Dominica's Boiling Lake Rises, Near Normal
Wednesday, April 20, 2005
By ELLSWORTH CARTER Associated Press Writer
VALLEY OF DESOLATION, Dominica Apr 20, 2005 — The water in Dominica's Boiling Lake, which mysteriously seeped out and stopped boiling last year, is almost back to normal and can again be visited though there's a chance of gas emission and steam exploding, a scientist said Wednesday.
The lake stopped boiling Dec. 24 and the water level dropped about 40 feet. The Agriculture Ministry warned visitors not to approach the attraction, saying it might rise unpredictably and spew toxic fumes.
Earlier this month, chief forestry officer Arlington James hiked through highland rainforest to the lake, a volcanic crater 2,500 feet above sea level in the Morne Trois Pitons National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The lake is "boiling again but not as powerful as normal," James said Wednesday.
The second largest of its kind after New Zealand's Rotorua, the lake is about 200 feet wide. James said that at 48 feet, it was almost as deep as usual. The water temperature was 138 degrees Fahrenheit instead of its normal 195 degrees and it was jet black instead of light gray, he said.
"If it's gone back to more or less normal, it's OK to visit it," said geologist Richard Robertson, acting director of the Seismic Research Unit of the University of the West Indies in Trinidad.
"But there's always the chance of gas emission and steam explosion. We don't recommend you stick around for a long time," he said.
He warned visitors not to swim in the lake or picnic on the crater rim.
The lake has stopped boiling three times in the past 100 years. In 1901, toxic fumes killed two people when it suddenly filled up months after it emptied. The crater also stopped boiling in 1977 and 1999.
It is usually so scalding it can boil an egg in five minutes.
Scientists don't know for sure what stopped it boiling last year. One theory is that a 6.3-magnitude earthquake on Nov. 21 clogged underground fissures where hot gases rise and heat the water. At the same time, the earthquake may have created other fissures that drained the lake. Since then, it has refilled with overland water and underground seepage, Robertson said.
Although Watt Mountain, where the lake is located, might erupt one day, the fluctuations in water level are not related to volcanic activity, said Robertson, whose research unit plans to visit the site within two months.
Sulfuric fumes from the lake have destroyed what once was lush rainforest, leaving a desolate valley scattered with rocks covered with yellow sulfur crystals and colored hot springs that get their hues of green, yellow, orange and blue from mineral deposits.