The Middle East boasts some of the world’s saltiest waterbodies, but none approach the horror of Lake Natron in Tanzania, one of the harshest environments on the planet. It’s hot, chalky waters can turn birds and land animals into calcified statues, spookily captured by photographer Nick Brandt in his new book, Across the Ravaged Land.
The Caspian Sea, bordered by Iran, Azerbaijan, Russia, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan, is both the world’s largest lake and the largest saltwater lake.
Lake Urmia in northwestern Iran is the largest lake in the Middle East, and the third largest saltwater lake on earth.
And the Dead Sea, bordered by Jordan, Israel and Palestine, holds the title as the deepest of the world’s salty seas.
But those majestic waters all step aside as, just in time for Halloween, Lake Natron steps onto the podium as the world’s most frightening:
Water temperatures can reach 140 °F and alkalinity hovers around pH 10, similar to ammonia. The steaming hot lake is colored bright red by bacteria. Enter these waters at your own risk.
Brandt visited the lake while working in Africa and discovered calcified corpses of bats and birds scattered along the shoreline.
“The water has an extremely high soda and salt content, so high that it would strip the ink off my Kodak film boxes within a few seconds.” writes Brandt. Animals exposed to the water die, gradually stiffen into ghostly statues.
Brandt told New Scientist, “I couldn’t help but photograph them. No one knows for certain exactly how they die, but it appears that the extreme reflective nature of the lake’s surface confuses them, and like birds crashing into plate glass windows, they crash into the lake.”
“I thought they were extraordinary – every last tiny detail perfectly preserved down to the tip of a bat’s tongue, the minute hairs on his face. The entire fish eagle was the most surprising find,” Brandt told The Huffington Post. He snapped the images in 2010 and 2012.
“There was never any possibility of bending a wing or turning a head to make a better pose — they were like rock,” he said, “so we took them and placed them on branches and rocks just as we found them, always with a view to imagining it as a portrait in death.”