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No. 45: May-Jun 1986

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The Exploding Lake

August 15, 1984. The village of Njindom, Cameroon. About 11:30 PM, the villagers heard a loud explosion coming from Lake Monoun. Early the next morning, people in a van driving past the lake discovered the body of a motorcyclist. The air smelled like battery fluid. One of the van's occupants collapsed. The others ran for their lives toward Njindom. By 10:30 AM authorities had found 37 bodies along a 200meter stretch of road by the lake. Blood was oozing from the noses and mouths; the bodies were rigid; first-degree chemical burns were present. Also, animals and plants along the shore had been killed. On August 17, the lake turned reddish brown, indicating that it had been stirred up somehow.

Although Lake Monoun is in a volcanic crater, chemical analysis of the water found little of the sulphur and halogens normally associated with volcanic action. However, the analysis did find a tremendously high level of bicarbonate ions, which form from the dissociation of carbon dioxide. One theory is that an earthquake disturbed the carbonate-rich deep water of the lake, which as it rose to the surface and lower pressures, released huge volumes of carbon dioxide -- something like opening a soda bottle. The resulting wave of water and cloud of gas caused the deaths and devastation. If there had been some nitric acid in the cloud, the burns could be accounted for.

(Weisburd, S.; "The 'Killer Lake' of Cameroon," Science News, 128:356, 1985.)

Comment. The article states that this event is unique, but in our Catalogs similar phenomena are reported. For example, Lake Bosumtwi, Ghana, "explodes" at irregular intervals, changing color, killing fish, and releasing gases (GSD2-X17). We also have the sudden whitening of the Dead Sea (GHC4). Both of these phenomena are to be found in the Catalog Earthquakes, Tides, Unidentified Sounds. To order, visit: here.

From Science Frontiers #45, MAY-JUN 1986. 1986-2000 William R. Corliss