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Sulfur and algae turn hot springs into pools of living color. The water is condensation from hot gases rising from magma chambers. As the water evaporates, salts and minerals form a vivid crust. (National Geographic)

Calm Down, Cool It: Earth's Most Hyperactive Place

by Claire O'Neill
Feb 1, 2012

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Claire O'Neill

It seems an oxymoron that a depression could be hyperactive. Or that such a hot place could be so cool. According to a recent National Geographic article, "East Africa's Afar depression is one of the world's most geologically hyperactive regions."

The Afar depression is also one of the hottest places on Earth; it's one of the lowest places on Earth; it's home to 12 active volcanoes, one of the Earth's few lava lakes and some of the earliest hominids like Lucy. More than 100 earthquakes can happen here in a month.

The depression, also called the Afar Triangle, is found in Ethiopia and touches both Djibouti and Eritrea. As Saudi Arabia literally tore itself away from East Africa, forming the Red Sea, magma pushed through the Earth's crust.

The magma cools, gets heavier, and the land sinks. And, when the Red Sea floods the region and evaporates, it leaves behind huge salt deposits — effectively creating a huge industry for the region. Though not necessarily a safe one: National Geographic cites one 2005 incident, in which the Earth opened its jaws and literally swallowed camels alive as herders watched.

It's no surprise that this would be a mecca for photographers, especially someone like George Steinmetz — who also has a geophysics degree. More of his photos can be seen with the article.

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