Rift Valley lakes
Greater and lesser flamingos flock to Lake Nakuru in Kenya
Rift Valley lakes is located in Africa
Rift Valley lakes
Rift Valley lakes
LocationEast Africa
Coordinates3°00′N 36°20′E / 3.000°N 36.333°E / 3.000; 36.333
TypeSeries of lakes
Map of larger region that the lakes are in, including the so-called Great Rift Valley.
View over Lake Turkana

The Rift Valley lakes are a series of lakes in the East African Rift valley that runs through eastern Africa from Ethiopia in the north to Malawi in the south, and includes the African Great Lakes in the south. These include some of the world's oldest lakes, deepest lakes, largest lakes by area, and largest lakes by volume. Many are freshwater ecoregions of great biodiversity, while others are alkaline "soda lakes" supporting highly specialised organisms.

The Rift Valley lakes are well known for the evolution of at least 800 cichlid fish species that live in their waters. More species are expected to be discovered.[1]

The World Wide Fund for Nature has designated these lakes as one of its Global 200 priority ecoregions for conservation.[citation needed]


Lake Malawi and Lake Tanganyika have formed in the various valleys of the East African Rift zone.


Lake Kivu's "still waters ... hide another face: dissolved within are billions of cubic meters of flammable methane and more still of carbon dioxide, the result of volcanic gases seeping in."[2]

Ethiopian Rift Valley lakes national park

The Ethiopian Rift Valley lakes are the northernmost of the African Rift Valley lakes. In central Ethiopia, the Main Ethiopian Rift, also known as the Great Rift Valley, splits the Ethiopian highlands into northern and southern halves, and the Ethiopian Rift Valley lakes occupy the floor of the rift valley between the two highlands. Most of the Ethiopian Rift Valley lakes do not have an outlet, and most are alkaline. Although the Ethiopian Rift Valley lakes are of great importance to Ethiopia's economy, as well as being essential to the survival of the local people, there were no intensive and extensive limnological studies undertaken of these lakes until recently.[3]

The major ones are

Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile, lies in the Ethiopian highlands north of the Rift Valley; however, it is not a Rift Valley lake.[4]

Eastern Rift Valley lakes

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Lake Natron

South of the Ethiopian highlands, the rift valley splits into two major troughs. The Eastern Rift is home to the Kenyan Rift Valley lakes, while most of the Central African Rift Valley lakes lie in the Western Rift. This area includes the Gregory Rift in Kenya and Tanzania.


The Kenyan section of the Rift Valley is home to eight lakes, of which three are freshwater and the rest alkaline. Of the latter, the shallow soda lakes of the Eastern Rift Valley have crystallised salt turning the shores white and are famous for the large flocks of flamingo that feed on crustaceans.


All the lakes in the Tanzanian section of this group are alkaline:

Western or Albertine Rift Valley lakes

Some of the Rift Valley lakes. From left to right they are Lake Upemba, Lake Mweru, Lake Tanganyika (largest), and Lake Rukwa. This image spans the SE corner of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, NE Zambia, and southern Tanzania.

The lakes of the Western or Albertine Rift, with Lake Victoria, include the largest, deepest, and oldest of the Rift Valley Lakes. They are also referred to as the Central African lakes. Lakes Albert, Victoria, and Edward are part of the Nile River basin.

Lake Victoria (elevation 1,134 metres (3,720 ft)), with an area of 68,800 square kilometres (26,600 sq mi), is the largest lake in Africa. It is not in the Rift Valley, instead occupying a depression between the eastern and western rifts formed by the uplift of the rifts to either side. Lakes Victoria, Tanganyika, and Malawi are sometimes collectively known as the African Great Lakes.

The Western Rift Valley lakes are fresh water and home to an extraordinary number of species. Approximately 1,500 cichlid fish (Cichlidae) species live in the lakes. In addition to the cichlids, populations of Clariidae, Claroteidae, Mochokidae, Poeciliidae, Mastacembelidae, Centropomidae, Cyprinidae, Clupeidae and other fish families are found in these lakes. They are also important habitats for a number of amphibian species, including Amietophrynus kisoloensis, Bufo keringyagae, Cardioglossa cyaneospila, and Nectophryne batesii.

Southern Rift Valley lakes (Tanzania and Malawi)

The Southern Rift Valley lakes are like the Western Rift Valley lakes in that, with one exception, they are freshwater lakes.

Other lakes of the Great Rift Valley


  1. ^ a b "WWF Global 200 Ecoregions – Rift Valley Lakes (182)". www.worldwildlife.org. Archived from the original on December 22, 2004. Retrieved 16 March 2008.
  2. ^ "What Lies Beneath". The Economist. 2016-03-12.
  3. ^ Hynes, H. B. N. "Tudorancea, C. & Taylor W.D. (Eds) Ethiopian Rift Valley Lakes". www.euronet.nl. Retrieved 16 March 2008.
  4. ^ a b Smith, Anthony (1988). The Great Rift: Africa's Changing Valley. London: BBC Books. ISBN 978-0-8069-6906-0.
  5. ^ Plisnier P.-D., Chitamwebwa D., Mwape L., Tshibangu K., Langenberg V., Coenen E. (1999). "Limnological annual cycle inferred from physical-chemical fluctuations at three stations of Lake Tanganyika". Hydrobiologia. 407: 45–58. doi:10.1023/A:1003762119873. hdl:2268/294749. S2CID 24637697.((cite journal)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  6. ^ Bos AR, CK Kapasa and PAM van Zwieten (2006). "Update on the bathymetry of Lake Mweru (Zambia), with notes on water level fluctuations". African Journal of Aquatic Science. 31 (1): 145–150. Bibcode:2006AfJAS..31..145B. doi:10.2989/16085910609503882. S2CID 86387950.