Smoke and fire detected at Nyamasheke hill in Rwanda

A rare incident of smoke and fire was observed at Nyamasheke hill in Nyamasheke district on the eastern shores of Lake Kivu. Nyamasheke is bordered by Karongi islands to the north, Nyungwe forest national park to the south, and DR Congo to the west.

According to the Rwanda Mines, Petroleum, and Gas Board, the hill has been emitting smoke and fire since May 2023. A team of geologists is investigating the phenomenon. The observations made so far indicate that the amount of smoke is increasing. However, the cause of such an occurrence is not yet established. 

Lake Kivu is in the Virunga volcanic area and is a few miles south of the active volcanoes of Nyiragongo and Nyamuragira in Virunga national park, DR Congo. Mt. Nyiragongo volcano has erupted over 35 times since the 19th century, making it one of the most dangerous in the world.

The most recent violent volcanic eruption happened in May 2021. According to UNICEF, the fast-flowing magma traveling at 60 miles per hour destroyed over 3,500 households including schools, clean water and health care facilities. Besides the damage to property, certain gasses that result from the eruptions are known to cause respiratory sickness when people are exposed to them.

The smoke and fire phenomenon on Nyamasheke hill could be attributed to the tectonic forces in the Virunga region. According to the Smithsonian Magazine, the volcanicity has led to formation of hot springs beneath lake Kivu. The hot springs are known to discharge methane and carbon dioxide gasses into the hypolimnion. When the gasses get dissolved they create different layers in the lake including a layer of less-dense surface water at a depth of 70 meters (200 ft) and of dense saline water.

If there’s high accumulation, the gaseous mixtures can rise to the surface of the lake and explode violently in the same way Nyiragongo volcano does. This natural disaster is also known as a limnic eruption. A disastrous explosion is possible on lake Kivu in the future. Lake Kivu harbors over 60 billion cubic meters of methane gas, one of the 10 greenhouse gasses which trap heat into the atmosphere making the Ozone Layer thick and warmer.

This phenomenon is known as global warming that is associated with the increase in average air temperatures near planet Earth’s surface for the start of the industrial revolution in 1760. According to the Paris Agreement 2015, the global temperatures have reached 1.2 degrees Celsius. The goal set is to limit further global temperatures from exceeding to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

African countries have committed to the climate agreement and Rwanda is turning the deadly methane gas into clean energy. The national policy on energy prioritizes the use of modern, clean, and energy efficient technologies. The government started extraction of methane gas from Lake Kivu in 2016 to generate electricity and minimize the overaccumulation of the gas and the impending danger thereof.

The KivuWatt plant was established and uses a modern technology system to capture 120 to 250 million cubic meters of methane. The natural gas will be used to generate 700 Megawatts of electricity for the next 50 years. Transmission facilities will be used to distribute power to the areas around Kivu both in Rwanda and DR Congo. Most people in the two countries rely on biomass energy which constitutes 85% of the total wood and charcoal consumption. This encourages deforestation therefore the natural gas is to provide people with affordable energy and conserve the environment.

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