Ethiopia and Danakil Depression Workshop, Bologna – Abstracts

Workshop on Ethiopia and the Danakil Depression in Planetary Science

Sala Rossa, Scuola Superiore di Studi Umanistici, Università di Bologna, Italy
01-03 December, 2016

Europlanet 2020 RI held a workshop on Ethiopia and the Danakil Depression in Planetary Science as part of its science networking activity and co-sponsored by the International Research School of Planetary Sciences (IRSPS), Italy. The aim of the meeting was to stimulate discussion and planning for future activities around the Danakil field site, consolidate collaborations and encourage new collaborative projects across all Horizon 2020 and other research programmes.


Outcomes summary

Nigel Mason (The Open University) – Europlanet: Europe’s forum for Planetary Science
Abstract | Presentation

Felipe Gómez (Centro de Astrobiología, INTA-CSIC) – Europlanet Transnational Access Facilities
Abstract | Presentation

Gian Gabriele Ori (IRSPS-Ibn Battuta Centre) – The activities of the Ibn Battuta Centre/IRSPS
Abstract | Presentation

Tesfamichael G. Yohannes (Mekelle University) – Higher institutions in Ethiopia, Mekelle University
Abstract | Presentation

Francesco Salese, IRSPS-Agenzia Spaziale ItalianaThe African Space Race: Africa’s journey to space begins on the ground
Abstract | Presentation

Miruts Hagos (Mekelle University) – Magmatic and kinematic analysis of the Afar Depression: from continental breakup to mid-oceanic ridges
Abstract | Presentation

Barbara Cavalazzi (Università di Bologna) – Dallol geothermal field, Danakil Depression, Afar Region, Ethiopia –a unique and unexplored astrobiological laboratory
Abstract | Presentation

Felipe Gomez (Centro de Astrobiología INTA-CSIC) – A summary of the 2016 last visit to Danakil Depression
Abstract | Presentation

Karen Olsson-Francis (The Open University) – A culture-dependent and culture-independent study of the microbial community at Yellow-Oily Lake, Dallol geothermal area, Ethiopia
Abstract | Presentation

Michele Balsamo (Kayser Italia) – Scientific Equipment for Science in extreme environments.Lessons learned from space for the Dallol
Abstract | Presentation

Graham Booth/Patricia Reece (Nutopia Ltd) – One Strange Rock

Anita Heward (Europlanet 2020 Research Infrastructure) – Creating an outreach and education strategy around visits to the Danakil Depression analogue site
Abstract | Presentation

Livia Mercatelli (International Relations Office, Università di Bologna) – Foster academic cooperation with HEIs in Africa beyond H2020: the Erasmus+ perspective and its opportunities
Abstract | Presentation

Pedro Russo (Leiden University) – Space Awareness & Astronomy for Development
Abstract | Presentation

Yoseph Araya (The Open University) – Citizen Science for outreach and capacity building: evidence from practice
Abstract | Presentation

Sohan Jheeta (Independent Educator and Research Scientist, Leeds, UK) – Science in society outreach
Abstract | Presentation


Meeting Abstracts

Yoseph ARAYA, The Open University, UNITED KINGDOM
Citizen Science is a scientific exercise where members of the public are involved in data capture and sharing. Although citizen sciencehas been in practice for over a century, it is only in the last couple of decades it has particularly intensified. Citizen science projects are now available in almost every scientific discipline and globally. Projects monitoring environmental factors, progress of infectious diseases and natural disasters as well as tagging of online video observation are among the many such activities. Some reasons for this interest, have been enhanced scientific awareness by citizens, willingness of researchers to engage the public, emphasis of funding bodies for knowledge transfer and also capability/availability of technology for doing so. Subsequently such participation is currently actively being encouraged by scientists and government to inform and help in policy making. In this talk, exploration on the potentials, common challenges and achievements of recently undertaken citizen science projects will be presented. Attempt will be made to relate with Ethiopian scenario.

Barbara CAVALAZZI, Università di Bologna, ITALY/University of Johannesburg, SOUTH AFRICA/International Research School of Planetary Sciences-IRSPS, ITALY. (Cavalazzi B, Barbieri R, Hagos M, Capaccioni B, Olsson-Francis, K, Pondrelli M, Perras A, Rossi AP, Agangi A, Gasparotto G, Glamoclija M, Ori GG, Gomez F, Rodriguez N, Moissl-Eichinger C, Cady SL)
Since 2013 I started my adventure in Ethiopia with Roberto Barbieri and Miruts Hagos. Here, my co-Authors and I, we present the results obtained from a field survey and observations, sampling and preliminary analytical results following the 5 field campaigns in the area conduced from 2013-2016. The hot springs at the Dallol volcanic crater and Danakil salt flat are a natural laboratory of great extreme environmental and astrobiological interest.
I would like kindly thanks Ernesto Abbate, Università di Firenze, Alessandra Scagliarini, Filippo Sartor, Livia Mercatelli, Ezia Coppola, Stefania Zecchi, Alessia Ferreri e Alessandra Forni, Università di Bologna, Solomon Hishe, University of Mekelle, and Birhanu Berhe, Temesgen Pharmacy in Mekele, Judith Rendón, Hospital of Mekele, Stop Early Marriage and Adele Signorini, Università di Firenze,and the Silesians of the Kidane Mehret Mission in Adwa, and, of corse, EUROPLANET 2020RI.

