(ORDO NEWS) — On August 21, 1986, a tragedy occurred in Cameroon: Lake Nyos exploded, killing 1,746 people and thousands of wild animals for miles around.
The eruption was caused by the release of deadly gas, which, for hundreds of years, was released from the Earth’s mantle and accumulated at the bottom of the lake.
A collapse in the lake, a landslide or volcanic activity may have triggered this situation, as the sudden disturbance of the lake contributed to the release of 1.24 million tons of carbon dioxide.
The catastrophic release suffocated people nearby, as this gas causes asphyxiation due to hypoxia (lack of oxygen). In such high concentrations, carbon dioxide can make it impossible to breathe.
Survivors of this disaster tell how a roar was heard and foamy spray rose hundreds of meters into the air. A gust of wind swept through the houses in the local village. The gas killed thousands of people, wildlife and livestock, and a huge white cloud formed over the water.
Unfortunately, the destruction didn’t stop there. A heavy cloud descended into the valley and reached nearby settlements located 25 kilometers from the explosion site, causing suffocation and death all around. Only those who were on high ground were able to avoid it.
Desperate to understand how such a tragedy could have happened, scientists from all over the world joined forces in Cameroon to conduct research on the crater lake.
They found that Nyos, along with another nearby crater lake, are both unusual in that they contain layers rich in carbon dioxide at the bottom. This suggests that even now it is continuously leaking into the water.
Geologists now know that there are 43 deep crater lakes like this one along the Cameroon volcanic line, each of which could potentially contain lethal volumes of toxic gas. Elsewhere in the world, similar lakes can be found in Italy, Tanzania, and on the border with Rwanda.
The weight of the water held back the huge gas bubble until carbon dioxide suddenly escaped to the surface of the lake. A similar explosion occurred at Lake Manun two years before the 1986 disaster, though not on the same scale.
According to experts, the lakes can be managed with pipes that allow the gas to be slowly vented to the atmosphere. However, scientists fear that this may not be enough to prevent future catastrophes.
In an article published in The Conversation, scientist Henry Ngenyam Bang of Bournemouth University shared fears that a similar disaster could be brewing in Lake Cook, also in Cameroon. Its waters turned from blue to dull red, which was observed in Lake Nyos before the explosion.
To prevent a similar disaster in the future, Bang recommends re-checking most of the bodies of water above the Cameroon Volcanic Line.
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