International impact, averting natural disasters: scientific team tames exploding lake in Cameroon
Thursday, June 21, 2012
Professor George Kling and William Evans with the U.S. Geological Survey will be installing new equipment that monitors water temperature, gas density and pressure to ensure that the man-made geyser on Lake Nyos continues to spew so a toxic cloud never rises over Cameroon again. This news was reported by the U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.
In what has been called one of the most bizarre natural disasters of the late 20th century, in August 1986, 1,746 people and 3,500 livestock were killed in moments when a toxic cloud of gas was released from Lake Nyos in Cameroon.
Underground pockets of gas were slowly releasing carbon dioxide into the waters of the lake, where it remained mixed in the water until some event -- probably a landslide on the shoreline, Evans thinks -- disrupted the water-gas mix, releasing the CO2 with explosive force.
To prevent another disaster, the international scientific team had to devise a way to allow the carbon dioxide to slowly vent from the lake so the buildup that led to the explosion would be averted in the future. They've come up with a self-sustaining piping system, running from the surface to the depths of the lake. An initial pumping operation started moving the water-gas mix up the pipe to release a geyser at the surface, and now it has become a self-perpetuating system.
The venting system is backed up by a series of carbon dioxide detectors around the lake that trigger a warning blast if the atmospheric gas level starts to rise. Greg Tanyileke, a scientist from Cameroon's Institute of Geological and Mining Research, is confident that the piping and monitoring systems will prevent another human catastrophe at Nyos and that the lake is safe. Kling is the Robert G. Wetzel Collegiate Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Michigan. He researches ecosystem ecology and aquatic biogeochemistry.
Caption: This geyser spews from a piping system scientists installed in Lake Nyos to safely dispel carbon dioxide. Credit: William Evans, USGS.
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