During the last century and a half Dominica’s Boiling Lake, which is one the major attractions within the Morne Trois Pitons National Park World Heritage Site has caught the attention of explorers, local and overseas hikers, scientists, and even an adventure seeker. Some readers may remember the showing on local television in 2008 of an adventure series episode featuring a man rapelling over the Boiling Lake which was boiling “at full seam” and releasing its suphurous and other gases.
Some readers will also know that from time to time, the Boiling Lake displays some dramatic changes in activity where we see a significant drop in the water level (sometimes by over 25 ft) followed by fluctuations in the levels, and the lake going “cold” (65o Fahrenheit which is as cold as the water in Freshwater Lake), and with almost zero gas emission.
No one knows when the lake first went through one of those episodes, or how many such episode have occurred. There may have been undocumented episodes between 1901 and 1963. But below are notes compiled from published accounts and/or old photographs taken during episodes which were witnessed.
- January 1875 – First recorded sighting of Boiling Lake, made by two Englishmen working on Dominica at the time (Edmund Watt and Dr. Henry Nicholls), accompanied by local guides.
- 4th April 1887 – Three visitors and a local guide met the lake empty.
- January 1901 – At least three persons on a trip to Boiling Lake witnessed it reactivating (recommencement of vaporizing) and refilling, going from practically “empty” at 11:00 a.m. on that day, to beginning to fill by 11:30 a.m., to simmering by 11:45 a.m., to “boiling” by 12:15 p.m. and with the water level having reached much higher than how they met it when they arrived.
- Tuesday 10th December 1901 – A young British diplomat who was the Ambassador to Madrid, Spain and who was visiting Dominica on vacation, accompanied by two young tour guides from Laudat (Matson Rolle and Edward Jean-Jules) met Boiling Lake not vaporizing or bubbling, cold, but apparently full.
While the three men were at lakeside there was a sudden major, powerful release of high volumes of poisonous gases which first knocked both tour guides unconscious, and this was followed some time later that day by another powerful release of gases which, this time, claimed the lives of the Englishman and Jean-Jules. Rolle survived as he had been sent back to Laudat to seek help. On account of the continued emission of toxic gases by the lake, the corpses could not be retrieved until Friday 13th December. Both bodies were buried the next morning and the Englishman’s grave can be viewed at the Public Cemetery in Roseau. The account of that episode was published in the editions The Dominican newspaper of 12th, 19th and 26th December 1901.
- April 1964 – Lake stops boiling or vaporising, and water level dropped several feet below its normal high-water mark.
- 14th April 1964 – Two men accompanied by two tour guides from Laudat visited Boiling Lake to confirm a report received earlier than the lake was not boiling and with educed water levels.
According to the Dominica Chronicle of 15th April 1964, “Mr. Chambers detailed his findings as contrasted with what he recalled from earlier trips. First indication of the change was the absence of smoke as the team rounded Morne Nicholls, greatly increased activity in the Valley, a now clear fresh-water stream and large and furious boiling fumaroles where none had existed or had been insignificant.
“His big shock came as he approached the Lake. First was the unusual quiet and absence of noise, then the look over the edge. The water level had dropped some seventy feet and there was water only in an area some forty feet by 30 feet in a sort of saucepan area.”
- 26th April 1967 – A Forest Guard accompanied by two visitors to Boiling Lake on Wednesday 26th April 1967 met the lake with reduced water levels and not vaporizing. According to the Dominica Herald of 29th April 1967, “Since last Wednesday, no vapour has been rising from the Boiling Lake, situated near the Valley of Desolation in the forests of Dominica. The colour of this water, which was originally of a greyish muddy hue is now greenish-looking. Neither has the water remained at its usual height. It has dropped some 15 to 20 feet, and the watermarks on the rocks around it and the rocks lying below the clear water can plainly be seen.”
- July 1967 – A 20-member group from the Walkers & Runners Club and their guide met the lake in one of its “episodes”. According to the Dominica Chronicle of 12th July 1967, “Following an 8-minute rest and look at the light-green Lake which showed little sign of boiling and the level of which had been lowered through a recent landslide, the group began their return trek and arrived at Laudat shortly after 4 p.m.” According to Star Dominica of 15th July 1967, “They (the group) found the lake quiescent”.
It is not certain whether that “cool down, dropped water levels and colour change” episode that occurred in 1967 had extended from April to July, or whether there were two separate episodes that year.
- April 1971 – Boiling Lake goes cold again. This time, shortly before Easter some individuals and members of local groups (e.g. group of Dominica Grammar School students, a group of DGS cadets, Merry-Go-Round Boys, young men from Laudat and others) swam and frolicked in the lake which was cold and bubbling only sporadically.
- April 1988 – On Thursday 14th April 1988, a team of Forestry, Wildlife & National Parks Division workers met Boiling Lake with no water and not releasing any vapour. On Sunday 17th April two members of staff of the Division visited the lake to confirm the report. They met the lake with some water, approximately 29 ft below the high-water mark, not vaporizing but bubbling lightly and creamish-grey in colour. Two days later (Tuesday 19th) two men visited the lake whose water was now dark grey in colour but vaporizing, though not at full strength.
That 1988 episode appears to have extended beyond May that year. You can read an account of that episode in “A Cool Boiling Lake?” or “Three Men & A Butterfly” on Google.