Killer Lakes – A Very Weird Natural Disaster

By Anupum Pant

In the Northwest Cameroon (Africa) there’s a lake which is commonly  known among the locals as “The Bad Lake”. The official name of this lake however is, lake Nyos. This is one of those three or four special lakes in the world which are mostly know for their mass killings. The locals living near the lake Nyos in particular have a very grim story to tell from the past.

The Story

A seemingly innocuous landslide occurred on August 21st, 1986. This created a mini tsunami and sent red water (due to iron) flying 300 feet in the air. There was nothing really dangerous about the flying water. But, as a result if this landslide, it is believed that about 1.2 cubic kilometres of carbon dioxide from the lake Nyos got released. The trigger could have been something else, but the gas that got released was carbon dioxide for sure.

This rare kind of a natural disaster is known as a Limnic Eruption or Lake overturn. There are just 2 other lakes known where scientists think this can happen – Lake Monoun, Cameroon, and Lake Kivu of Congo

The huge amount of CO2, being heavier than air, spread into the nearby low-lying villages in a range of 25 km. People had nowhere to escape and nearly everyone died. Only a few hundreds who acted quick, and escaped to higher ground on vehicles could save themselves. That day, 1,700 people and 3,600 livestock got suffocated to death.

Why it Happened

volcanoLake Nyos like only a few other lakes in the world was formed about 400 years ago on a huge crater. Far below the lake there’s magma and it spews CO2 continuously into the lake, forming huge amounts of carbonated water (a good thing for Coke lovers). The CO2 doesn’t usually release in a single go all the time. It happens gradually, and the pipes now installed to fix this keep releasing CO2 all the time (The pressure of gas also carries water along to form a beautiful fountain).

Sometimes however, due to some triggers, the CO2 can get released in a single go and cause the absurd natural disaster which ends up killing thousands.

The Lake Kivu which is in Congo probably holds a much worse headline for the future. This one is about a 1000 times larger than lake Nyos and is surrounded by heavily populated towns. There’s magma below it too and any sort of disruption could cause massive amounts of carbon dioxide to release into the nearby towns. To add to the fears, researchers have found that the massive lake Kivu’s life goes extinct every 1000 years. We can only wait and watch what happens…

More Britons Died on The Titanic Because They Were Polite

By Anupum Pant

Tahir Shah in his book, House of the Tiger King wrote:

“As the head of an expedition, you can’t pussyfoot around being polite to everyone. You have to show your teeth once in a while; a little growling goes a long way.”

It turns out, a little growling can indeed go a long way – Sometimes it can even save your lives. Let’s see how…

Two Stories

Let us consider the two widely studied ship tragedies – Titanic and Lusitania. Here is a brief copied background of both the ship stories (to make it easier for you):

Titanic’s story: Titanic was a British passenger liner that sank in the North Atlantic Ocean on 15 April 1912 after colliding with an iceberg during her maiden voyage from Southampton, UK to New York City, US. The sinking of Titanic caused the deaths of more than 1,500 people in one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in modern history. – Wikipedia

Lusitania’s Story: Lusitania was a British ocean liner, holder of the Blue Riband and briefly the world’s biggest ship. She was launched by the Cunard Line in 1907, at a time of fierce competition for the North Atlantic trade. In 1915 she was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat, causing the deaths of 1,198 passengers and crew. – Wikipedia

Differences and Similarities

Similarities: Both of them were British ships and capsized almost during the same time (a three years difference). Both the ships carried a similar distribution of passengers in terms of their age, gender and economic status. Chance of survival for voyagers in both the ships was around 30%.

Differences: One important thing to note about the sinking of Titanic was that after it hit the iceberg, it took about 160 minutes to sink. Whereas Lusitania was hit by a torpedo and it collapsed in 18 minutes. Isn’t that a big difference in time?

Since time taken to sink is the only big difference in both the stories, scientists think that this explains the changed behavior of people aboard, during the last minutes. As a result, it explains the big difference in the kind of people who died in Titanic-tragedy vs. Lusitania-tragedy.

Who died?

In Lusitania, which sank in 18  minutes, many youngsters who ages ranged from 16-35 years, survived. Since, people had no time to think and assemble into social groups, the fittest people were able to push their way out and survive – youngsters who were physically competent, survived.

Whereas Titanic sank in about 160 minutes, it gave people enough time to take into consideration, the social protocols. As a result several men queued up and politely let the women and children go first.

This is the reason, scientists think, more men survived when Lusitania sank. Whereas more women and children survived when Titanic sank.

British boys

on the Titanic, it is calculated that Americans were 8.5 per cent more likely to survive. On the other hand, British passengers were 7 per cent less likely to survive. A big difference! Why?

Australian researchers believe that since British passengers on the Titanic queued up politely to get into the lifeboats, a significantly high number of them died. Also, they think that Americans elbowed their way out, but there is no direct evidence that supports Americans were rude on the ship. If they were, we’ll never know.


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