Since hearing about it on the Probably Science podcast last night, I've been obsessing over Cameroon's Lake Nyos and its infamous 1986 limnic eruption. This is seriously the most fucked up thing ever. What's a limnic eruption? Think about the annoying carbon dioxide-induced explosion that happens anytime you open a bottle of seltzer, then multiply that times five billion on the scale of size and deadliness. In the case of Lake Nyos, 1,800 people unexpectedly died due to the vast amount of carbon dioxide fog released into the atmosphere within a 12 mile radius of the lake's limnic eruption!
Oh yeah, let's not forget about the 300-foot-tall fountain of carbon-infused water that shot up into the sky, and subsequently caused an 80-foot-high tsunami to decimate the lake's shoreline!
(Lake Nyos tsunami aftermath, 1986)
Now, don't get too worked up about this. Your friendly, local, massive body of water isn't going to turn on you anytime soon. Limnic eruptions are extremely rare due to the environmental factors required to induce them. Since Lake Nyos is located in a tectonically active region, the lake's benthic zone (the lowest stratified depth zone in a body of water) is gradually fed small amounts of dissolved carbon and gasses through seeps and springs that exist around and below the lake. Since this gaseous layer is so dense, it never mixes with the top layer, and the layer's stagnation allows for vast amounts of these gasses to accumulate over time. Once this highly volatile layer is finally ignited by some type of disturbance - a landslide in the case of Lake Nyos - a limnic eruption occurs, releasing all those accumulated noxious gasses in one fell, and extremely destructive, swoop.
For an abridged, yet still significantly more detail-heavy version of the catastrophic and forensic details behind the 1986 Lake Nyos disaster, be sure to check out this article - The Strangest Disaster of the 20th Century.
For an even more detailed (and melodramatic) chronology of the events which occurred at Lake Nyos in 1986, you have to check out the BBC documentary below. As a bonus, this documentary treats us to some more pants-shitting details about another potentially disastrous lake, Lake Kivu, whose ingenious residents extract natural methane from its lowest depths for energy use. Oh, it's also located right next to an active volcano which can potentially ignite that methane and cause a natural disaster that would completely shit all over the Lake Nyos disaster. Holy shit, and good night!
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