A 30 minute documentary by Michael Lees contrasting
life in Dominica with life in North America, asking if we can live
our lives in harmony with and in appreciation of nature rather than
by simply exploiting it.
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The day the lake went dry!
On Christmas Day 2004, a party of tourists hiked to the Boiling Lake, only to discover that it was almost empty and no longer boiling. The Forestry Division were notified and on 28th December, a party of 4 Foresters hiked there to make a site inspection - see report. Our Forestry Division from then on carefully monitored the situation for the next 4 months, during which this page was updated several times with reports and photos, until the situation returned to its usual level in April 2005.
Lake Crater Boiling Lake crater, contents drained, as photographed by Arlington James
of Forestry on December 28th 2004
.This is, of course, a volcanic area, with much thermal activity in the immediate vicinity, and Forestry warned those planning to visit Boiling Lake of possible danger whilst the lake was in this state. This is not the first time that the lake has emptied. The first recorded occurrence was in April 1887, then again in December 1900, when an English visitor in the company of two guides lost his life, along with one of the guides, when both were overcome by thick sulphurous gas emitted from the empty crater. Shortly after that the lake refilled quickly.
4 April 1887 archive photo of 2 persons standing in the Boiling Lake crater, when dry once before, courtesy of Dr. Lennox Honychurch, Dominican artist, historian and author - website .It also happened in 1971 and again in 1988, when it remained empty for over a month. There were, fortunately, no casualties on these occasions. In April 2003, though it did not empty, the water was observed to become clouded and dark grey in colour, whilst the smell of sulphur pervaded the air throughout the entire Roseau Valley area for several weeks.
In late November 2004, an earthquake of magnitude 6.3 lasting about 1 minute, occured in the Guadeloupe Channel to the north of Dominica, followed in the subsequent days by several strong tremmors. As is to be expected following an earthquake, many minor tremmors continued to be felt in the weeks which followed, subsiding gradually. This activity no doubt contributed to the situation we witnessed at the Boiling Lake.
Below are the updates we posted during 2005, as the conditions varied for serveral months following, till eventually the Boiling Lake settled down returned to its normal state.
On January 13th 2005, a party of visitors to the Boiling Lake noted that it has begun to refill, though it is not yet boiling. Also, a new fumarole has openned on the far bank, with water from it now flowing into the lake.
On January 18th 2005, Forestry again inspected the lake along with a party of French geologists.
On this occasion the level of the lake was noted to have fallen back slightly and the water colour had become a paler, more turquoise colour. Very little bubbling, except for along the western edge of the water. The centre of the lake was still, save for one or two small bubbles which were not easily discernable. No steaming and no warm air was felt.
No swimming !Towards the end of January, members of a party of Austrian visitors were observed swimming in the Lake, followed about 2 weeks later by a Spaniard (complete with mask & snorkel!). If you are planning to visit the lake whilst it remains in this unpredictable state, then please exercise caution - do not under any circumstances attempt to swim, and keep your proximity to the lake as brief as you can. When changes to the lake's condition do take place, past records indicate that they can happen swiftly and with little warning.
Crazy Austrian Don't try this!Forestry again monitored the condition of the lake on Friday, Jan 28th 2005, noting little change. Some 5 weeks since it emptied, the water level continues to fluctuate and was noted to have in fact dropped slightly from their previous visit, to around 9 to 10 feet below normal.
Forestry inspected the lake again on Friday, Feb 11th 2005, noting the water to be a little greyer and slightly higher than previously, at around 6 - 7 feet below normal, though a tour operator reported a very low water level just the previous day, indicating that there is some serious fluctuation taking place. The water temperature was measured at 20° Celsius.
Cold & grey Lake level higher, though reported to be fluctuating, as photographed by
Arlington James of Forestry on February 11th 2005
A subsequent visit by a party of visitors on Monday, Feb 14th, noted that the lake had completely refilled, though it had not yet returned to its boiling state. Another occurrence which may be of significance was another tremor out to sea that same day at 2.05pm of magnitude 5.9 which lasted about 10 seconds, centred approx. 15 miles WNW of Portsmouth.On Monday, Feb 21st, the water level was noted by Forestry to have again dropped to approx, 15 feet below normal and the water temperature had dropped slightly to 18° Celcius. Fewer bubbles could be seen and a whif of sulphurous gas was noted whilst a water sample was being taken from the lake. After a week or more of relatively hot, dry weather, Foresrty's inspection on March 7th revealed the lake to be almost empty once again, but with the bubbling intensified though not yet boiling. Conditions were not regarded safe enough to venture to the water's edge to measure the water temperature on this occasion..
Update 4 .
21st Feb 7th March Boiling Lake still fluctuating though bubbling more,
as photographed by Arlington James of Forestry.Further inspections were made by Forestry on March 18th and 31st, at which times conditions were very similar - water level low, water colour turquoise and climatic conditions relatively dry. At the most recent inspection on April 13th, the lake was noted to be almost completely full, just an estimated 15"- 20" below high water mark, and appears to be returning to it's "normal" boiling condition. Bubbling was noted not only from its centre, but to a lesser extent all around its surface and edges. The vigour off the lake was estimated to be about 50 to 75% of its normal strength, though the heavy cloud of steam that is normally associated with the lake when boiling "regularly" has not yet returned. As in more normal times, gas is sometimes released in stronger bursts, with the "column" of hot liquid rising about 1ft above the surface. Water colour - jet black. Water temperature at edge - just under 60° Celcius, still well below the 92°C to be expected when the lake is boiling at full strength.
Other recent visitors to Boiling Lake report it to have been in this state since April 10th..
