Photographer Nick Brandt has taken some amazing photos of animals calcified in the harsh Lake Natron in northern Tanzania. With temperatures reaching 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius) and the water having a pH between 9 and 10.5, most animals quickly die upon immersing themselves in the lake. However, their bodies end up calcifying because the natron, a natural compound primarily made of sodium carbonate, which sucks up the moisture from the animal and also protects it against decay from microorganisms. In fact, this is the same compound that the ancient Egyptians used for mummification.
In his new photo book Across The Ravaged Land, Brandt writes, "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."
Despite the extreme nature of the lake, a remarkable ecosystem has evolved over the years. Algae feed off the mineral content near the hot springs in the lake. A type of fish called alkaline tilapia has uniquely evolved in this environment to feed off this algae. Because of the fish, the lake has also become the largest breeding ground in the world for Lesser flamingos. These birds build their nests along the shoreline, which enables them to avoid potential predators because of the undrinkable, foul-smelling lake.