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ab’he bada: a volcanic lake

Ab’he Bada is a natural lake found in the town of Bada, Ghel’alo sub-zone.


Bada is around 220 km south of Massawa and is reached through the main stretch of road that leads to the port town of Assab. At Marsa Fatma, this main road is left behind as one diverges to the right and passes through Ada’ayto.

This pathway, however, is unlike the previous one. It makes for a rough 111 km ride across the dry land. The town of Bada is finally reached and soon after, 14 km to the North West, is Lake Bada.

Lake Bada is locally known as Ab’he Bada. In the Afar tongue Ab’he Bada translates into “smelly lake”. Interestingly, Lake Bada is a clear and pristine body of water. The lake is said to feature in some of the local folklore. Presumably, one of these tales gave rise to the name “smelly lake”.

Lakes are formed due to various geological mechanisms on the surface of the earth, such as tectonic, volcanic and glacial activities. Lake Bada is a volcanic lake; that is, a lake which forms in the volcanic crater after the volcano has been inactive for some time. The collapse of magma chambers leads to the development of very large surface craters called calderas. This process is a significant source of such basins.

Calderas or volcanic lakes typically exhibit great depth and a high encircling rim. Lake Bada has a surface area of 20 km square. Its depth, however, is not so easy to determine. Instead of a gradually sloping bed that grows deeper towards the center, Lake Bada has a linear base that causes it to have very little difference in the overall depth, which means that the water at the edge of the lake is as deep as that in the center. From a distance, this volcanic lake has the daunting appearance of a high, gaping, empty crater.

Most lakes are fed by river channels and streams. Some lakes, though, do not appear to have any water coming into them. These are actually fed by underground springs. Lake Bada is found along the vast desert of the Danakil Depression. Rainfall in this area is very little. When there is rain, the rate of evaporation far exceeds that of percolation because the temperature is extremely high, reaching up to 50 degrees. The water that manages to infiltrate underground appears to come out through a fault, in the form of a geyser in Lake Bada. Unlike other hot springs in the Northern Red Sea, the one in Lake Bada is warm, not boiling. Given its proximity to the Danakil Depression, one of the lowest, hottest and saltiest places on earth, it comes as no surprise that Lake Bada contains salt water. Of course, the Danakil Depression itself also stimulates interest because it is currently right in the middle of an ongoing geological phenomenon, namely the East African Rift which is a crack in the surface of the earth that runs north and south for about 6400 km. But that is a story for another article.

In spite of its being surrounded by hills of sand, or because of it, Lake Bada may seem like a miraculous haven amid the harsh scorch of the region. Nearby is a spring that serves as a source of drinking water for the local inhabitants.

Unlike the lake, the water that bubbles out of this spring is clean and surprisingly cool. Trees populate the patch of land alongside the spring. This land is used by locals during the dry season for shepherding and grazing.

Like all geological changes, the formation of Lake Bada took many years. Unfortunately it is not accurately known how old Lake Bada is. This volcanic lake is one of the numerous striking geographical sites in Eritrea that have hitherto remained undiscovered or unexplored. These places not only have immense historic and economic significance but also possess great aesthetic value. They are sublime and otherworldly in their beauty. The 30-year war for independence, followed by the 20-year long unrest in the region, has considerably delayed scientific and exploratory expeditions. Such expeditions could and would unlock the geological and archaeological potential that Eritrea holds.

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