COMMENTARY: Boiling Lake’s 2023 instability episode


BOILING LAKE on December 20, 2023 in latest episode of instability. Note outlet and area of grey mud. Photo Courtey CS.

Dominica’s Boiling Lake, which has been described as a large, flooded fumarole and the second largest of its type in the world – after New Zealand’s Frying Pan Lake – from time to time goes through some “episodes of instability” where its water level may drop significantly, and the water stops boiling or vaporizes at a much-reduced intensity than normal. One such bout of instability, when the Lake had stopped boiling, resulted in the death of two young men (a visitor and a local tour guide) on December 10, 1901, when the Lake suddenly began quietly releasing large volumes of highly toxic fumes and remained doing so for about four days.

Boiling Lake is known to have gone through instability episodes in the 1800s, the 1900s, and now in the 21st Century. Since the water level and temperature fluctuations of November/December 2016, the Lake went through fluctuation episodes in 2021 and 2022, with two such episodes occurring during the first half of 2022.

Last year, this author published two Boiling Lake-related articles on Dominica News Online (DNO). One was entitled, “Boiling Lake’s Episodes of Instability” (published in two parts, on February 8 and 14, 2022 respectively) and the other, “Boiling Lake – Two Episodes of Instability in Six Months?” (published May 25, 2022). Coming into the peak of the 2023 Christmas Season, visitors and tour guides to Boiling Lake were “treated” to yet another of the lake’s episodes. A tour guide, who sometimes makes three to four trips weekly to the lake with clients visited the lake on Tuesday, December 19, and observed the lake to be in its “normal mode”, boiling, vaporizing vigorously, and full, with water flowing out through the outlet. However, upon his return to the lake the following day (December 20, 2023) the Lake was met with much lower water levels (no water going through the outlet), and the water was dark grey in colour but vaporizing not as strongly as normal. There was also a large area of grey mud surrounding the circular area of water (Refer to first photo).

BOILING LAKE on December 29,
2023, black, boiling, vaporizing but not full. Photo Courtesy CS

The guide conducted another trip to the lake on December 29 and found the lake to be vaporizing much heavier than what was occurring on his previous visit, the water was almost black and the level may have been somewhat higher than on his previous visit as not much of the mud was visible (See second photo).

On December 29, before contacting the guide, I had received from a friend a short, re-forwarded video clip taken of the lake some time after  December 20, showing the lake with very little grey water, not vigorously boiling and vaporizing, and a much larger area of mud surrounding the water.

Something of interest has been observed in the timing of these episodes of instability. The manifestations of those events within the last two decades appear to be occurring at increasing frequency and have shifted from the second quarter of the year to the fourth quarter. For example, in 1964, 1967, 1971, and 1988 the Lake’s water level and temperature dropped significantly each time during April. However, in recent manifestations, we have now seen December 2004 (into April 2005), November 2016, November 2021, February and May 2022, and most recently December 2023. It should also be noted that the December 2023 episode is at least the lake’s sixth episode since the turn of the century.

REMARKS: For how long will this 2023 episode last is anyone’s guess, but it is already past one week and a half. One would expect that the relevant government agencies, viz. the Forestry, Wildlife & Parks Division and the Office of Disaster Management, as well as tour guides and other stakeholders such as the UWI Seismic Research Centre and the local media,  will “keep a watchful eye” on the Boiling Lake.

Thanks, CP and CS for sharing information and image/video clips.

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  1. BenTyson
    January 16, 2024

    Thanks AJ for your continued work and collaborations in bringing wonders and issues alike, of our natural environment to light.
    This one ends with a call to action, let’s hope the relevant stakeholders take heed.

  2. Ezra
    January 9, 2024

    Always appreciative Arlington. May the creator bless you with many more years to share with us this insightful pieces of information.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1
  3. derp
    January 8, 2024

    I wonder if this is somehow connected to the recent earthquakes we had, I mean it’s all connected to the tectonic plates right?

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