Research Highlights / Full Story

A dangerous level of carbon dioxide and methane gas haunts Lake Kivu, the lake system bordering the African nations of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Scientists can't say for sure if the volatile mixture trapped at the bottom of the lake will remain still for another 1,000 years or someday erupt to the surface without warning. With two active volcanoes bordering the lake and frequent earthquakes in the region, the fragility of Lake Kivu is a serious matter to the approximately 2 million people living along the lake.

RIT imaging scientist Anthony Vodacek is part of an international team of researchers that is working to analyze the lake system and promote the development of local scienti!c and environmental expertise to address the situation.

As part of the larger effort, Vodacek, associate professor in the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science at RIT, is partnering with Rwandan scientists to map the physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of the lake system. These baseline measurements will help determine the scenarios that may disrupt Lake Kivu and cause a gas release.

"By analyzing potential triggers for a catastrophic gas release, we can develop an early warning system," Vodacek notes.

The regional governments are beginning to extract the methane to simultaneously generate electricity and reduce the gas eruption threat. Vodacek attended a workshop in Rwanda in February where scientists discussed safe methods for extracting the gas without disruption to the lake.

In addition, Alvin Spivey, a doctoral degree student in imaging science, is currently working in Rwanda with Vodacek's team to enhance the use of imaging techniques in additional humanitarian initiatives in the country.

Vodacek also co-organized a National Science Foundation sponsored scientific workshop in 2010 to focus international scientific attention on the project and is also working with the Rwandan Ministry of Education to promote exchange programs for Rwandan students looking to study in America.

"Lake Kivu is an international problem and requires an international effort to address it," Vodacek says.