ARCHIVE KENYA 114 – LAKE MAGADI

 

 

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View southwards across Lake Magadi, in southern Kenya; Oct 1978.

There are many things to see here.  First, the eastern side of Africa is disintegrating, and the cracks along which this break up is taking place are the rift valleys.  Here we are on the fairly flat floor of one of the rifts, and the hills in the far distance, right of centre, are the Nguruman Escarpment, which is the rift valley’s western wall.  Everything in the landscape between us and those distant hills is new crust – volcanic lavas and ashes – that has been forced up from inside the Earth to seal the widening cracks in its surface.

To the left of Nguruman is a very distinctively shaped hill – it looks as if its had a chunk bitten out of it: this is Shombole volcano, near the border with Tanzania.

Just in front of the left hand side of Shombole some smoke is rising from a promontory.    The lake’s soda is mined, and this smoke is rising from the soda factory in Magadi town.  The volcanic rocks of the area are rich in soda, which is leached out of these rocks by rain.  This soda is carried in solution down into the lake by streams and springs.  But, since the lake has no outlet, its waters are lost only by evaporation, leaving the soda to accumulate and form a solid crust on the lake’s surface.  The redness of the soda near the lake’s shore is caused by red algae that thrive in the highly alkaline water – the water is so alkaline that it starts to dissolve human skin when in contact with it – fingers dipped into the water start immediately to feel soapy as their skin dissolves!

This photo was taken in the dry season, and the foreground is occupied by dry, brown acacia bush.  After rain, this landscape will become temporarily green again.

I very much enjoyed Lake Magadi.  It was an easy day’s drive from Nairobi, it was fascinating geologically, and it was a very wild and exotic area (though I have a feeling it is rather less wild now).  Its at low altitude, and it was always very dry and very hot – and the air was always pervaded by the acrid stink of the lake’s soda.  A wonderful and very, very real place; when I was there, all those years ago, there was absolutely no advertising, no hype, simply raw and really quite exotic nature.

Click onto the image to open a larger image in a separate window – recommended.

Technique: OM-1 with 28mm Zuiko lens and polarising filter; Agfa CT18 colour slide film rated at 64 ISO.

THE ARCHIVE KENYA SERIES

I’m re-posting photographs that I took in Kenya over 30 years ago.  You can find more context here .  Click onto the “Archive Kenya” tag (below) to see more of these film images from Kenya.

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ARCHIVE KENYA 100 – ENCAMPMENT BELOW SHOMPOLE

 

 


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Maasai encampment below the towering slopes of Shompole volcano, on the Kenya-Tanzania border southwest of Lake Magadi; Aug 1980.

This is very hot, semiarid, thornbush country, in the floor of the rift valley in southern Kenya.  The great bluffs in the background are on the flanks of Shompole, one of the many volcanoes in the rift valley’s floor.

Scale is difficult to judge here, but there is a single, cloaked person, seen as a dark spot, standing near the left hand end of the encampment’s bare, brown earth.  Several low, pale-roofed huts can be seen, and the camp is enclosed by fences of cut thornbush, which serve to help keep the stock animals in – and their predators out – during the 12-hour equatorial nights.

With the eye of faith, some very thin, pale paths can be seen crossing the rocky ground (there is one near the prominent green tree in the foreground), and white spots below the camp’s right hand end may be cows or goats.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window – recommended.

Technique: OM-1 with 75-150 Zuiko lens at 150mm; Agfa CT18 colour slide film, rated at 64 ISO; Color Efex Pro 4.

THE ARCHIVE KENYA SERIES

I’m re-posting photographs that I took in Kenya over 30 years ago.  You can find more context here .  Click onto the “Archive Kenya” tag (below) to see more of these film images from Kenya.

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ARCHIVE KENYA 62 – REFLECTION AT MAGADI (MONO)

 

 


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Skyscape reflected in an alkaline lagoon at Lake Magadi, in the rift valley in southern Kenya; November 1977.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window – recommended.

Technique: OM-1 with 28mm Zuiko lens; Agfa CT18 colour slide film, rated at 64 ISO; converted to mono, and toned, in Silver Efex Pro 2.

THE ARCHIVE KENYA SERIES

I’m re-posting photographs that I took in Kenya over 30 years ago.  You can find more context here .  Click onto the “Archive Kenya” tag (below) to see more of these film images from Kenya.
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ARCHIVE KENYA 49 – LAGOON AT MAGADI (MONO)

 

 


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Alkaline lagoon at Lake Magadi, on the floor of the rift valley in southern Kenya; Nov 1977.

