After a year littered with heartbreaking natural disasters, where scientists warn that global climate change may exacerbate the risks of these events, the world’s attention has turned back to the disasters of yesteryear. And while natural disasters appear to have become more frequent and devastating in the past ten years, human history is filled with reports of catastrophes of nature.
This reflection process is important. The more we understand about past disasters, the better we are at responding to tomorrow’s tragedies, limiting loss of life and minimizing international impact. And the more we know about why these events happened, the better we can understand the Earth we live on, spurring scientific progress.
Here are 13 of recent history’s most strange and noteworthy disasters.
1. Lake Nyos, Cameroon: In 1986, this volcanic lake became the site of an environmental tragedy that took 1,746 lives. Because of its depth, stillness, and volcanic origin, the lake had five gallons of carbon dioxide for every gallon of water, and the building gas spelled trouble.
On August 21st, the gas became too saturated for the water to hold, and it erupted from the lake, creating a “poison cloud” that traveled at 60 miles an hour, suffocating people and livestock in its path. Since then, scientists have installed an “escape valve” for the lake’s gas, and a warning system in case something like the eruption happens again.