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Origin of the lethal gas burst from Lake Monoun, Cameroun

January 1, 1987

On 15 August, 1984, a lethal gas burst issued from a submerged 96-m-deep crater in Lake Monoun in Cameroun, western Africa, killing 37 people. The event was associated with a landslide from the eastern crater rim, which slumped into deep water. Waters below 50 m are anoxic, dominated by high Fe2+ (???600 mg/l) and HCO3- (??? 1900 mg/l), anoxic and supersaturated with siderite, which is a major component of the crater floor sediments. The unusually high Fe2+ levels are attributed to reduction of laterite-derived ferric iron gradually brought into the lake as loess and in river input. Sulfur compounds are below detection limits in both water and gas. Gases effervescing from depressurized deep waters are dominantly CO2 with minor CH4, having ??13C of -7.18 and -54.8 per mil, respectively. Bacterial decomposition of organic matter may account for the methane, but 14C of lake water indicates that only 10% of the carbon is modern, giving an apparent age of 18,000 years. The dominant source of carbon is therefore attributed to long-term emission of CO2 as volcanic exhalation from vents within the crater, which led to gradual build-up of HCO3- in the lake. The density stratification of the lake may have been upset by an earthquake and underwater landslide on 15 August, which triggered overturn of the lake and caused nucleation of CO2 in the deep water. The resultant ebullition of CO2 from deep lake waters led to a gas burst at the surface and locally generated a water wave up to 5 m high. People travelling through the gas cloud were asphyxiated, presumably from CO2, and suffered skin discoloration from unidentified components. ?? 1987.

Publication Year 1987
Title Origin of the lethal gas burst from Lake Monoun, Cameroun
Authors Haraldur Sigurdsson, J.D. Devine, F.M. Tchua, F.M. Presser, M.K.W. Pringle, William C. Evans
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
Index ID 70015194
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse