkalinity.
The hostile conditions are a result of Ol Doinyo Lengai, the only active volcano to emit natrocarbonatites. The streams that cut through the volcano contribute to the harsh alkalinity of the lake, which has a pH of over 10. Only flamingos, which eat the water’s nutrient-rich cyanobacteria, flock to the area for mating, but even they can fall victim to being encrusted on the shore.
Photographer Nick Brandt described finding dead animals washed up along the shoreline of Lake Natron. He explained that the water had such a high soda and salt content that it would strip the ink off his Kodak film boxes within a few seconds. Bodies that fall into the water decompose rapidly, while those that fall on its edge are encrusted in salt that stays forever, according to ecologist David Harper of the University of Leicester.
Aside from its deadly conditions, Lake Natron has played a role in preserving history. Footprints believed to be from as far back as 19,000 years ago have been preserved in the mud that washed down from Ol Doinyo Lengai. Geologist Dr. Cynthia Luitkius-Pierce explained that the wet sediments dried out and hardened, preserving the prints that recorded traces of our ancestors’ activity and behavior during the latest Pleistocene along the margin of Lake Natron in Tanzania.
Lake Natron is a striking natural wonder that presents a unique challenge to the wildlife that depends on it. While Lake Natron may not be a hospitable place for many animals, it serves as a reminder of the fascinating and complex natural phenomena that exist in our world.