The water is made alkaline by high concentrations of sodium bicarbonate which have been leached out of the rift valley’s volcanic rocks.   This water is so alkaline that it feels soapy to the touch, i.e. it starts to dissolve skin on contact, and its high soda content gives it an awfully rank, chemical odour.  Add to that the fact that this is a very hot, low lying area of the rift, and Magadi becomes something of an acquired taste.  But, to anyone interested in the Natural World – wildlife, geology, landscape –  it is also a fascinating place.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window – recommended.

Technique: OM-1 with 28mm Zuiko lens;  Agfa CT18 colour slide film rated at 64 ISO;  converted to mono with Silver Efex Pro.

THE ARCHIVE KENYA SERIES

I’m re-posting photographs that I took in Kenya over 30 years ago.  You can find more context here .  Click onto the “Archive Kenya” tag (below) to see more of these film images from Kenya.

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ARCHIVE KENYA 15 – LAKE MAGADI

 

 


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View across Lake Magadi, in the rift valley in southern Kenya; October 1978.  The line of hills on the horizon is the Nguruman Escarpment, the western wall of the rift valley.  The vast quantities of volcanic rocks produced during the formation of the rift valley are very rich in sodium, which weathers out of these rocks in solution as sodium bicarbonate.  Lake Magadi is situated at a low altitude in an area of the rift that is one of the hottest and driest parts of Kenya, and it lacks an outflow.

Sodium bicarbonate weathers out from the surrounding volcanic rocks and is transported into the lake in solution via streams and groundwater.  The concentration of sodium bicarbonate in the lake increases as more and more water bicarbonate enters the lake – while more and more of the lake’s water evaporates in the ferociously hot climate.   When the lake’s waters become saturated with the bicarbonate,  sodium carbonate is precipitated as a solid mineral.

This carbonate forms a white crust on the lake’s surface, which is tinged pink by red algae which proliferate in the highly alkaline water.  Hot springs around the lake are sufficiently alkaline to feel soapy to the touch, i.e. as they immediately start dissolving your skin!  The soda is extracted here commercially.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window – recommended.

Technique: Olympus OM-1 with 28mm Zuiko lens, and probably a polarising filter; Agfa CT18 colour slide film rated at 64 ISO.

SUMMARY:  as you may have guessed by now, I was formerly – from the age of about five in fact – a geologist.  As a boy that’s all I ever wanted to be.  And so to university, and six years of geological research in Scotland, the Western Alps and Oman.  But LOL! >>> the best laid plans of mice and men!!!  In 1967 two school friends introduced me to birding, and the (noble!) rot set in.  And so to birds, and to going to Kenya to lecture in geology and to look at birds in a zoogeographical region of the world completely new to me – the Afrotropics.

See next photo.
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Lake Magadi’s pink and white soda crust; October 1977; see previous picture.  This photo was taken with a 28mm wideangle lens, which captures detail from close at hand out to the horizon.  The jagged soda ridge in the foreground is about six inches high where it casts a very black shadow near the center of the shot.  I purposely made this ridge emanate from the picture’s lower right corner so that it would act as a leading line, drawing the viewer’s eyes ever more deeply into the picture and on out towards the horizon.

On the horizon, very slightly to the left of this “six inch cliff”, is the distinctive outline of the Shompole volcano, which is on the border with Tanzania.  Venturing out onto Lake Magadi’s crust is extremely hazardous, because it can give way at any moment, plunging the unwary into a warm and highly caustic mixture of sodium carbonate and bicarbonate that will cause serious burns.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window – recommended.

Technique: Olympus OM-1 with 28mm Zuiko lens; Agfa CT18 colour slide film rated at 64 ISO.

THE ARCHIVE KENYA SERIES

I’m re-posting photographs that I took in Kenya over 30 years ago.  You can find more context here .  Click onto the “Archive Kenya” tag (below) to see more of these film images from Kenya.

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ARCHIVE 321 – LAGOON AT MAGADI (MONO)

 

 


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Alkaline lagoon at Lake Magadi, on the floor of the rift valley in southern Kenya; Nov 1977.

