Historical activity of the Commission of Volcanic Lakes

(Report sent to the IAVCEI Executive Committee by Minoru Kusakabe, March 2000)


The release of carbon dioxide gas from Lake Nyos in 1986 and Lake Monoun in 1984 resulted in the loss of approximately 1800 lives. The main body of the Commission on Volcanic Lakes was created initially as the International Working Group on Crater Lakes (IWGCL) in 1987 when the International Conference on the Lake Nyos Gas Disaster was held in Yaounde, Cameroon. The purposes of IWGCL at that time were to exchange scientific information about the Lake Nyos gas disaster, to adjust the follow-up field works planned by those who were interested in this subject, and to organize scientific meetings as a forum for further studies. The first IWGCL meeting (organized by S.J. Freeth in 1990 at Nancy, France) published an important communique (Freeth et al., Nature 348, p.201, 1990) that Lake Nyos still remained dangerous because of its high CO2 content that was increasing at an alarming rate and that the lake could be made safe through artificial degassing.

The scope of IWGCL was expanded in its 2nd meeting (organized by M. Kusakabe in 1992 at Misasa, Japan) to include not only studies of gassy lakes in Cameroon but also those of other volcanic lakes in general. The objectives were to obtain information on activity and degassing state of shallow magmatic bodies so that forecasting volcanic eruptions and mitigation of volcanic lake-related hazards can be achieved. Three meeting reports were published: a detailed one by K. Tietze in our Newsletter ("International Working Group on Crater Lakes Newsletter", No. 6, p. 5-18, 1993), a short one by M. Kusakabe & K. Tietze in the Newsletter of the World Organisation of Volcano Observatories ("WOVO News", No. 3, p. 3-4, 1993) and a short one by M. Kusakabe in EOS (Vol. 74, p. 325, July 20, 1993). Papers presented at the Misasa meeting were published in a Special Issue of Geochemical Journal "Geochemistry of Crater Lakes", edited by M. Kusakabe.

After this meeting, IWGCL acquired formal IAVCEI status as Commission on Volcanic Lakes (CVL) after a short period as a Task Group in 1993. The IAVCEI Executive Committee at that time encouraged cooperation with IAHS (International Association of Hydrological Sciences), but this was practically difficult because the CVL meetings were organized independently from IAVCEI and IAHS general assemblies. However, later meetings proved that involvement of scientists from the fields of hydrology, limnology, oceanography and microbiology in addition to volcanology and geochemistry was indispensable in order to achieve the goals of the community of volcanic lake studies.

The 3rd CVL (previous IWGCL) meeting was organized by S.M. Fazlullin in Vladivostok (Russia) in 1995 as part of the 8th International Symposium on Water-Rock Interaction of IAGC. The meeting was attended by ca. 40 people under the section "Physical-chemical processes in crater lakes". Eleven papers presented at this section were published in the Proceedings of WRI-8 (1995). The geochemistry and bio-geochemistry of acid crater lakes and impact of active crater lakes on the environment were discussed. The latter subject was a new entry for the CVL community. The meeting was coupled with a field workshop in Kamchatka, which provided a rare opportunity to visit several crater lakes that are located at difficult-to-access places. Chemical analysis of highly acid and concentrated water is problematic, and an intercalibration of Maly Semiachik crater lake waters was attempted. The attendees analyzed the lake water using their own analytical methods and instruments. The meeting report by Fazlullin appeared in our Newsletter ("Current research on Volcanic Lakes", No. 9, p. 38-39, 1996). The results of this intercalibration was published in the JVGR special issue (97:497-508, 2000) on "Crater Lakes" as 'Analytical laboratory comparison of major and minor constituents in an active crater lake' by Takano, Fazlullin and Delmelle.

The 4th CVL meeting was organized by J.C. Varekamp and G.L. Rowe in 1996 at Crater Lake, Oregon, under the title "Crater lakes, terrestrial degassing and hyper-acid fluids in the environment". The meeting was attended by ~70 scientists with backgrounds in volcanology, geochemistry, hydrology, limnology, microbiology and economic geology. The subjects discussed were further expanded but consistent with those already strewed in the previous CVL meetings. Altogether 68 papers were presented for the physical and chemical characteristics of volcanic lakes, the geochemistry and microbiology of hyper-acid (pH< 1) fluids found in crater lakes, geothermal, and acid-mine drainage environments, the rates and mechanisms of magmatic degassing in near-surface environments, and acid fluid-rock reactions and their role in alteration and mineralization associated with epithermal ore deposits. ? detailed conference report was published by J.C. Varekamp and G.L. Rowe (1997: Exotic fluids in the exosphere: When Hades meets Apollo, meeting report. EOS 78, 237-239). Of the papers presented at this meeting 26 papers with a total of 350 pages was published in JVGR (97:497-508, 2000) as a special issue on "Crater Lakes" (edited by Varekamp and Rowe).

