The Radioactive Lake of Kazakhstan

By Anupum Pant

If you haven’t heard about the operation Plowshare, it was a US operation focused at developing techniques that would help them utilize the massive power of nuclear weapons for peaceful construction purposes. Now if that sounds dumb, remember, it was the year 1961 when they thought of trying it out. Look back at other things from that time and you’ll realize how dumb those times were. Maybe the next generation will say the same for the year 2014.

How would someone use nuclear weapons for construction, you ask? If you think about it, using it to make huge holes in the ground, blasting rocks for mining seems like a good idea at first. How quick it would be, right? No.

After 27 such experimental blasts, the researchers from US learnt that this wasn’t a very wise thing to do, even if it seemed like a good idea. However, they ended up inspiring the Soviets.

While US had learnt about the ill effects of it and had stopped the operation by the year 1977, Soviets made their own version called “Nuclear Explosions for the National Economy” and continued doing it till the year 1989. 156 such tests were done by them.

Among all of them, one was done at the edge of a test site in Kazakhstan. In the year 1965, a 140 kiloton device was placed at about 180 meters below the surface, and detonated. As a result, a 400 meter wide and 100 meter deep hole was created in the ground.

This hole was planed to be a reservoir for an overflowing river nearby and it eventually got filled with water. A lake was formed. It has since been known as lake Chagan.

Lake Chagan contains water that remains radioactive till date. Even today the lake has “100 times more than the permitted level of radionuclides in drinking water“. Only at a distance of about 100 to 150 meters from the lake the radioactivity levels are at a background level.

Here is the video of the test that created this radioactive lake. The audio is in some other language, so you might have to do with just the video…

via [AmusingPlanet]

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…

A Natural Explosion That Knocked 80 Million Trees

By Anupum Pant

In the year 1908 (June 30), a remote part of Siberia experienced something really mysterious and really huge. It was an explosion that took place at about 5-10 km altitude in the air which was estimated to be as powerful as 1000 (or 185 according to NASA) Hiroshima bombs!

No one could ever figure out what really caused it. However, scientists were pretty sure that it was either a huge meteorite of about 100 feet (some say 1000 m) in diameter which crashed into the earth’s atmosphere and disintegrated, or it just bounced off the earth’s atmosphere like a huge skipping stone. Besides the scientific theories, there are a number of other “UFO and alien” stories that have been associated with this event. This was called the Tunguska event.

The sheer size: The explosion was utterly gigantic. So big, that it is still considered to be the most powerful natural explosion in the known history. The shock-waves from the explosion knocked people off their feet, and these people were 40 miles away from where the explosion happened. It wasn’t just people, 80 million trees over an area of 2,150 square kilometres were knocked down in a radial pattern (with trunks pointing away from the epicentre). 80 million! Wow!

It caused a mini earthquake and a NatGeo article says that the lake Checko could have been created due to this impact.

Eyewitness’ account:

Suddenly in the north sky… the sky was split in two, and high above the forest the whole northern part of the sky appeared covered with fire… At that moment there was a bang in the sky and a mighty crash… The crash was followed by a noise like stones falling from the sky, or of guns firing. The earth trembled.
[NASA website]

Had this taken place above a metro city, the city would have been completely levelled by the event. But that is highly unlikely because cities take up a very small fraction of area on the earth’s surface. Moreover, very rarely do such events happen.

What is very likely is that such an event could happen over the part which covers 70% of the earth’s surface – the ocean. Such an event could create a huge Tsunami causing a lot of destruction on land.