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Congo lake's deadly gases could be hidden blessing

Congo, Africa

May 12, 2007

The blue-green waters of Congo's Lake Kivu conceal a deadly invisible mixture that could trigger a fiery disaster. Dissolved into the cold bottom waters of the lake, which straddles a part of Democratic Republic of Congo's eastern border with Rwanda, are huge amounts of highly combustible methane gas and five times as much more carbon dioxide. Lake Kivu lies just 15 km (9 miles) from the active Nyiragongo volcano. If forced out by volcanic activity, the methane in the waters would ignite, causing massive explosions above the surface of the lake, experts say. At the same time, a vast cloud of carbon dioxide would drift over surrounding land, smothering all life in its path and engulfing the nearby city of Goma. "If there's ever a volcanic eruption at the level of Lake Kivu, or if there's an eruption that starts naturally in the city of Goma and spills a large quantity of lava into the lake ... the two gasses could find a way out. That would be the beginning of a regional catastrophe." Nyiragongo is becoming more and more active, pushing up the risk factor. In 2002, an eruption of the Nyiragongo volcano sent a river of lava through the centre of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, spilling molten rock into the lake. "There's a recent study that shows that, in the last 30 years, the amount of methane has increased by 15 percent in Lake Kivu. That is a lot. And it's worrying." Congo's Oil Minister said the methane gas in the lake could be tapped to generate electricity, and this would also reduce the danger of a deadly gas release.

FYI

Lake Kivu, located 100 miles north of Lake Tanganyika at the highest point of the East-African Rift Valley (approximately 1500m in elevation), is one of three known volcanic lakes in the world that contain high dissolved volumes of CO2 in their deeper waters; the other known volcanic lakes are Lake Nyos and Lake Monoun in Cameroon (Degens et al, 1973; Witze, 2002).

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