Lake of Fire: Volatile Gas Could Turn Rwandan Lake Into a Freshwater Time Bomb
A dangerous level of carbon dioxide and methane gas haunts Lake Kivu, the freshwater lake system bordering Rwanda and the Republic of Congo. Scientists can’t say for sure if the volatile mixture at the bottom of the lake will remain still for another 1,000 years or someday explode without warning. In a region prone to volcanic and seismic activity, the fragility of Lake Kivu is a serious matter. Compounding the precarious situation is the presence of approximately 2 million people, many of them refugees, living along the north end of the lake.
One of the problems with Lake Kivu is that the 1,600-foot deep lake never breathes. The tropical climate helps stagnate the layers of the lake, which never mix or turn over. In contrast, fluctuating temperatures in colder climates help circulate lake water and prevent gas build up. Lake Kivu is different from both temperate and other tropical lakes because warm saline springs, arising from ground water percolating through the hot fractured lava and ash, further stabilize the lake. A number of catalysts could destabilize the gas resting at the bottom of Lake Kivu.
It could be an earthquake, a volcanic explosion, a landslide or even the methane mining that has recently united Rwandan and Congolese interests. Close calls occurred in 2008 when an earthquake occurred near the lake and in 2002 when a volcanic eruption destroyed parts of Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo, only 11 miles north of Lake Kivu. Although scientists were alarmed, neither event sufficiently disturbed the gas.