Wednesday, 3 December 2014

The Lake of Stone and Death

Lake Natron is an incredibly potent alkaline lake - also known as a soda lake - situated within the Arusha region of Tanzania, Africa. This lake sits closely to the Kenyan boarder, and reasonably close to the southern tip of Somalia. Two countries that have unfortunately become synonymous with illegal Pirating activity over the past years. Lake Natron is such an interesting and unique place, it has been officially recognised by the Ramsar Convention (formally the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, Especially as Waterfowl Habitat) as an area of significant importance - it is quite easy to see why they changed their name. However, the question is, why is this lake so spectacular? The answer, because it has the power to turn animals to 'stone'.

Lake Natron is fed by the southwestern Ewaso Ng'iro river, which originates from over the international borderline in central Kenya. However, once the water from the Ewaso Ng'iro river has entered the lake it is trapped in place, with its only means of escape being via evaporation. As with all lakes around the world, the water level can vary dependent upon the amount of rainfall the area is receiving. Which as you can imagine within eastern Africa, is both irregular and seasonal. However, on average the lake is 3 meters (9 ft) deep, has a maximum length of 35 miles (57 km), and is 14 miles (22 km) wide. Many of the Tanzanian and Kenyan locals have wondered for years how the lake formed the ability to convert animals to 'stone'. It is believed that many myths would have surrounded the lake and its 'mysterious powers', yet none of these myths have stood the test of time and few if any can be recalled. However, as one would expect, science has shown that there are numerous contributing factors that assist with the lake's unusual qualities, ranging from: high surrounding temperatures - usually above 40 Celsius; the alkaline and sodium potent bedrock that surrounds the lake, which was formed within the Pleistocene period, which occurred between 2,588,000 - 11,700 years ago; and the residual lava within the local proximity that contains significant levels of carbonate, yet very low calcium and magnesium. Each of these elements combined by the right amount, allows the lake to perform this amazing natural feat. Even the colour of the lake is unusual. The deeper waters toward the centre of the lake are a strong red, whereas the shallower waters around the lake's edges are a paler orange. The lake also has a crusty pink layer of salt that sits on the surface, which lies in the sun like a giant bright blanket. The alkaline levels of the lake can reach a PH level of 12, which is the same level as ammonia - the root of the horrible smell that you often get within public toilets -, or just one-point short of bleach. However, this extremely high PH level only usually occurs during the dry season when more water has been evaporated and there is less discrepancy between the chemical to water ratio.

It is these qualities that enable the lake to calcify any living creature that dares to enter its waters. Apart from a few select microorganisms and two rather tenacious species of fish, nothing much else can survive. As an animal becomes cloaked within the strong alkaline, carbonate, hot waters of the lake, they are literally frozen in time. They become a life-size statue in the water. A memorial of their own life. These birds and animals looks as if they have been touched by the hand of death. The dark morbid colour of the saline encasing that covers them creates an eerie look of stone. They sit perfectly still, like a gargoyle perched on top of a church. It is literally something straight out of the pages of a horror novel.

No one truly knows how these calcified animals die. Some believe that they die upon entering the water, due to the harshness of the lake. Others say that the lake doesn't kill the animals, but if they happen to die within its waters then they are calcified. Both could be true; neither could be true. All that is known is that most animals offer lake Natron a wide birth, due to its highly inhospitable nature. And the animals that do decide to grace its waters, often dice with death.

A seriously tough fish that calls lake Natron home.

A calcified Bat that looks like something from a real life horror film.

A majestic and proud looking calcified Eagle.

Lake Natron.

- Until the next Butterfly...