[photo at the Lancaster Science Factory of their new exhibit where you can shape and create your own landscape and even make it rain!]
When my kids were in middle school, they each had to do the at-home experiment of mixing baking soda with vinegar which resulted in a volcano eruption in the beaker. When sodium bicarbonate reacts with an acid, carbon dioxide is formed and you get this big explosion which everyone laughed about until we had to rinse off all the appliances (making it mandatory for future experiments to be performed in the driveway). The amount of carbon dioxide created from the reaction was never enough to put anyone in danger, but that is not the case for three lakes in West Africa that have experienced limnic eruptions that resulted in a terrible end for all those present.
I had heard of this phenomena before, but never really gave it much credence. I just thought it was idle water cooler chatter among a bunch of enviros, but I was wrong. Limnic eruptions are both spontaneous and deadly to all life — humans, animals and plants.
The first one occurred in 1984 at Lake Manoun, a lake situated in the Oku Volcanic Field in West Cameroon. A big boom preceded a release of carbon dioxide from beneath the lake and suddenly, all 37 witnesses (including people and animals) were dead. Responders to the noise — there was also a sulfur smell — could not explain the mystery, but the government suspected terrorism. Two years later, a similar event occurred at Lake Nyos, this time killing 1,700 people and 3,500 animals with a release of 1.6 tons of carbon dioxide.
Carbon dioxide is heavier than air so when a truck traveling near Lake Nyos stopped working — the reason for engine failure was unclear — following the eruption and the driver and passengers got out to investigate, they were immediately asphyxiated. Meanwhile, the two people who had been sitting on top of the truck were fine. Currently, the government is working to vent the lake with piping designed to remove the carbon dioxide on a consistent basis so it won’t happen again.
Lakes in Africa are not the only place where such natural carbon dioxide emissions occur. Apparently, Yellowstone National Park releases its share of carbon dioxide annually, and 252 million years ago, extreme releases of carbon dioxide may have caused a rise in oceanic pH, leading to mass extinction.
Consider this a cautionary tale in our climate-challenged world where carbon dioxide levels continue to rise every day: in the event of an emergency, seek higher ground.
Today is Day 12 of the #AtoZ blogging challenge and things are proceeding swimmingly.