Lacustrine carbonate towers of Lake Abhe, Djibouti: Interplay of hydrologic and microbial processes

Laura M. DeMott, Christopher A. Scholz, Mohamed Osman Awaleh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Lake Abhe, located at the triple junction between the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, and Main Ethiopian rift trends, is a hypersaline and alkaline closed lake that is known for its exposures of massive carbonate chimneys on the flat-lying sediments of the lake's eastern margin. This study describes the morphological, textural, and petrographic characteristics of these chimneys at the basin- to microscopic-scale in order to constrain the carbonate depositional system in the context of basin hydroclimate history. Chimneys occur in three main fields and are assessed according to 1) large-scale (>5 m) morphological variations, 2) meso-scale (cm to <5 m) textures, and 3) micro-scale (<1 cm) fabrics. The dominant chimney fabric is a porous crystalline framework of trigonal prismatic and dendritic calcite crystals that locally contain spherulites, sickle-cell calcite fabrics, and entombed microbial cocci. In addition to the crystalline chimneys, other carbonate sediments include stromatolitic crusts composed of microdigitate laminated columns dominated by crystalline fan microfabrics, as well as carbonate-rich mudstones and relatively rare, localized, carbonate-rich diatomites. Chimneys are interpreted to form primarily as products of mixing between hydrothermal sublacustrine springs and lake waters during lake highstand intervals, while stromatolitic crusts are interpreted to form during lowstand lake levels. Our interpretation of mixing processes is supported by the δ18O composition of chimney calcite, which is representative of lake water and area hot spring endmembers. The observation of stromatolitic crusts with more positive values of δ13C and δ18O than crystalline chimneys indicates that crusts formed during periods of high evaporation and low lake level. Crusts also contain Mg-silicate minerals, which are not present in crystalline chimneys, and further support the interpretation of lowstand depositional conditions. Although the age of chimney formation is not well constrained, evidence from seismic reflection data suggests a pattern of chimney formation during lake level rise and highstand times, followed by lake level fall, subaerial exposure and weathering that occurred at several times throughout the Late Pleistocene and Holocene.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105983
JournalSedimentary Geology
StatePublished - Oct 2021


  • Hydrothermal
  • Lacustrine carbonate
  • Lake Abhe
  • Stromatolite

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology
  • Stratigraphy


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