Ethiopia: Lake Afdera - a Hypersaline Lake in the Danakil Depression

Sunken into a deep depression, surrounded by a cascade of mountains and the active Tat Ali volcanic ridges, Lake Afrera shimmers in emerald green. One of the two hypersaline lakes of the Danakil Depression, taking a dip here provides welcome relief from the unrelenting Danakil sun. Lake Afdera is one of the 29 woredas in the Afar State of Ethiopia. It is named after the saline Lake Afdera located in the southern part of the Afar Depression.

Lake Afrera (also transliterated as Lake Afdera) is a hypersaline Lake in the Danakil Depression in Northern Ethiopia in an area where three tectonic plates slide away from each other at a rate of a few centimeters per year. Located in Administrative Zone 2 of the Afar State, Afrera Lake is one of the lakes of the Afar Depression. Accessible via a long drive across the Danakil Depression, Lake Afrera is also known as Lake Giulietti after the Italian explorer Giuseppe Maria Guillietti who was murdered on the shores of the lake by a local tribe, southwest of the lake.

As various articles produced by different scholars and appeared in various web pages stated, the Lake has a surface area of over 100km, making it one of the bigger lakes in the Afar region. Its entry in Lake net, it has a surface area of 100 km2 (39 sq. mi), although another source states the area is 12,500 hectares.

Some unconfirmed report also makes its depth as 160 m (525 ft). Another name for this body of water is Lake Egogi (or Egogi Bad), which is the name L.M. Nesbitt's Afar guide gave it when the British explorer became the first European to see it in 1928.

The single island in Lake Afrera, Franchetti Island (also known as "Deset"), located in the southern part of the lake, is considered the lowest-lying island in the world. Unlike other saline lakes in Ethiopia, such as Abijatta, Shala, and Chitu lakes, the pH of Lake Afrera is low and in the acidic range. Although little studied, the Lake is home for endemic fish species, including two endemics: Danakilia frenchettii (a child) and Lebias stiassnyae (a pupfish) and other living organisms. The Lake is fed by underground streams.

Afdera is found about 116 meter below sea level and one can float on Lake Afdera without any lifesaving jacket or swimming device. Rock salt has been mined at Lake Afrera, and the surrounding part of the Afar Depression, for centuries. Some researchers estimated the existence of 290 million tons of salt at Lake Afrera alone. Some local companies used to produce salt from the lake by pumping the brine into artificial ponds for evaporation and subsequent precipitation.

The lake has also helped fuel the local economy, becoming one of the world's biggest salt mines in the process. Despite years of constant cultivation, reverse estimates claim there is still over 290 million tons of salt here, and huge white rocks made up of salt deposits build up on the lake's shores.

However, following its inaccessibility, the Lake is one of the least studied lakes of the country. It supports life including three species of fish of which two are endemic. Recently, reports are coming out that this lake is used for salt extraction.

Unlike many of the other lakes in the Danakil Depression, visitors can swim in Lake Afrera. The lakes high salt content means those who enter float weightlessly. Adjacent to the lake is a freshwater hot spring - a natural jacuzzi - a welcome respite during the long journey through the desert.

However, following the extensive extraction and over-exploitation of salt by salt miner companies currently the area is calling for regulations that restrict the level of salt mining and sustainable use of the Lakes' other abiotic and biotic resources.

COMPILED BY STAFF REPORTER

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