Fifteen years ago, Lake Manoun in the country of Cameroon exploded without warning, killing 34 people while nearby Lake Nyos has taken as many as 1700 lives. The villagers who live near the lakes still talk about the strange noises and the stench of sulfur that preceeded the explosions. Those who escaped remember the rumors about bombs and returning to find silent villages, with everyone dead.
U.S. scientists have discovered that the explosions are caused by carbon dioxide gas bubbling into the water through the cracks of old volcanoes, deep beneath the lake. Trapped by the weight of the water, the gas builds up into enormous amounts, until it finally blows. It kills anyone who happens to be near the lake by blocking oxygen to the lung, suffocating them.
Funded by a grant from the United States, scientists are inserting a ventilation pipe deep into the ground beneath the water to drain out the CO2 gas. ?The danger is very high,? says George King, of the University of Michigan. ?The gas in the lake could be released at any time.? Scientists say they need to install 4 or 5 more pipes to sufficiently reduce CO2 levels.
It?s a dangerous job. ?At first I was afraid,? says hydrochemist Luc Sigha, ?But we?re giving life to other people here.?
The land around the lake is very fertile and excellent for farming, so it always draws people back. ?Now that the government is at the lake, it could never happen again,? says David Chia Wamong, a villager who fled his home, past the corpses of his friends, the evening the lake exploded. He now lives several miles away, on higher ground, in case the lake blows again. ?People don?t talk about it much anymore,? he says, ?but they keep it in their hearts.?
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