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Messenger birds and poisonous exhalations

On September 21–22 in Pen Pal, Kaya first started using her crow Sumi to carry messages. Although crows are messenger birds in many mythologies, they're not actually used as couriers in real life, not regularly anyway--pigeons are. People all over the world enjoy keeping homing pigeons (including in my town: I got a tour of a dovecote some years back--picture here); pigeons were used to deliver mail in India into the 2000s; and China still keeps military homing pigeons as a safeguard in the event that twenty-first-century communications are disabled for some reason (see Malcolm Moore, "China Trains Army of Messenger Pigeons," Telegraph, March 2, 2011.)

(Image source: Morgan Banaszek, "12 Facts about China You Probably Didn't Know,", Project Pengyou.)

On September 28 in Pen Pal, a bubble of carbon dioxide rises from a lake in Kaya's country, with disastrous consequences. In real life, this happened most dramatically in Cameroon's Lake Nyos in 1986. Lake Nyos is a crater lake, into which carbon dioxide slowly seeps from a pocket of magma. On August 21, the weight of water on top of the accumulating carbon dioxide was no longer enough to keep it down: it bubbled up and out, and because carbon dioxide is heavier than air, it settled on the surrounding land, suffocating approximately 1,700 people and 3,500 livestock. A similar, less devastating event had occurred two years earlier at another lake in Cameroon, Lake Monoun. The only other lake known to be at risk of this is in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but all that's required for it to be possible is a lake above a volcanic fissure.

The eruption of carbon dioxide at Lake Nyos was accompanied by a rise in dissolved iron to the lake's surface, turning rusty red:

(Image source: "The Lake Nyos Disaster," University of Arizona Geosciences.)

Accumulations of carbon dioxide in mines are one of four sorts of killing "damps" (from the German dampf, meaning "vapor"--they're "choke damp" (also called "stythe damp"). The other sorts are "white damp" (carbon monoxide), "fire damp" (methane or other flammable gasses), and "stink damp" (hydrogen sulfide).


( 30 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 24th, 2014 12:25 pm (UTC)
Fascinating stuff!
Sep. 24th, 2014 04:58 pm (UTC)
Yes--the world's fascinating any which way you turn.
Sep. 24th, 2014 12:31 pm (UTC)
That is absolutely horrifying... about the lake in Cameroon, I mean. Wow. Something to think through.
Sep. 24th, 2014 04:59 pm (UTC)
It's *very* scary. Fortunately not many lakes share this characteristic.

I wonder if it would be possible to put a monitoring system in the lakes.
Sep. 24th, 2014 01:27 pm (UTC)
Thank you.
Sep. 24th, 2014 04:59 pm (UTC)
Always my pleasure ^_^
Sep. 24th, 2014 02:03 pm (UTC)
You are probably aware that B F Skinner was paid by the American Military to devise a guided missile system piloted by pigeons. It cost something like 25,000 dollars with an accuracy of 90% it was at least as good as cruise missiles which cost a million dollars per missile (25k was for the whole missile programme offered by Dr Skinner). Basically you get them to peck on a spot which resets the guidance system each time they peck the exact spot they get a grain of corn. Dr Skinner published an article claiming the only reason it was abandoned was because the American People would not accept that their guided missiles were effectively in the control of pigeons once launched. And a million dollars a missile is nothing to the budget of American Military spending. There was another system where you got dolphins to play a game of tage with warships but Dolphins are more expensive to train and if Americans get upset over pigeon pilots no way would they allow a dolphin to die for their country. And these days they have all sorts of complicated ways of protecting warships. A Dolphin might make it through but not if they were expecting attacks by trained dolphins. Right or wrong Americans would be far more upset at the militarization of dolphins and their deaths no matter how bold and ingenious than a few thousand dying of carbon dyoxide in the Congo you say. Unless it involved elephants. I've never heard of any NATO or American driven protection force anywhere that far into Africa. But then again I think abandoning the weaponizing of pigeons and dolphins was possibly a little premature. But I have no contacts at the pentagon so no need to stress over what I think.
Sep. 24th, 2014 05:01 pm (UTC)
It's pretty sad that cute animals can elicit more concern than people :( It's not like it has to be either-or: you could be concerned about animals AND people.
(no subject) - duccio - Sep. 24th, 2014 08:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - asakiyume - Sep. 25th, 2014 11:37 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - duccio - Sep. 25th, 2014 03:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - desmondcoutinho - Sep. 27th, 2014 02:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - duccio - Sep. 27th, 2014 03:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - heliopausa - Sep. 25th, 2014 10:01 am (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 24th, 2014 03:30 pm (UTC)
I remember thinking of the Cameroon case when reading Pen Pal and feeling that gut-punch of horror. The incident is its own sort of terrifying.
Sep. 24th, 2014 05:02 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I remember when it first made the news, I couldn't believe such a thing was possible--very horrifying.
Sep. 24th, 2014 05:45 pm (UTC)
Fire damp is the one my collier relatives would have been worried about. Dangerous stuff down the pit!
Sep. 25th, 2014 02:22 am (UTC)
I imagine all the damps must have been pretty worrisome.

Yep, a very dangerous job.
Sep. 25th, 2014 02:24 am (UTC)
Oh, that looks very good.
Sep. 24th, 2014 06:47 pm (UTC)
In real life, this happened most dramatically in Cameroon's Lake Nyos in 1986.

I remember reading about that in middle school. Being killed by something you can neither see nor escape was and is a particular horror of mine, so you can imagine how well that went over with younger, less defense-equipped me.

I never found a way to work them into my Váli story, but the "Mist Troubles" (Móðuharðindin) following the 1783 eruption of Laki are one of the scariest consequences of volcanic activity I've ever heard of.
Sep. 25th, 2014 02:26 am (UTC)
WOW. I never knew that about the 1783 eruption. That is absolutely *terrifying*--an actual worldwide catastrophe, such as you get in catastrophe movies, only for real, and relatively recently. Yowza.
(no subject) - mnfaure - Sep. 28th, 2014 06:36 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - asakiyume - Sep. 28th, 2014 07:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 26th, 2014 10:34 am (UTC)
I'd heard of fire damp, but not of white damp. Of all of them, carbon monoxide is the scariest, because you don't get any warning.
Sep. 27th, 2014 02:05 pm (UTC)
I don't think you get any warning with the carbon dioxide, either. On one of the wikipedia pages, they were saying that people can walk into pockets of it and just drop down dead, as if shot @_@
Sep. 26th, 2014 02:21 pm (UTC)
That is really interesting and I had no notion of any of it.Thanks.
Sep. 27th, 2014 02:04 pm (UTC)
The world is just so . . . three dimensional. So much depth.
Sep. 28th, 2014 06:37 am (UTC)
Fascinating and terribly frightening. Puts those scenes in Pen Pal into a whole new perspective.
Sep. 28th, 2014 07:48 pm (UTC)
Yeah; I knew I wanted to include all the terrible powers of volcanic exhalations.
( 30 comments — Leave a comment )

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