Lake Turkana facts

Lake Turkana, or also called Lake Rudolph, is an amazing closed drainage body of the Great Rift Valley in the eastern part of the African continent.

Standing on its shore, you will be sure that you are on the sea coast. The sandy beach and waves are eye-catching. Fierce winds are blowing, and fishing boats sway nearby, ready to go fishing.

The lake is filled with turquoise water, which is why the locals call it the “Jade Sea.” Still, this is not a sea but a large lake. Turkana is the world’s largest non-drying desert lake. In addition, it is the largest alkaline lake on the planet, covering an area of about 8500 km 2.

The water from the lake can be drunk, but it is not very pleasant to the taste – the increased salinity affects.

Location of Lake Turkana

Lake Turkana
©iStockphotos

The lake is located in the northern part of the Rift Valley, on the border of Ethiopia and Kenya. But in fact, more than 95% of the reservoir lies in northern Kenya and only a small part in Ethiopia. The lake is fed by three rivers: Omo, Turkwel, and Kerio. The most significant contribution to the filling of the lake is made by the Omo River (over 90%), which originates in Ethiopia.

In numbers, Lake Turkana stretched from north to south is 250 kilometers long and up to 44 kilometers wide. According to scientists, the lake stretched for more than 400 kilometers between four and eight thousand years ago. During this period, a river flowed out of it, which then flowed into the Nile. Now it is a completely closed lake.

It should be noted that water is consumed only for evaporation. The volume and size of the lake are variable. For example, its level dropped by 10 meters between 1975 and 1993, so the figures below may differ.

  • Drainage area -130 860 km 2
  • The area of the water table is about 8500 km 2
  • Average depth – 30.2 meters Maximum depth – 109 meters (according to other sources 73 meters)
  • The lake lies at an altitude of 360 meters above sea level
  • The volume of water is estimated at 203 km 3
  • Salinity – 2.44%

The history of the discovery and the lake’s name

Lake Turkana
©iStockphotos

Naturally, the locals have long known about the lake (it is hard not to notice it). But the Europeans only became aware of it in 1888. Then the traveler from Hungary Samuel Teleki de Szék and his Austrian friend Ludwig von Hönel discovered this huge lake and named it Rudolf in honor of the Crown Prince of Austria.

Researcher John Walter Gregory reports in an 1894 Geography Journal that the lake is called Basso Narok, meaning Black Lake in the language of the local Samburu tribe. This tribe was one of the dominant in the region.

The lake retained its European name Rudolph during the British colonization of eastern Africa. After Kenya became independent, in 1975, President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta issued a decree naming Lake Turkana in honor of the powerful tribe that lives in its vicinity.

Lake Turkana nature

The lake is famous for the largest population of Nile crocodiles and hippos on the planet. There are about 14,000 crocodiles alone. Moreover, there are specimens over 5 meters long.

Turkana has relatively few fish species; the lake is inhabited by about 50 species, including 12 endemics.

The abundance of plankton is food for both birds and fish.

The lake also has a large population of large aquatic turtles, especially in the Central Island area.

Lake Turkana islands

The lake has several islands of volcanic origin. We will consider the three main and largest (the rest are rather modest in size).

North island

It is located in the northern part of the lake. Its dimensions are approximately 1.5 by 2 kilometers.

Central (or crocodile) island

Central Island lies approximately in the center of the reservoir. Its dimensions are 2.5 by 2.8 km. It is often called Crocodile island.

This name is not accidental. It is this islet that crocodiles abundantly inhabit. In addition to them, there is an impressive population of large turtles.

South Island

In the southern part of the lake, you guessed it; there is … South Island. It is the largest island in the water area (size 11 by 5.1 km). And the youngest. There is still increased volcanic activity here. The island’s territory is under protection and is a National Park “South Island National Park.”

Locals call the South Island Envaitenet – the island of the missing people.

Archaeological finds

Millions of years ago, a more humid climate prevailed here. The area of the lake was much larger, and its coast was more fertile. Large animals lived here, including elephants, giraffes, hippos, wild boars, and antelopes.

A large number of important archaeological finds have been made in the area of the lake. The most famous and significant discoveries include the find of Richard Leakey. In 1972, he discovered the skull of the oldest human ancestor, Homo habilis. Its age is estimated in the range from 1.4 to 2 million years.

In 1984, the same researcher found a well-preserved skeleton of the so-called Turkan boy. It belongs to the species Homo erectus or Homo ergaster, and the age of the find is about 1.6 million years.

In 1994, the remains of more than 20 individuals were discovered, presumably of the species Australopithecus Anamika. In the course of analyzes, it was found that their age is from 3.9 to 4.2 million years.

In addition, on the western coast of the lake, archaeologists have discovered the most ancient stone tools, about 3.3 million years old. They are as much as 700,000 years older than the tools found in Ethiopia.

Threat to Lake Turkana

Now the ecosystem of the reservoir is threatened by an ecological disaster. Ethiopia plans to build the Gibe III Dam in the upper reaches of the Omo River. If the project ends, the lake may begin to dry up. The fate of the Aral Sea may await it.

Today, more than a quarter of a million residents live in the vicinity of the lake, belonging to about a dozen tribes. The vast majority of them are closely associated with the lake and practically depend on it. It promotes the development of agriculture, animal husbandry, and fishing. People can lose all this if the dam is built.

Interesting facts

  • In terms of water volume, Lake Turkana ranks 4th among salt lakes globally and 24th among all lakes on the planet.
  • Teleki volcano rises on the southern coast of the lake.
  • The reservoir and its National Parks are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

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