The water is made alkaline by high concentrations of sodium bicarbonate which have been leached out of the rift valley’s volcanic rocks.   This water is so alkaline that it feels soapy to the touch, i.e. it starts to dissolve skin on contact, and its high soda content gives it an awfully rank, chemical odour.  Add to that the fact that this is a very hot, low lying area of the rift, and Magadi becomes something of an acquired taste.  But, to anyone interested in the Natural World – wildlife, geology, landscape –  it is also a fascinating place.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window.

Technique: OM-1 with 28mm Zuiko lens;  Agfa CT18 colour slide rated at 64 ISO;  converted to mono with Silver Efex Pro.

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ARCHIVE 176 – MAASAI (MONO)

 

 

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Maasai tribesmen, below the Nguruman Escarpment (the western wall of the rift valley), near Lake Magadi in southern Kenya; March 1979.

We had set up camp for a long weekend and, curious, these young men came to see us every day. Both are armed with the long spears used, amongst other things, to kill lions.

Click onto this image to see a larger version in a separate window.

OM-1 with 50mm Zuiko; Agfa CT18 colour slide, rated at 64 ISO; converted to mono with Silver Efex Pro

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ARCHIVE 59 – LAGOON AT MAGADI (MONO)

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Alkaline lagoon at Lake Magadi in the rift valley of southern Kenya; Nov 1977.

The volcanic rocks of Kenya’s rift valley are very rich in sodium.  This element is leached out by the rain and, in this area, the sodium-rich waters flow down underground into Lake Magadi.  This lake has no outlet apart from evaporation, and so the sodium content in its waters builds up.

Much of the lake has a solid sodium carbonate crust, but here a small lagoon still retains a liquid, if rather slimy,  surface.  The water is so alkaline that it feels soapy to the touch – it starts dissolving your skin as soon as you touch it!

OM-1 with 28mm Zuiko;  Agfa CT18 rated at 64 ISO; Silver Efex Pro.
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ARCHIVE 6 – LAGOON AT MAGADI

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Skyscape reflected in an alkaline lagoon at Lake Magadi, in southern Kenya; November 1977.

This picture comes from a colour transparency that, around 36 years old, no longer has perfect colour rendition. Hence the sky here is not quite a natural blue but the pink tint of the lagoon is real – blooms of red algae give the lake its pink hue, and flamingos become pinker by eating the algae.

There is much more about Lake Magadi, and more images, here .

OM-1 with 28mm Zuiko; Agfa CT18 colour slide, rated at 64 ISO.
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SELF-INDULGENCE 115 – LAKE MAGADI, IN SOUTHERN KENYA

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Lake Magadi, in southern Kenya; October 1978.

In the upper photo, the line of hills on the horizon is the Nguruman Escarpment, the western wall of the rift valley – one of the lines along which the eastern side of the African continent is fragmenting.  The vast quantities of volcanic rocks produced during the formation of the rift valley are very rich in sodium, which weathers out of these rocks in solution as sodium bicarbonate.  Lake Magadi, looking like its covered in slightly pinkish snow here, is situated at a low altitude in an area of the rift that is one of the hottest and driest parts of Kenya, and it lacks an outflow.

Sodium bicarbonate weathers out from the surrounding volcanic rocks and is transported into the lake in solution via streams and groundwater.  The concentration of sodium bicarbonate in the lake increases as more and more water containing bicarbonate enters the lake – while more and more of the lake’s water evaporates in the ferociously hot climate.

When the lake’s waters become saturated with the bicarbonate,  sodium carbonate is precipitated as a solid mineral. This carbonate forms a white crust on the lake’s surface, which is tinged pink by red algae which proliferate in the highly alkaline water.  Hot springs around the lake are sufficiently alkaline to feel soapy to the touch, i.e. as they immediately start dissolving your skin!  The whole place reeks with the soda’s rank, sulphury smell, and the soda is extracted here commercially.

The lower photo shows the lake’s soda crust.  The jagged soda ridge in the foreground is about six inches high where it casts a very black shadow near the center of the shot.  I purposely made this ridge emanate from the picture’s lower right corner so that it would act as a leading line, drawing the viewer’s eyes ever more deeply into the picture and on out towards the horizon.  On the horizon, very slightly to the left of this “six inch cliff”, is the distinctive outline of the Shompole volcano, which is on the border with Tanzania.

Venturing out onto Lake Magadi’s crust is extremely hazardous, because it can give way at any moment, plunging the unwary into a warm and highly caustic mixture of sodium carbonate and bicarbonate that will cause serious burns.

OM-1 with 28mm Zuiko and polarising filter; Agfa CT18 slides rated at 64 ISO.
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