THE NYOS ORGAN PROJECT : ON THE ROAD TO SUCCESS


The degassing project of the Cameroon ‘Killer Lakes’, today fully operational, has a long history behind it. In April 1987, a short while after the Lake Nyos catastrophe, which caused more than 1700 victims in August 1986, an extremely detailed project was put forward by the French Ministry of the Environment’s Delegation for Major Risks under the aegis of JC Sabroux, a project which became called ‘The Nyos Organs’.

This initiative was pursued tenaciously, despite numerous obstacles, during several field trips by the French team :

- 1990 : first revelation of the auto-siphon mechanism, using 1 cm diameter tubes
- 1992 : first experimental campaign of degassing at an industrial level at Monoun (tubes of 50 and 140 mm).
- 1995 : first experimental campaign at an industrial level at Nyos (tubes of 140 mm).


The scientific and technical foundations of the degassing equipment were thus well established ; theoretical calculations had been validated by experiment ; materials used had been up to our standards. Nevertheless, it was necessary to wait until 2001 for the necessary money to be raised in order to launch the first industrial degassing column at Lake Nyos, and until 2003 (one column), then 2006 (two columns) to reproduce this activity (on a smaller scale) at Lake Monoun.

One should perhaps note that this realisation, today unanimously recognised as an exceptional success, nevertheless at the beginning attracted certain detractors who asserted that we were playing at sorcerers’ apprentices and that our action would destabilise the lakes and lead to another disaster. Thus if the Cameroon authorities had followed the advice of these scientific alarmists, the situation today would be really critical in the case of Lake Nyos ; as for Lake Monoun one can reasonably imagine that it would already have exploded, leaving behind a terrible toll in human life.

At present there are still a few moaners who claim that the degassing is not going fast enough and that ‘if you had followed their advice’ you would have had to work differently. It is always easy to criticise as a simple observer – someone who doesn’t like to get his hands dirty. The Franco-Cameroon team on the other hand is really proud today : despite her infinite power, Mother Nature’s activity – so often devastating - has been held in check. This is a wellnigh unique event in the annals of the struggle against natural disasters and as such deserves to be recognised.

To resume :

The degassing of Lake Monoun, begun in February 2003, is going ahead rapidly and should be more or less finished by June 2007. The situation is under control at Lake Nyos : the degassing column, activated in April 2001 is working perfectly (cf. the images transmitted twice daily by satellite) and has brought the process of enrichment of the deep layers of the lake in dissolved gas to a halt. Two new wider- diameter columns should be installed in 2007/2008 : the lake may thus be considered harmless after 3 or 4 years.

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