Africa is a beautiful continent. Hidden amidst its exotic beauty are pockets of dangers and mysteries that have endangered human life and fascinated it at the same time. Three such danger pockets of Africa are present in form of water bodies. To be more specific, they are present in form of lake.
Yup! There are three lakes in Africa that are known for producing violent explosions, choking bystanders and by-passers to death with poisonous gases. These three lakes are:
- Cameroon’s Lake Nyos.
- Cameroon’s Lake Monoun.
- Lake Kivu, sitting on border shared by Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda.
Of these three exploding lakes (all three of which are very dangerous), Lake Kivu is a true face of devil. Why so? That’s because, surrounding the lake is an area that is inhabited by 2 million Africans. This seemingly benign and peaceful lake can all of a sudden explode, spewing out enough carbon dioxide that can suffocate hundreds and thousands of people to death.
The question is, ‘Did this happen before in any of these lakes?’ Good question and the answer is, YES!
1984: Lake Monoun Explodes
In the aftermath of the explosion, 37 people were found dead because of the toxic concentration of carbon dioxide. Unaware of what’s lurking beneath the water, the local residents tagged the event as act of terrorism.
1986: Lake Nyos Explodes
This was worse. It is estimated that anywhere between 300,000 tons and 16 million tons of carbon dioxide was released during the eruption. Though there is no exact figure, the explosion of Lake Nyos sent enough carbon dioxide hurling up in atmosphere that created a suffocating blanket of the valley. The result was the death 1,700 local residents – all succumbed to the toxic gas. In addition to that, 3,500 livestock also dropped dead.
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What about Lake Kivu?
Not yet! However, it is gearing up for a massive explosion. Locals have reported massive rumbling sounds in the lake indicating an impending disaster. The reason why Lake Kivu is a major concern is that is way bigger than Lake Nyos that exploded in 1986. Lake Kivu is 2,000 times bigger in size compared to Lake Nyos. Not only that, it is reaches a frightening depth of 480 meters (i.e. 1,574.8 feet). Sitting right on top of a rift valley, this lake is 4,790 feet above sea level and has a total surface area of 2,700 square kilometers.
One may argue that there are bigger water bodies. So, ‘what’s the big deal with Lake Kivu?’ The big deal is that the rift valley on top of which it sits is slowly being ripped apart. This is stirring up volcanic activities underneath the lake. What really makes it a threat is the unique gaseous composition of the lake. It has a combination of flammable methane and asphyxiating carbon dioxide.
Why will Lake Kivu explode?
Okay, as the volcanic activities are increasing gradually underneath the lake, the water is gradually heating up. Eventually, it will heat up to such an extent that the methane will be forced out of water, causing a methane explosion, which can easily catch fire. At the same time when the methane explodes out of water, carbon dioxide will do the same and cover the surrounding lake basin with a cloud that will be thick enough to choke thousands and thousands of people. It is also possible that the massive explosion of gasses will lead to a Lake Tsunami or possibly, multiple tsunamis. Together, all these events can lead to massive loss of life – both humans and animals.
What is being done to prevent this from happening?
The government of Rwanda has taken the route of degassing Lake Kivu. The government has set up a plant known as known as Kivu-Watt Methane Gas Plant, which according to the government has successfully managed to extract methane from the depths of lake. The plant pumps up water from the area where water is saturated with methane and carbon dioxide. The gas-saturated water is then processed and methane is separated from it. The separated methane pumped away and used for power (electricity) generation. The water with dissolved carbon dioxide is then pumped back into the lake.
Okay, that is good news but the question is, will this human-effort stand against the might of Mother Nature? We all know that no matter what we do and what we build to protect ourselves, if Nature wants to destroy us, there is absolutely no way we can prevent that from happening. We just need to wait and watch Lake Kivu. May be it will explode but because of the gas extraction plant, the explosion may be delayed for a few years.