One of the near-universal agreements in the traditional worldviews of African peoples – and even those from without – is that all of the earth is predetermined to support plant and animal life, from the simplest to the most complex.
But contrary to what is clearly a pre-scientific belief, researchers have found that certain places are quite literally dead.
A new study has found that Dallol in the Afar region of northern Ethiopia is the one place where no life can exist. According to scientists, Dallol’s inability to support life is because the place is extremely hot, acidic and salty.
The area was already known as one of the aridest portions of the planet yet the new findings indicate that Dallol’s pools do not even have micro-organismic life.
A member of the team and author of the study, Purificacion Lopez Garcia of the French National Centre for Scientific Research was quoted as saying: “After analysing 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 hyperacid pools or in the adjacent magnesium-rich brine lakes.”
Dallol lies in the way of a volcanic crater, along the Danakil depression, the lowest point in Ethiopia and one of the lowest in Africa.
As far back as the 1960s, Dallol was recording a temperature of 41 degrees Celsius (106 degrees Fahrenheit) daily. This was on record as the hottest inhabited place on earth.
But the new report puts Dallol’s temperature beyond 45 degrees Celsius (118 degrees Fahrenheit), even in winter.
“What does exist is a great diversity of halophilic archaea (a type of primitive salt-loving microorganisms) in the desert and the saline canyons around the hydrothermal site, but neither in the hyperacid and hypersaline pools themselves, nor in the so-called Black and Yellow lakes of Dallol, where magnesium abounds,” added Garcia.
One practical result of this research is the understanding that the presence of water may not be an adequate determinant of the possibility of human habitation.
Billions of dollars have been invested in the last few decades to discover water outside of the Earth.
The essentiality of water is discussed in space explorations of Mars and other planets where it is hoped humans may colonise.
But Garcia pushes back on this belief that water is all we need: “Our study presents evidence that there are places on the Earth’s surface, such as the Dallol pools, which are sterile even though they contain liquid water.”
Recording negative pH values in pools of acid and salt, the waters of Dallol actually prevent the promotion of life by breaking down hydrogen. This makes the existence of even minute life conceivably impossible.
The researchers will, however, continue their study into the coming years.
What is certain for now is that our perspective of Earth and living has been challenged with what looks like insurmountable evidence.