• The Turkana Basin is located at the northern end of Kenya’s Great Rift Valley, a trench that runs north to south in the African country. A primary feature of the Turkana Basin is Lake Turkana, the largest desert lake in the world. Surrounding the body of water, which is a stopover for migrant waterfowl as well as a breeding ground for the Nile crocodile, the landscape and climate are arid with areas devoid of life. Besides the lake, the region is known around the world for its extensive fossil deposits that have led scientists to a greater understanding of the evolution of the human species.

    With average monthly temperatures in the nearby town of Lodwar ranging from 28°-30° Celsius (83°-86° Fahrenheit), the Turkana Basin is a hot place. It does not get much relief from rainfall, however. The annual rainfall in the area is less than 25 centimeters (10 inches) with the highest probability of precipitation occurring in the months of March, April, and May.

    Population Density and Land Use
    The Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Geographic Information Science & Technology Group uses computer models, satellite imagery, and GIS to measure and map population density. According to researchers at this group, the population density surrounding Lake Turkana is light to very light. In a region that stretches about 322 kilometers (200 miles) north and south of the lake and 241 kilometers (150 miles) east to west, there is an estimated human population of just 785,000. Less than 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of Lake Turkana, Lodwar is the biggest town in the area, with a population of around 25,000. The group also notes that the rural area near the lake is arid and has mostly sparse desert vegetation except for some scattered grasslands.

    Lion Populations
    Even though scientists estimate there are more than 2,000 lions in Kenya, just 100 are believed to be in the northern part of the country, where the Turkana Basin is located. Most lions can be found in the country’s central Laikipia area and southern Maasai land and Tsavo regions. The only known permanent lion range in the Turkana Basin is in and around Sibiloi National Park, which is on the northeast side of the lake.

    Surface Elevations
    Lake Turkana is at an elevation of 360 meters (1,181 feet) while the surrounding basin is anywhere from 375-914 meters (1,230-3,000 feet). An extinct volcano, Mount Kulal, rises 2,285 meters (7,497 feet) and is located just east of the lower section of Lake Turkana.

    Today the environment around Lake Turkana is very dry, but the climate of the region was more humid at points in the past—conditions that may have been favorable for early humans and our hominin relatives to have flourished there.

    1. Lake Turkana is located in northwestern Kenya, but also shares a small portion of shoreline with which other African country?

      Lake Turkana has part of its shoreline in Ethiopia.

    2. Using the map of precipitation in the Lake Turkana Basin region, what is the minimum amount of rainfall that is received each year along the western shore of the lake, in millimeters? What is the amount in centimeters?

      The minimum amount of rainfall received each year along the western shore of the lake is 200 millimeters, or 20 centimeters.

    3. Lake Turkana is in a basin, meaning it is surrounded by higher land. Much of the water that drains into the lake comes from the Omo River, which enters the basin from the northeast and serves as an outlet for water draining the highlands from a neighboring country. Which country is located northeast of Lake Turkana?

      Ethiopia is located northeast of Lake Turkana.

    4. Why are lions only found in and around Sibiloi National Park in the Lake Turkana region? Hint: look at the Population Density and Lion Range layers in the MapMaker Interactive. Zoom in to Sibiloi National Park along the eastern shore of Lake Turkana.

      Lions are driven from their range by conflict with humans and loss of habitat.

    5. What type of land cover is found around most of Lake Turkana? What type of habitat does this land cover represent?

      The land cover around most of Lake Turkana is classified as bare ground, and represents desert habitat.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    African Great Lakes Noun

    system of lakes in and around the Great Rift Valley: Lake Albert, Lake Edward, Lake Kivu, Lake Malawi, Lake Tanganyika, Lake Turkana, and Lake Victoria. Also called the Rift Valley Lakes and the East African Lakes.

    arid Adjective


    basin Noun

    a dip or depression in the surface of the land or ocean floor.

    Encyclopedic Entry: basin
    climate Noun

    all weather conditions for a given location over a period of time.

    Encyclopedic Entry: climate
    desert Noun

    area of land that receives no more than 25 centimeters (10 inches) of precipitation a year.

    Encyclopedic Entry: desert
    environment Noun

    conditions that surround and influence an organism or community.

    extinct volcano Noun

    volcano that will no longer erupt.

    fossil Noun

    remnant, impression, or trace of an ancient organism.

    Encyclopedic Entry: fossil
    geographic information system (GIS) Noun

    any system for capturing, storing, checking, and displaying data related to positions on the Earth's surface.

    Encyclopedic Entry: GIS (geographic information system)
    grassland Noun

    ecosystem with large, flat areas of grasses.

    Great Rift Valley system Noun

    series of faults and other sites of tectonic activity stretching from southwestern Asia to the Horn of Africa.

    hominin Noun

    tribe of the hominid family of primates, distinguished by erect posture, bipedal movement, large cranial capacity, and use of specialized tools. Human beings are the only living hominins.

    humid Adjective

    air containing a large amount of water vapor.

    lake Noun

    body of water surrounded by land.

    landscape Noun

    the geographic features of a region.

    Encyclopedic Entry: landscape
    population density Noun

    the number of people living in a set area, such as a square mile.

    precipitation Noun

    all forms in which water falls to Earth from the atmosphere.

    Encyclopedic Entry: precipitation
    rainfall Noun

    amount of precipitation that falls in a specific area during a specific time.

    region Noun

    any area on the Earth with one or more common characteristics. Regions are the basic units of geography.

    Encyclopedic Entry: region
    rural area Noun

    regions with low population density and large amounts of undeveloped land. Also called "the country."

    Encyclopedic Entry: rural area
    satellite imagery Noun

    photographs of a planet taken by or from a satellite.

    trench Noun

    long, deep depression, either natural or man-made.

    vegetation Noun

    all the plant life of a specific place.

    waterfowl Noun

    birds that live near the water.

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