31st March 13th April Boiling Lake at last returning to normal after 15 weeks,
as photographed by Arlington James of Forestry.Following the April 13th inspection, the lake's boiling increased whilst it continued to fill, gradually regaining the high water mark and losing some of the black colouring to the water. By late April it had returned to its regular boiling condition, discharging at a constant rate once again at the outflow.
Update 6, October 2005
This is the origin of the 'White River' which flows in a South Easterly direction, reaching the Atlantic Ocean by Pointe Mullatre, near to the village of Delices. The spectacular Victoria Falls occurs on this river, about an hour's hike upstream from Delices..Boiling Lake continues to be monitored by the Forestry Division and is now regarded to have settled back down to its normal condition, continuing to attract our visiting hikers.
Victoria Falls . Boiling Lake is now back to normal though water still dark in colour,
as photographed by Arlington James of Forestry on June 23rd, 2005
Boiling Lake. Below is a report of his observations.
Based on what we saw, it appears that Dominica will not be able to boast of having the world's largest boiling lake - at least not for a while (and for how long, is anybody's guess).
On our way towards the long, steep flight of steps coming into the Breakfast River Valley, we got whiffs of sulphurous gas, and thought that this was an OK sign. Jaco Parrots also made the presence in the area known, with a few sets of vocalizations. When we arrived at the summit of Morne Nicholls - the highest point along the trail - we looked towards the east, in the direction of the Boiling Lake's crater. The usual thick cloud of white vapour that would indicate the location of the Boiling Lake was absent, and the other clouds of vapour that are usually emanating from fumaroles on the slopes to the west of the Boiling Lake were also very quiet!
Trekking down into the Valley of Desolation, we were greeted by the familiar sight of clouds of steam belching out from the large fumaroles. The pot of thick grey-blue mud that had opened up in 2003, near the site of the 1997 phreatic eruption / explosion, was boiling away violently, but the liquid in the "pot" was not as thick as when I last saw it in 2003.
When we emerged at the edge of the valley that forms the "final" section of the Valley of Desolation, i.e. when one is just less than 10 minutes from the lake, we observed that there was very little fumarolic activity in that section of the Valley.
Upon arrival at lakeside (at about noon), we observed the following:
1. Water Level: The level of the water in Boiling Lake was extremely low, and was lower than what I saw when the lake had gone into similar phase back on Sunday 17th April 1988. The lake was not "bone dry", but the pool of water that remained was just about 40ft wide (my estimate). Under normal conditions, the lake would be about 200ft across.
my estimation, the lake level has dropped possibly
between 30 and 40ft. This is based upon my current
2. Water Colour: The water had assumed a dark grey colour, similar to what I saw last year April (when the smell of sulphurous gases was pervading the atmosphere in the Roseau Valley and beyond for more than a month last year), and similar to what I saw in the lake on Tuesday 19th April 1988.
3. Conditions of Lake Surface: We could not see any vapour rising from the surface of the water in the lake. There was no vigorous boiling as is customary, or any bubbling - as such - save for one lone spot on the eastern edge of the lake where gas was coming to the surface. The water surface was generally calm, and we could see on it the reflection of part of the lake's crater rimmed by Clusia trees to the east.
Also, we did not feel any warm air coming from the lake basin.
4. General Lake Conditions: (a) The sulphurous ring indicating the lake's normal high water mark was very evident. There is also a very thick layer of grey mud beginning from some 20ft below the normal high water mark . The mud has started to crack after the 3-4 days of sun, revealing cream-coloured sand underneath a layer of possibly more than 6" of mud.
(b) Some of the areas on the mud were showing some level of discoloration: i.e. reddish-brown, mustard and yellow.
(c) There was also a darker ring on the mud (estim. at about 1ft wide), just a few inches above the water surface.
(d) The two streams had cut paths across the mud.
(e) Some layering (like a layered cake) was also observed on the eastern side of lake, above the water. These layers appear to be almost the same width/height, about a couple of inches high. This would probably indicate that the water dried up in stages, but also very quickly too.
(f) Compared to April 1988, there was considerably more rubble in the lake, near where the ravine enters the lake. Some of this new material, I reckon, was brought in last year, when several landslides occurred in the watershed of the ravine that feeds the lake and the rubble was brought into the lake, even creating a small beach.
5. Inflow Into the Lake: The two sources of surface water feeding the lake, i.e. the very acidic ravine and the mini-waterfall, were both flowing at near normal strength at the time we arrived, and when we left at 1:00 pm.
SRU had requested that if possible, a water sample and a temperature reading be taken from the lake. On assessing the conditions, and knowing what I know now about how the lake is able to behave when it is in this condition, I felt it would have been much to risky going down to, or even getting close to the water's edge.
I am very optimistic that the lake will return to its "normal" conditions. It put on similar displays in April-May 1988, April 1971, January 1901, and December 1900 - when it claimed the lives of two persons. The big question is WHEN? In 1988, it certainly took more than a month to refill completely, though it appears to have done so in stages, because in May that year I was able to put my hand into the water. However, based on photos taken in January 1901, it appears that when in its cold / "dry" phases, the lake has the ability to refill, and to resume its boiling extremely quickly.
Where does the water go to, and so suddenly, and being able to return so rapidly at that? Is it that the hot-gas vent got clogged? But where would all that water disappear to?
A Press Release shoud be sent out by Forestry & Parks, particularly to the tourism service providers (tour operators, hotels, tour guide companies) about the dangers associated with the Boiling Lake when it is in such "unpredictable" conditions, and warning visitors to the lake (locals and foreigners) about not hanging around the lake in its present state.
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