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Q: Has CO2 Ever Caused a Natural Disaster?

A: Yes. Nature does not ensure safety.

Carbon dioxide produced by volcanoes leaks into the water and accumulates in high concentrations at the bottom of three deep lakes in western Africa. Natural disasters have occured at two of them.

In 1986, some disturbance caused the carbon dioxide from the bottom of Lake Nyos in Cameroon to rise to the surface. The disturbance is still unknown, but scientists now believe it could have been a landslide, localized heating, wave action, or a process called limnetic eruption in which carbon dioxide bubbles spontaneously from saturated water. As the carbon dioxide rose, the pressure decreased and the carbon dioxide formed gas bubbles. A cloud of carbon dioxide escaped from the lake. The high concentrations killed livestock and people.

In 1984, a similar event occured at another deep lake, Lake Monoun in Cameroon, but with much smaller loss of life. A third deep lake on the border of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, called Lake Kivu, also accumulates gases including carbon dioxide at depth, but has remained stable. 

Since the time of the disasters, scientists from France and Cameroon have collaborated to install degassing devices in Lakes Nyos and Monoun to help prevent carbon dioxide from accumulating in the deep water. 

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To read an article in EOS, a newspaper published by the American Geophysical Union, that discusses more about how scientists engineered the safeguards now installed at Lakes Nyos and Monoun, click on the icon to the left.



For an update on progress degassing Lakes Nyos and Monoun, as well as efforts to use the retrieved methane for power, click the icon to the left.



In Mammoth Lakes, California, carbon dioxide seeping into the soil from volcanic activity has killed trees by displacing oxygen from their roots. For more discussion of this phenomena, click on the icon at the left.



The soil beneath Ciampino, near Rome, Italy, is charged with unnaturally high concentrations of carbon dioxide from volcanic activity. No fatalities or other ill effects have occurred and people living in the area have developed mechanisms for living with the risk. The icon at the left links to a study risks from CO2 near Ciampino.