Articles

The 1986 Lake Nyos Gas Disaster in Cameroon, West Africa

Science  10 Apr 1987:
Vol. 236, Issue 4798, pp. 169-175
DOI: 10.1126/science.236.4798.169

Abstract

The sudden, catastrophic release of gas from Lake Nyos on 21 August 1986 caused the deaths of at least 1700 people in the northwest area of Cameroon, West Africa. Chemical, isotopic, geologic, and medical evidence support the hypotheses that (i) the bulk of gas released was carbon dioxide that had been stored in the lake's hypolimnion, (ii) the victims exposed to the gas cloud died of carbon dioxide asphyxiation, (iii) the carbon dioxide was derived from magmatic sources, and (iv) there was no significant, direct volcanic activity involved. The limnological nature of the gas release suggests that hazardous lakes may be identified and monitored and that the danger of future incidents can be reduced.