Considered to have potential as a future World Heritage Site
Location and Area: The Danakil Depression marks the northern end of the Great Rift Valley on the African mainland, the point where Earth’s forces are most actively tearing the continent apart. It is an extremely arid, hot desert area which stretches from the coastline of Eritrea through north-eastern Ethiopia and western parts of Djibouti (see map).
Inscription Status: Not yet included on Ethiopia’s Tentative List (2015), but Djibouti has included two areas within the Danakil (LakeAsal and LakeAbbe) in its draft Tentative List.
Important Values: The Danakil Depression is an area of outstanding geological interest, providing a unique window on the underlying processes which have created the Earth’s continents and land masses. Here, in relatively close proximity, geological features associated with the splitting of continental land masses are clearly seen, including intense volcanic activity (with one of the few permanent lava lakes on the planet - Mount Irtale), hot sulphur springs elaborately decorated with extraordinary coral-like formations, salt-encrusted lake beds, and vast limestone chimneys (Lake Abbe).
Slideshow of the Danakil Depression (see below for description)
Slideshow description: The slideshow covers a range of features from a wide area of the Danakil Depression, highlighting the area’s most active volcano and lava fields; its salt lakes; sulphurous hot springs and the spectacular calcareous ‘chimneys’ of Lake Abbe. It begins on the approach to Erta Ale, Africa’s most active volcano. The area is inhabited by nomadic Afar people and their camels, and the approach to Erta Ale passes their temporary dome-shaped shelters and across the black lava fields typical of the Danakil desert. The summit of Erta Ale has one of Earth’s only permanent lava lakes, and has been in a state of continuous eruption since 1967 - the cauldron of boiling lava is best viewed at night. All around the summit and upper slopes are the contorted shapes of recent lava flows, every detail perfectly preserved as the lava cooled. From Erta Ale the slideshow follows a traverse of the desert northwards towards the Eritrean border, passing spectacular succulent vegetation and sedimentary strata thrust into almost vertical alignment by tectonic forces associated with the ongoing process of Great Rift Valley formation. Close to the Eritrean border in the far north of the Danakil lies LakeAsale where camel caravans begin their journey carrying salt from the lake to markets in the Ethiopian highlands. Nearby (at Dallol) a multi-coloured field of sulphurous hot springs can be seen, viewed from the air as well as ground level in this slideshow. The intricate detail of salt encrustations of every hue seems more reminiscent of a coral reef than anything else. Nearby are other-worldly landscapes of the so-called ‘SaltMountain’ and a large orange ‘boiling pot’. The harvesting of salt from the bed of LakeAsale by Afar people is shown, the neatly cut blocks being loaded onto camels and carried across the salt flats to the distant highlands. The final part of the slideshow shows the southern end of the Danakil in Djibouti, where LakeAsal marks the African continent’s lowest point (155m below sea level). The salt-encrusted lake is surrounded by black lava fields and the desert supports a few hardly animals such as gerenuk and Dorcas gazelle. The southern Danakil also features Lake Abbe, one of a series of lakes where the waters of the Awash River finally disappear into the desert, and steam vents have created hundreds of great calcareous ‘chimneys’ (some as much as 50m high) on the dry lake bed. It is an extraordinary landscape.
Possible constraints to world heritage listing: Although there are suggestions of a possible national park in the Danakil, there are no existing protected areas.
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