Research

The Undisturbed Waters of Lake Kivu

Lake Kivu's distinctive layers have transitions only centimeters thick.

Deep in Africa lies one of the world’s strangest lakes. Lake Kivu, over 450 meters in depth, is so stratified that its layers never mix. The upper portion of Lake Kivu consists of less-dense fresh water, which sits upon deeper layers of saltier water full of dissolved carbon dioxide and methane pumped into the lake by volcanic activity.

The lake’s lack of convection means that this deep water simply stays put for thousands of years as it collects gases that remain dissolved only thanks to the immense pressure of the water above. Should that deep water be disturbed — by an earthquake, climate changes, or simply oversaturation — the resulting eruption of carbon dioxide could be deadly for the millions of people living nearby. A similar eruption at smaller Lake Nyos in 1986 asphyxiated about 1,800 people.

Fortunately, Lake Kivu is well-monitored, so such an upwelling should not catch observers off-guard. Learn more about Lake Kivu’s oddities over at Knowable. (Image and research credit: D. Bouffard and A. Wüest, via Knowable Magazine; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)

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