Felipe GÓMEZ GÓMEZ, Centro de Astrobiología (INTA-CSIC), SPAIN/NASA Astrobiology Institute Associated
A summary of the 2016 last visit to Danakil Depression will be presented on my presentation. Basically my talk will summarise the first trip logistics and first results regarding the final confirmation on that there is life on such an extreme environment. First mineralogical and hibridization results will report the confirmation that microbial life is on the samples. Some experimental problems will be reported due to the difficult chemistry on the environment.

Miruts HAGOS, Mekelle University, ETHIOPIA, Tesfamichael G, Cavalazzi B
This presentation outlines the generalized geological and tectonic elements of the Afar Depression, and discusses its evolution. The Afar Depression is a key segment of the East African Rift System that connects the Gulf of Aden, Red Sea, and the main Ethiopian rifts. It is a magmatic depression that constitutes all the different stages of rift evolution from initial crustal rupture to incipient oceanic spreading: it is thus an ideal place to analyse the evolution of continental extension, the rupture of lithospheric plates and the dynamics by which distributed continental deformation is progressively focused at oceanic spreading centers. The magmatic lavas in this area range from transitional to tholeiitic basalts, with significant across-axis variation both in mineralogy and chemistry. The variation in the contents of the major elements (TiO2, Al2O3, and Fe2O3), incompatible trace elements (Nd, Hf, Th, Ta), and the contents and ratios of the rare earth elements (REE) (e.g., (La/Yb) 5.3 -8.9) indicate some variation in the petrogenetic processes responsible for the formation of these basalts. The Afar Depression, the volcano-tectonically most active region of the east African rift system, is a region of extensional tectonics that has undergone varying degrees of extension and counter-clockwise rotation of its axial rift. Both field evidence from structural measurements and Landsat image data indicate that the rift axes of the northern Afar (Erta’Ale Range) and central Afar (Tendaho Graben) Depressions are obliquely oriented (~20°–30°) to the Oligocene–Miocene-age western Afar border faults and marginal grabens.

Anita HEWARD, Europlanet 2020 RI, UNITED KINGDOM/Science Office, PORTUGAL

The beauty, exoticism and scientific importance of the Danakil Depression in Ethiopia make expeditions to the site enormous opportunities for a wide variety of outreach activities.There has already been considerable media interest in the site and a crew from National Geographic plans to accompany researchers on an expedition in early 2017. Multimedia and social media tools (e.g. blogs, videos, images, webinars, webchats etc.) offer ways for members of the public and schools to share in the experiences of researchers visiting the site and follow their progress as they unravel the geology, chemistry, physics and biology of this extreme environment and its implications for astrobiology. In addition, the envisaged flow of researchers visiting Ethiopia to access the analogue site offers further opportunity for supporting science education in Ethiopia, including school visits, teacher training and collaborative projects linking schools in Ethiopia with schools across Europe. In October 2016, Dr Barbara Cavalazzi spent time in two schools in different areas of Ethiopia, and lessons learned from her experiences can help inform future activities.Europlanet 2020 RI would like to collaborate with other research groups working in the area, local universities and schools, to create a coordinated, sustainable education and outreach programme, both internationally and within Ethiopia, and taking into account the current political situation and local infrastructure.

Sohan JHEETA, Independent Educator and Research Scientist, UK /Jeetha S, Prospery Simpemba, Mzaza P
I have been involved with ‘science in society’ both nationally and internationally for over 6 years. In relation to the former, I have delivered over 180 talks/workshops/career advice etc, especiallyto young people from challenged communities. Further afield, I have forged excellent contacts in India, Sharjah, Zambia and Malawi, and currently I’m also in the process of opening channels for collaboration in Kenya. After my exploratory visit to Zambia and Malawi this April, I’m now in the process of installing a mobile 8-inch sturdy observational telescope with GPS in each country. I have also instigated the formation of astronomy clubs in these two countries as well as delivering a series of talks to the surrounding schools on astrophotography, astronomy in general, and lateral thinking. These projects are being coordinated with Copperbelt University (contact: Mr Prospery Simpemba, and the (contact: Dr Patrick Mzaza, Next year I will be working on a project with these two universities with the aim of enabling the implementation of two mobile planetariums for making access to astronomy more enjoyable as far as school pupils and general public are concerned. The full scope of my philanthropic activities with all the nations mentioned above areachieved under my own steam and can be verified by visiting my website:

