As the largest and most northern of the Rift Valley lakes, Lake Turkana was formerly referred to as Lake Rudolf, it covers an area of 7,500 sq km. The lake itself is surrounded by barren volcanic lava beds with little to no vegetation. Until 2 million years ago this great body of water was a freshwater lake fed from the north by the Oma River in Ethiopia. Today, Turkana has no outlet and the water is highly alkaline and barely drinkable. It is the world's largest permanent desert lake and the world's largest alkaline lake. By volume it is the world's fourth largest salt lake after the Caspian Sea, Issyk-Kul Lake and the (shrinking) Aral Sea, and among all lakes it ranks twenty-fourth. The water is potable but not palatable. It supports a rich lacustrine wildlife. The climate is hot and very dry.
Despite the harsh climate, several tribal groups have adjusted the desert heat including the Turkana, Rendille, Gabra, and El Molo.
The rocks of the surrounding area are predominantly volcanic. Central Island is an active volcano, emitting vapors. Outcrops and rocky shores are found on the East and South shores of the lake, while dunes, spits and flats are on the West and North, at a lower elevation.
Loyangalani is a remote settlement on the shores of the lake populated by Turkana tribespeople. The whole area is part of Mount Kulal Biosphere Reserve set up by UNESCO to study arid lands. In 1967, Richard Leakey discovered the Koobi Fora fossil site on Lake Turkana. This area is protected now as an important prehistoric research site as it lies within the Sibiloi National Park.
On-shore and off-shore winds can be extremely strong as the lake warms and cools more slowly than the land. Sudden, violent storms are frequent. Three rivers (the Omo, Turkwel and Kerio) flow into the lake, but lacking outflow its only water loss is by evaporation. Lake volume and dimensions are variable. For example, its level fell by 10 meters between 1975 and 1993.
Due to temperature, aridity and geographic inaccessibility, the lake retains its wild character. Nile crocodiles are found in great abundance on the flats. The rocky shores are home to scorpions and carpet vipers. Although the lake and its environs have been popular for expeditions of every sort under the tutelage of guides, rangers and experienced persons, they certainly must be considered hazardous for unguided tourists.
Lake Turkana National Parks are now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.Sibiloi National Park lies on the lake's eastern shore, while Central Island National Park and South Island National Park lie in the lake. Both are known for their crocodiles.
The Lake Turkana area is designated by many anthropologists as the cradle of humankind
Aerial View of Lake Turkana
L. Turkana is in an arid and hot area. The mean annual rainfall in most of the lake surroundings is less than 250 mm. The occurrence of rainfall is very erratic and unpredictable, although the probability of rainfall is the highest during the "long rains" in March May. The air temperature recordings at Lodwar show a seasonal pattern with the lowest temperatures in July August, a wide range between 19.5 and 39.9deg C, and a mean daily temperature of 29.26deg C. The lake is exposed to frequent strong winds, the prevailing wind direction being from the southeast.
The main tributary is the River Omo, which enters the lake from the north and contributes more than 90% of the total water influx. Other rivers are temporary, flooding only during sporadic rains. The second largest river, Turkwel River, is now being dammed for hydroelectric power generation at Turkwel Gorge ca. 150 km west of the lake.
L. Turkana has no outlet, and water is lost from the lake mainly by evaporation. The evaporation rate has been estimated at 2,335 mm yr-1. The water level of this closed basin lake is determined by the balance between the influx from rivers and groundwater and the evaporation from the lake surface. Therefore the level is sensitive to climatic variations, and subject to marked seasonal fluctuations as well as to long-term periodical changes.
The development of phytoplankton is limited by the availability of nitrate and light. Light limitation was caused by turbid water and vertical mixing. The sustainable yield of traditionally exploited fish from open lake was estimated to be 15,000 30,000 t yr-1
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