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Turkish lake with likely clues to Mars gains unwanted fame

This aerial picture taken April 9, 2021, shows the shore of the southwestern Turkey Salda lake. (Photo: AFP)
This aerial picture taken April 9, 2021, shows the shore of the southwestern Turkey Salda lake. (Photo: AFP)
LAKE  SALDA, Turkey — Boasting azure waters and white sands, a Turkish lake that NASA thinks hides secrets about Mars threatens to become too popular for its own good.اضافة اعلان

Lake Salda gained international renown when US scientists began poking around in preparation for the Perseverance rover mission, which has been beaming back videos from the Red Planet since February.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory even posted a picture of the pristine lake on its site before touchdown, saying it might resemble what an “aqueous” Mars looked like billions of years ago.

Now, the 4,370-hectare lake in Turkey’s southwest has been picked by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as part of a project to create more green spaces for public use.

The news spells disaster for local activists and lawyers, who fear that the twin blows of NASA and Erdogan’s interest could open the floodgates to tourists.

Splashing around in its waters, the sea of humanity could destroy the very ecosystem that made the lake special in the first place, campaigners warn.

“The future of the lake is at risk if millions of people come,” said Lake Salda Preservation Association head Gazi Osman Sakar. The lake is most famous for the White Islands area with the brilliant sands, as well as endemic flora and fauna such as the Salda seaweed fish.

There are also minerals of different origin. NASA thinks one of them, hydromagnesite, is similar to the carbonate minerals detected at Jezero Crater — a former lake on Mars that the rover is now exploring.

The hydromagnesite sediments along Lake Salda’s shoreline “are thought to have eroded from large mounds called ‘microbialites’ — rocks formed with the help of microbes,” NASA said.

This all folds into the mystery about possible life on Mars, in some microbial form a very long time ago.

But what makes Salda unique, geology engineer Servet Cevni said, is the lake’s transformation into a closed ecosystem with its own living mechanism.

“Because it’s alive, it’s so sensitive to outside interventions,” Cevni told AFP. Yet that intervention is already on its way in the form of nine small buildings that have appeared near a planned People’s Garden by the lake. Sakar said some of the white sand has already been moved from the White Islands area to another called People’s Beach for road construction.

“The project should be canceled,” Sakar said. “The lake cannot be protected while it’s used.”

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