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Nyiragongo Eruption Could Overturn Lake Kivu

4 Min Read

Panic and fear has gripped communities bordering Rwanda and their counterparts in Democratic Republic of Congo following a sudden eruption of Nyiragongo volcano on Saturday.

The likelihood of flow of extremely hot magma into the waters of Lake Kivu is feared to potentially cause a deadly explosion.

Carefully considering the scientific explanations, Rwanda’s Lake Kivu is one of the world’s three “exploding lakes” and is at serious risk of “overturn”.

An overturn occurs when the gases at the bottom of a lake are disturbed and rise to the surface, creating a deadly fog that kills.

In more simpler terms an overturn is a process whereby huge amounts of carbon dioxide are released from under its surface, suffocating everyone in the surrounding areas.

In Cameroon two lakes with characteristics to Rwanda’s Lake Kivu have previously exploded and causing a catastrophe. The first recorded limnic eruption occurred in Cameroon at Lake Monoun in 1984, causing asphyxiation and death of 37 people.

In 1986, Lake Nyos, in the volcanic region of Cameroon, released a cloud of Carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, killing 1,800 people and 3,500 livestock in nearby towns and villages.

Since then, engineers have been artificially removing the gas from the lake through piping.

However, Lake Kivu is 2,000 times larger and thus presents a disaster threat of monstrous proportions.

Some scientists say that the ever-expanding volumes of carbon dioxide and methane in Lake Kivu, coupled with the nearby volcanic activity, make a limnic eruption highly likely at some stage in the future unless degassing occurs. Rwanda has thus embarked on the extraction of some of the 60bn cubic metres of methane in the water.

The shores of Lake Kivu are much more densely populated and with such a natural disaster, millions of lives could be lost.

Nyiragongo has erupted about 34 times in the past since the 1884 eruption. Vulcanologists have observed for five years the same activity of the volcano as during the periods preceding its eruptions of 1977 and 2002.

Nyiragongo has been in constant eruption since 2002, making it one of the most active volcanoes in the world.

The neighboring active volcano Mount Nyamulagira has also contributed.  Nyamuragira is Africa’s and one of the world’s most active volcano. It erupts roughly every two years.

Rwanda Disproves Doubters

In 2016, President Paul Kagame drove to Bwishyura sector in Karongi district to officially switch on the world’s only gas water extraction plant- KivuWatt Power Plant. This paved way for the beginning of degassing Lake Kivu.

“Many people thought it was impossible to be successful with this but we are happy today that things have proved to be different,” Kagame said after touring the plant.

In 2019, Rwanda signed a US$400 million deal to produce bottled gas from Lake Kivu by Gasmeth Energy, owned by U.S. and Nigerian businessmen and Rwandans.

Gasmeth Energy finances, built and maintains a gas extraction, processing and compression plant to sell methane domestically and abroad.

Lake Kivu has about 300 billion m3 of carbon dioxide and 60 billion m3 of methane gas, giving it the capacity to produce between 120 million and 250 million m3 of methane gas annually.