Danakil Desert

Dankalia is one of the most inhospitable areas on earth. It is for the most part poor of fauna and flora and presents alternately desert flatlands and isolated mountain groups, sometimes interrupted by valleys spotted by thorny acacias. Green oasis of dum-palm trees interrupt the desert landscape in the zones of Beylul, Assab and Rahaita.

More inland, toward the Ethiopian highland, a long depression extends itself reaching a depth of 120 meters below the sea level. This part of Eritrea is one of the lowest and hottest places on earth and is known as Dallol (Danakil depression), where temperatures can reach 145°F (50° C) in the sun.

The Danakil depression is an area along the Great Rift where the earth’s crust has stretched and thinned and the land has sunk over time to 371 feet below sea level, one of the lowest points on earth’s surface. Here the earth’s crust is thin enough that new land surface is constantly being created by new lava that oozes upward. Water also seeps down, to be ejected again as steam. volcanic cones are common sights, as are deep cracks in the earth. Hundreds of small earthquakes convulse the area every year.

10.000 years ago the Danakil desert was part of the Red Sea when the earth’s crust collapsed and water flooded in. Volcanic eruptions brought about dykes of basaltic rocks which trapped the water. In the southern Danakil region, which is of volcanic origin, there are numerous lava flows which lay among the numberless cones distinctly truncated at their tops. Subjected to a blazing sun, the inland sea gradually evaporated. Enormous salt flats and very salty lakes are the last remains of that long process. For many Afar tribes living in the area, salt mining is still a major source of income.

There is no rain for three-quarters of the year, and what water does flow down from the highlands vanishes into shallow saline lakes. The wind, when it does blow, is too dry and scorching to bring any relief.