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14.1: Cameroon Tragedy

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    289452
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    Lake Nyos is a deep crater lake in the Northwest region of Cameroon, high on the flank of an inactive volcano in the Oku volcanic plain along the Cameroon line of volcanic activity. A volcanic dam impounds the lake waters. A pocket of magma lies beneath the lake and leaks carbon dioxide, CO2, into the water, changing it into carbonic acid. Nyos is one of only three known exploding lakes to be saturated with carbon dioxide in this way.

    In 1986, more than 1700 people in Cameroon were killed when a cloud of gas, almost certainly carbon dioxide, bubbled from Lake Nyos (see Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\)). It is believed that the lake underwent a turnover due to gradual heating from below the lake, and the warmer, less-dense water saturated with carbon dioxide reached the surface. Consequently, tremendous quantities of dissolved CO2 were released, and the colorless gas, which is denser than air, flowed down the valley below the lake and suffocated humans and animals living in the valley.
     

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    Lake_nyos_co2_vent.jpeg
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\) (left to right): Lake Nyos, Cameroon in 2013 (jbdodane via Flickr); vent used to outgas CO2 from Lake Nyos (Bill Evans via Wikimedia Commons).


    Following the Lake Nyos tragedy, scientists investigated other African lakes to see if a similar phenomenon could happen elsewhere. Lake Kivu in Democratic Republic of Congo, 2,000 times larger than Lake Nyos, was also found to be supersaturated, and geologists found evidence for out-gassing events around the lake every one thousand years or so.
     

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