Nigel J MASON, The Open University, UNITED KINGDOM
Europlanet is Europe’s largest forum for planetary science, founded in 2004 it supports the European planetary science research community in the conduct and delivery of its research while simultaneously promoting such research to major stakeholders and funders such as the European Commision, national governments and funding agencies and, through its outreach and dissemination programme, the general public. Europlanet’s research includes the study of all bodies in the Solar sytem (planets, moons, comets, asteroids etc) and beyond (exoplanets), the study of solar interactions with such bodies (space weather), the study of the habitabilty and the orings of life on Earth (astrobiology). The Europlanet Research Infrastructure provides open access to a range of laboratories and field sites allowing researchers from anywhere in the world the opportunity to use state of the art facilities to pursue their research and is building a suite of on-line tools, models and databases. Europlant also hosts workshops, meetings and the annual European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC) one of the largest planetary science conferences in the world. In this talk I will review current Europlanet actvities and place in context the opening of Ethiopia as a Europlanet field site while discussing opportunites for wider EU-Ethiopia collaboration in planetary sciences and space research.

Livia MERCATELLI, Università di Bologna, ITALY
Erasmus+ is the EU programme that supports academic cooperation for the modernization of higher education within the EU and with Partner countries outside the EU. The focus is not on funding specific research activities, nevertheless the programme supports, within the others, initiatives to boost the research capacities, to promote the knowledge triangle and therefore create a fruitful background for cooperation with partners in Africa.

Karen OLSSON-FRANCIS, The Open University, UNITED KINGDOM (Olsson-Francis K, Stephens B, Capaccioni B, Hagos M, Perras A, Moissl-Eichinger C, Cavalazzi B)
Defining the boundaries of habitability is essential for elucidating whether life can exist elsewhere in the Solar System. Our understanding of habitability is dependent on studying extreme  environments  on  Earth,  which  can  give  insight  into  the  physical  and  chemical environmental parameters that can support life. An ideal region to study the limits of life is the Danakil Depression, which is believed to be one of the most extreme environments on Earth and has been identified as an analogue field-site for potential habitable environments elsewhere in the Solar System. For example, the Dallol crater hosts a hydrothermal system where hot fluids interact in the subsurface with volcanic and evaporitic rocks, depositing metals and salts in surface. This can be considered a strongly reliable terrestrial analogue for Mars. Of particular interest is a thermal spring, Yellow-Oily Lake, which is located on the marginal side of the volcanic caldera. Geochemical analyses have shown that the lake is highly saline, acidic (pH of approximately 1) and the temperature can reach 40o C. Previous work has detected the presence of (light and heavy) hydrocarbons in the lake, suggesting a strong astrobiological potential for this site. In this study, we collected samples from Yellow-Oily Lake for microbial analyses, which included culture-dependent and culture-independent analyses to determine whether life exists within the lake. Preliminary molecular data suggests that both archaea and bacteria are present; whilst, culturing has isolated bacteria belonging to the genus Bacillus. At present, these microbes are being characterised to determine their limits of life in relationship to environmental parameters, such as pH, salinity and temperature. In conclusion, microbial life exists within the lake; however, on-going work will determine whether this life is active or dormant. This work is important for understanding the boundaries of habitable, which is crucial for determining whether life could live in potential habitable environments elsewhere in the Solar System.

Gian Gabriele ORI, Università d’Annunzio, ITALY/International Research School of Planetary Sciences-IRSPS, ITALY/Ibn Battuta Centre, Marrakech, MOROCCO
The Ibn Battuta Centre is based on a joint venture of the Universite’ Cadi Ayyad of Marrakech and the Universita’ d’Annunzio of Pescara and is part of the Foundation International Research School of Planetary Sciences. The aim of the centre is to analysis Terrestrial Martian analogues and use them for science and for testing operations and technologies. The long-term goal is to raise awareness and interest in the African continent (including the Mediterranean basin) about planetary, and more in general, for space science and technologies.

Patricia REECE, Nutopia Ltd, UNITED KINGDOMP. Reece, Z. Beyene, G. Booth
The most ambitious science project in National Geographic’s 130 year history, ONE STRANGE ROCK celebrates the extraordinary story of life on Earth. One Strange Rock will combine the latest filming technology and CGI, with the very best cosmology, earth science, Natural History and factual storytelling. Across ten episodes, this ground-breaking television series will redefine our home planet for a new generation. This series will transport viewers on a mind-bending and thrilling visual adventure that will amaze and surprise. Taking cameras where they’ve never been before, it unravels the unbelievable coincidences and unlikely connections that make Earth a perfect home for complex life. Exploring unseen worlds, meeting Earth’s strangest inhabitants, and discovering its most jaw-dropping natural phenomena – we’ll see how lifeemerged, survived and thrives on our planet. A world  that’s  stranger  than  sci-fi  where  every  living  creature  is  part  of  one  extraordinary, interconnected system. The sheer wonder and complexity of Earth will leave viewers grappling with the most universal questions of all: “Are we alone in this vast cosmos? How special is this place we call home?” Broadcast in over 170 countries, ONE STRANGE ROCK will inspire the next generation of scientists and explorers as they continue to pursue these great questions, and become the guardians of our unique and special home.

