The Exploding Lakes Of Cameroon

By | September 27, 2019

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Lake Nyos before the eruption. Source: (

Lakes are usually associated with serenity. The idea of a cabin by the lake is how some people dream of retiring. However, the dream would quickly become a nightmare if that once serene lake were to suddenly explode, killing everything and everyone around it. That might sound like something from a bad science fiction movie, but it is exactly what happened, not once but twice, during the 1980s, courtesy of a natural phenomenon known as a limnic eruption.

Limnic Eruptions

During a limnic eruption, carbon dioxide from the bottom of the lake suddenly erupts, emitting a cloud of toxic gas which suffocates anyone unfortunate enough to be in its path and spawning a tsunami which flattens surrounding vegetation. These eruptions occur in lakes with an abundance of carbon dioxide. Water saturated by the carbon dioxide is trapped at the bottom of the lake due to hydrostatic pressure. A significant disruption of the water in the lake causes the saturated water to be pushed upwards where the pressure is much lower. This causes the carbon dioxide to depressurize and start to bubble, just like a bottle of soda that has been shaken and then opened. And, just like the soda bottle, the lake overflows and the carbon dioxide is released into the air.

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Lake Monoun. Source: (Wikimedia Commons)

Lake Monoun

On August 15, 1984, around 10:30 at night, Lake Monoun, located in a volcanic field in West Province, Cameroon, experienced one of these massive explosions. The resulting gas cloud suffocated thirty-seven people. Those who survived did so by staying above the cloud. Such was the case with several victims whose truck had broken down during the eruption. Most of the passengers were killed but the two who climbed on top of the truck survived. This is because carbon dioxide is heavier than the atmosphere, causing the cloud to settle near the ground.