Imagine taking a walk near a mesmerizingly beautiful lake, its waters reflecting the sky like a mirror, only to accidentally step in and realize that it is not your everyday lake. Lake Natron in northern Tanzania – one of the most extreme and potentially deadly environments on Earth.
Hotter Than A Hot Tub
Now, let’s address the pressing question: what if you, by some unfortunate accident, fell into Lake Natron?
Lake Natron isn’t your average vacation spot. With a staggering pH level of 10.5, it’s as alkaline as ammonia. But that’s not the only extreme feature of this lake. Its water can reach temperatures of up to 60°C (140°F). It is hotter than most of us can bear in a hot tub!
Firstly, the hot temperatures would be a harsh shock. It’d feel like being pushed into boiling water. If you stayed too long, you’d be at risk of suffering third-degree burns. But the heat is just the beginning.
Severe Chemical Burns!
The lake’s alkaline pH would inflict chemical burns. Especially on any open wounds, eyes, and mouth. Swallowing even a small amount of this water could lead to severe internal complications including vomiting and diarrhea.
Unlike many other lakes, Natron doesn’t have outlets that flow into oceans or rivers. Instead, it sits quietly, soaking up salty desert rain. Its stillness is somewhat eerie given its proximity to an active volcano, Ol Doinyo Lengai.
The rapid dehydration from the lake’s high salt concentration would make your skin itch and sting. The salt would also be an irritant to your eyes. If you were quick enough to escape, you’d likely experience severe pain for days, if not weeks.
Body Turns Into a Mummy!
The magic (or rather, the danger) of Lake Natron lies in its chemical composition. The neighboring volcano spews out a unique lava called Natrocarbonatite, laden with sodium and potassium carbonate. This chemical mix, when it enters the water, gives the lake its unique characteristics. Interestingly, these same chemicals were once key ingredients in Egyptian mummification.
These chemicals essentially turn the lake into a natural preservative. Any unfortunate creature that doesn’t make it out in time. They become calcified, turning into eerie, stonelike statues. In 2013, photographer Nick Brandt captured images of these calcified creatures, giving the world a glimpse into the lake’s deadly potential.
But let’s not forget the silver lining: if you managed to get out swiftly, chances are you would survive the ordeal.
However, if you were unlucky enough to drown, the lake would essentially embalm you. Your body would be preserved by the high salt content, potentially for centuries. It will make you an eerie antique for future generations to stumble upon.
But It’s Not All Doom and Gloom
Despite its deadly characteristics, Lake Natron isn’t void of life. The lake is a haven for the lesser flamingo, which not only survives but thrives and breeds in this harsh environment. For these birds, Lake Natron’s toxicity is a boon, offering protection from predators.
In a strange twist of fate, the lake’s extreme conditions are what make it a sanctuary for some. As the saying goes, “One man’s poison is another man’s meat.“
Lake Natron, with its captivating beauty, hides a lethal secret. It serves as a poignant reminder of nature’s dual ability to create and destroy. While it might be tempting to explore such an enigmatic place, it’s best to admire it from a safe distance. For now, maybe stick to those friendly neighborhood lakes for your aquatic adventures. And if you ever find yourself near Lake Natron, tread carefully, lest you become a part of its timeless tableau.