A Place on Earth Where No Life Exists

Caitlin Dempsey

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Life has been able to adapt to some pretty extreme conditions on Earth.  Life exists in the deepest, darkest, and most pressurized depths of the oceans. Known as extremophiles, life can exist in extreme physical and/or geochemical conditions like hot springs, ice caps, and thermal vents.  

Known as extremophiles, bacteria that exist within extremely hot water are known as thermophiles and produce vibrant colors.

Map showing the area of study in Dallol, Ethiopia. Map: Belilla et al., 2019
Map showing the area of study in Dallol, Ethiopia. Map: Belilla et al., 2019

Researchers recently discovered at least one location on Earth that lacks any discernible life forms.  In the Dallol–Danakil area in Ethiopia, researchers found that the hot, saline, and highly acidic ponds found in a volcanic crater are too extreme for life to take hold.  Genetic sequencing was used to verify the absence of any organisms.  Researchers also found no life in the adjacent brine lakes.

hydrothermal pools and terraces of Dallol, Ethiopia. Photo: Kotopoulou Electra, Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0
hydrothermal pools and terraces of Dallol, Ethiopia. Photo: Kotopoulou Electra, Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0

The study:

Belilla, J., Moreira, D., Jardillier, L., Reboul, G., Benzerara, K., López-García, J. M., … & López-García, P. (2019). Hyperdiverse archaea near life limits at the polyextreme geothermal Dallol area. Nat Ecol Evol 3, 1552–1561. doi:10.1038/s41559-019-1005-0


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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.