The 5th CVL meeting was held as one of ten symposia of the IAVCEI General Assembly in July 2000 in Bali, Indonesia convened by A. Bernard, T. Sriwana and J.C. Varekamp. This is the first time that the CVL meeting is synchronous with an IAVCEI General Assembly. The main objectives of the meeting are (1) the numerous interesting perspectives offered by the geochemical and geophysical monitoring of crater lakes, (2) the specific hazards related to the existence of lakes in the crater of active volcanoes, and (3) the impact on the environment of the discharge of ultra-acid fluids. These objectives are consistent with the scope of CVL. A fascinating field trip to visit Indonesian active volcanic area including lakes will be organized just prior to the meeting. The trip will visit Dieng, Kelut, and Ijen volcanic complexes. There is a plan to have another intercalibration of chemical analysis of crater lake waters with many different compositions.

Geochemical monitoring of Lakes Nyos and Monoun for the last 13 years has confirmed the conclusion reached at the first IWGCL meeting at Nancy in 1990 that the high CO2 concentration in deep waters is increasing at an alarming rate. Successful degassing experiments at Lake Monoun (1992) and Lake Nyos (1995), both headed by Michel Halbwachs, have proven that degassing of the lakes can be accomplished by pumping gas-rich bottom waters to the surface of the lakes through pipes. Although survivors from the Lake Nyos disaster were officially relocated, people are moving back into the evacuated region. Under these circumstances efforts to find funds to make the killer lakes safe have been made by those who have been involved in the study of Lake Nyos gas disaster. In 1996 an international committee was established within CVL to help coordinate and advise the Lake Nyos and Monoun degassing efforts. This committee, named the NMDP Advisory Committee (Nyos-Monoun Degassing Project), is composed of 8 members from six countries, and has the task of coordinating the funding efforts and giving some advice about the proper design of the degassing procedures to the Cameroonian Government. Great progress has been recently made in this regard. A proposal for remediation was recently funded for ~$450,000 by the U.S. government's A.I.D., Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance. With this fund a single pipe can be installed at each lake, which would certainly stop the increase of CO2 concentration in Lake Nyos and reduce the amount of dissolved CO2 in Lake Monoun. The degassing pipe was successfully installe at lake Nyos in February 2001, and degassing has been continuing as shown in the photograph (see picture below). Funds from other sources for installing multiple pipes are being sought concurrently. The success in obtaining funding for the Nyos degassing project has to a large extent resulted from the coordination of activities through CVL. Information on this issue can be found in Nyos home page prepared by G.W. Kling; http://www.biology.lsa.umich.edu/~gwk/research/nyos.html.

Lake Nyos. Photo M. Kusakabe, 2001

After widening of the scope of CVL as stated above, attempts to create catalogues of volcanic lakes in the world have been made. They include Rowe and Varekamp (IWGCL Newsletter, No. 6, p. 54-61, 1993), Freeth (Newsletter of the IAVCEI Commission on Volcanic Lakes, No. 10, p. 30-38, 1997), and a Web site of Varekamp http://www.wesleyan.edu/ees/volclakes.html. These are important outcomes of CVL activity. Several CVL members have contributed to television specials on crater lakes (Granada TV - "Dangerous Waters", and a National Geographic Special) that highlight the natural hazards and research at Lake Nyos, Ruapehu, Kawah Ijen and Kelut. New environmental projects have started recently in the group and they will probably be expanded over time (e.g., a project on the environmental chemistry of Kawah Ijen effluents in east Java, Indonesia, by M.J. VanBergen with a group of co-workers that include geochemists, biologists and toxicologists). The CVL may also embrace "global change" researchers who use crater lake sediments as the source of their data. These sedimentary records can only be interpreted faithfully if volcanic/geothermal influences can be separated from climatic and hydrologic changes.

The Newsletter of our community was published annually and circulated within the group as "IWGCL Newsletter" until 1994 (with M. Kusakabe as editor from 1989 to 1992 and S.J. Freeth from 1993 to 1994). It was renamed "Current Research on Volcanic Lakes; Newsletter of the IAVCEI Commission on Volcanic Lakes" in 1995, with S.J. Freeth as editor from 1995 to present. Recently the publication rate has slowed and the last issue, No. 10, was published in March 1997. The number of subscribers, i.e., the number of CVL members, is currently 97. This high number reflects the strong interest shown by many people at the time of Lake Nyos gas disaster (1986). However, this number makes it difficult for the editor to send the Newsletter to all members, because people do not always report their change of address and wish for continuation/discontinuation of subscription. The costs of mailing cannot be ignored as well.

The basic structure of CVL has not been changed since its formation as IWGCL in 1989. Current committee was set up in Misasa in 1992. M. Kusakabe serves as secretary, S.J. Freeth as editor of Newsletter, and A. Bernard, G.W. Kling, M. Martini, M. Meybeck, G. Tanyileke and K. Tietze as steering committee members. Most of the members have remained for the last 11 years. The secretary now feels that (1) it would be better to have "fresh air" in this community in order to be more consistent with the current scope of CVL mentioned above, because the above officers are dominated by "Lake Nyos-oriented" people, and (2) it may be the time to reconsider how to make the commission slimmer, because the membership of ~100 makes effective management of CVL activities not easy. Point (1) is consistent with the recent suggestion by Steve Sparks, IAVCEI President, that Commissions should consider the advantages of having mechanisms to have turn over their officers from time to time.

As Secretary it is my personal opinion that we put forward these proposals (1) and (2) at the coming 5th CVL meeting at Bali. He also wants that the future plans and schedules will be discussed under a new secretary, editor of Newsletter and steering committee members.

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