Geothermal fields in Ethiopia is the only place on earth that is uninhabitable

It is most torrid environments on the planet with daily temperatures in winter exceeding 45 degrees Celsius.


Researchers have found an aquatic environment on the Earth with a complete absence of any forms of life, an advance that may lead to an improved understanding of the limits of habitability.

The study, published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, revealed that any form of microbial life was absent in the hot, saline, hyper acid ponds of the Dallol geothermal field in Ethiopia.

The researchers, including those from the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (FECYT), said Dallol's landscape extends over a volcanic crater full of salt, constantly releasing toxic gases with water boiling in the midst of the intense hydrothermal activity.

Geothermal fields in Ethiopia is the only place on earth that is uninhabitable

Dallol is a cinder cone volcano in the Danakil Depression located near Erta Ale volcano. It is a boiling cauldron of burning salts, sulfuric acid and volcanic rock. Image credit: Getty Images

They said it is one of the most torrid environments on the planet with daily temperatures in winter exceeding 45 degrees Celsius.

The landscape, the researchers said, had abundant hypersaline and hyper acid pools, with pH — which is measured on a scale from 0 (very acidic) to 14 (very alkaline) — even hitting the negative mark.

Earlier studies had pointed out that certain microorganisms can develop in this multi-extreme environment and researchers presented the place as an example of the limits of conditions that can support life.

The researchers said the place was even proposed as a terrestrial analogue of early Mars.

The Dallol, Danakil Depression in Ethiopia is the only place that is uninhabitable on Earth. Image credit: Flickr/Achilli Family

The Dallol, Danakil Depression in Ethiopia is the only place that is uninhabitable on Earth. Image credit: Flickr/Achilli Family

"After analyzing many more samples than in previous works, with adequate controls so as not to contaminate them and a well-calibrated methodology, we have verified that there's no microbial life in these salty, hot and hyper acid pools or in the adjacent magnesium-rich brine lakes," said study co-author Purificacion Lopez Garcia from FECYT.

The researchers found a great diversity of a type of primitive salt-loving microorganisms in the desert, and the saline canyons around the hydrothermal site but not in the hyper acid and hypersaline pools, nor in the Black and Yellow lakes of Dallol which are rich in magnesium.

"And all this despite the fact that microbial dispersion in this area, due to the wind and to human visitors, is intense," Lopez Garcia said.

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