Friday, June 12, 2009

Oh Joy. We are in Bukavu. Next to Lake Kivu.

As you may know Simon and I are at the moment in the middle of a warzone. While Bukavu is relatively safe, outside the city it is often not; especially not towards the south. But limb-chopping FDLR rebels, never-to-be-trusted FARDC government soldiers or any of the other 600+ different fighting groups are not the only dangers. No; I am not referring to possible diseases that we can catch here. Both of us spent hundreds of dollars on vaccinations and we take our daily shot of Malerone; so we should be ok on that account (at least a bit).

It is around 1am now and we are sitting on our balcony doing work for our COMPS. A few minutes ago – for the second time today – the ground and our house shaked. We have no clue what it was. In first instance we thought rebel fighters, but that already quickly moved to possibly dynamite used in a mine far away, or a small earthquake. Let me briefly tell more about Lake Kivu.

Lake Kivu is known as one of the world’s three so-called “exploding-lakes” – together with Cameroonian Lake Nyos and Lake Monoun – that can experience a lake overturn. The latter is a rare type of natural disaster in which carbon dioxide (CO2) suddenly erupts from deep lake water, suffocating wildlife, livestock and humans. To make it even more fun, the eruption also causes a tsunami as the rising CO2 displaces water. Lake Nyos and Lake Monoun have both already exploded once. The first exploded in 1984; causing the asphyxiation and death of 37 people living nearby. The second exploded in 1986; releasing over 80 million cubic meters of CO2 and killing around 1,800 people. Oh joy; Lake Kivu is 2,000 times bigger! In addition, on top of dissolved gas Lake Kivu also contains large quantities of dissolved methane! As Wikipedia notes “The risk from a possible Lake Kivu overturn would be catastrophic, dwarfing other documented lake overturns at Lakes Nyos and Monoun, since approximately two million people live in the lake basin.”

These lakes explode for three reasons: landslides, volcanic eruptions or earthquakes. Interestingly, a volcanic eruption is quite likely to take place soon; as many already have taken place. Lake Kivu is located in the Great Rift Valley, which is being pulled apart by Mother Nature. In January 2002, for example, a volcano called Nyiragongo erupted; sending a stream of lava 200 metres to one kilometre wide and up to two metres deep through the center of the city of Goma – located right on the other side of the lake. Nyiragongo is Africa's most active volcano and has erupted over 30 times since 1880. Luckily, up to now without making Lake Kivu explode. At the moment Nyiragongo is active again.

The third and other trigger that can make Lake Kivu explode is an earthquake… let’s hope the shaking this evening was something else. ;)

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