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Ethiopia’s Strange Volcanic Landscapes Are Irresistible to Scientists (and Tourists)

Dallol can teach us a lot about Mars, and it needs to be protected.

The area around the Dallol volcano in Ethiopia is like nowhere else on Earth. Toxic chlorine and sulfur vapors clog the air and giant “mushrooms” made of iron-rich salt cover the landscape. The groundwater is near boiling when it bubbles up through the Earth’s crust, creating springs you absolutely would not want to bathe in.

The British explorer Wilfred Thesiger described the place as “a land of death.” But for scientists figuring out what life might look like on Mars and other distant worlds, the area’s particular combination of extremes is invaluable.

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The Danakil depression is a shining example of a Mars analog, with a unique combination of extremities all wrapped up in one ecosystem. “Compared to other big hydrothermal systems, this one was completely different and totally unique,” says Barbara Cavalazzi, a geobiologist at the University of Bologna in Italy, who has been visiting the region since 2015. Because it ticks multiple boxes, any life that can survive there would be classed as a polyextremophile.

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Tags: #ethiopia, #geology, #science, #space
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