“The more we appreciate how awe-inspiring the development of life on this planet has been, the more likely we are to become inspired stewards of the home that sustains it.” DARREN ARONOFSKY

Pedro RUSSO, Leiden University, NETHERLANDS
Space Awareness strives to inform children and young adults about current research and issues related to space sciences and the numerous career opportunities offered by space, and to show them that space science can be fun and inspiring. Educators can benefit from the project by taking advantage of the large array free high-quality resources that are easily adaptable to different disciplines and countries. Space Awarenessis implemented in Europe and Africa. The IAU office of Astronomy for Development is a partner of the project and works closely with the Entoto Observatory in Ethiopia to reach teachers and students in East Africa.

Francesco SALESE, Italian Space Agency-ASI, ITALY/International Research School of Planetary Sciences-IRSPS, ITALY (Francesco Salese, Gian Gabriele Ori, Kamal Taj-Eddine, Mara Marcuzzi)
As the US and European space programs lose momentum with the retirement of the space shuttle and the crash of Schiaparelli lander, those of African countries are just taking off. With the only exception of South Africa, none of the African countries has launched people into orbit yet, but many of them already use the technology they have developed for space activities to help people on the ground. “Ground” is the key word, because Africa offers the best planetary analogue in the world, for technical test and scientific research. Since 1992, Africa has made several steps towards the development of its own space program, until the African Union adopted the African Space Policy and Strategy Ethiopia in January 2016. The African Space Policy was adopted in Ethiopia because this country is becoming the newest hub of African aspirations in Space. The key for a real takeoff of an African space program could be a real and positive international cooperation.

Gebreyohannes TESFAMICHAEL, Mekelle University, ETHIOPIA
Ethiopia is a developing country locate in the horn of Africa with an estimated population of about 100 million. Ethiopia gives highest priority to education and about 25% of its annual budget is allocated to Education. In present day Ethiopia, there are 44 universalities (11 of these are under construction) enrolling more than 620,000 students in the year 2016/17. Mekelle university was established by the merger of two colleges (the then “Business college” and “Dryland agricultural college”) in 2000. At present Mekelle University is one of the leading and biggest Universities in Ethiopia; it hosts over 30,000 students in its five campuses with seven colleges and nine institutes. The University runs undergraduate, masters and PhD programs. The University is making a significant contribution to the national effort in improving political, economic, social, technological, environmental and legal well being of the society through its teaching learning, research, technology transfer and community service endeavors. Mekelle University has now considerable international linkages with universities and other collaborators in all the continents, though most of them are with Europe, Africa and USA. The university carries out research, community service and technology transfer with the help of these collaborations in the field of agriculture, health, technology, social sciences and humanity. In the year 2015/15 alone Mekelle University has secured over 13 million Euro from partner institutions to fund its research undertakings in the stated fields of study. The university has reached to many farmers, small enterprises as well as institutions dealing with social developmental activities.

Marco VUKICH, Michele BALSAMO, Kayser Italia Srl, ITALY (Vukich M, Donati A, Zolesi V, Balsamo M)
The more extreme is the environment the more crucial is the technological effort required to operate. In such conditions, planning and logistics come out to be key activities for mission success. Kayser Italia S.r.l. is a space system engineering company that records thirty years of activities at the interface of Life Science and Engineering for space applications. Under the aegis of the European (ESA) and National space agencies (ASI) programs has been involved into the design and development of technology for scientific purposes such as investigating the interplay between microgravity and living system, human adaptation, bio-monitoring etc. In space, experiments take place in confined environments (on-board spacecraft such as the International Space Station or satellites) where biological systems are exposed to microgravity and complex radiation spectra. In the last fifteen years, Kayser Italia has developed a fleet of Experiment Units, i.e. electromechanical devices that allow the autonomous execution of ascientific protocol in microgravity. Among others biological systems, bacteria, algae, yeasts, and several mammalian cell types were exposed to microgravity and treated accordingly to dedicated protocols tuned for the maintenance, treatment, and fixation of samples for re-entry and analyses on Earth. Such heritage grants for an effective design of technology to support scientific activities also in extreme environments on Earth where the output of scientific campaigns aiming to in-situ analyses and sampling can be maximized if adequately supported. The Dallol is a welcoming land for the exploitation of space born technology.


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