10 of The Most Dangerous Bodies of Water in the World

Earth isn't full of sunshine and rainbows. There are some beautiful places that are pretty dangerous, if not deadly...
Jaime Trosper
Don't be fooled by the beautiful scenery.narvikk/iStock

If you're a waterbug, you might spend a lot of time out on the water during the summer months. However, some appealing and cool places can be a bit... deadly, so you might want to think twice before dropping in the jet skis. Here's a look at a few of the most deadly and dangerous lakes/rivers/streams in the world: 

Frying Pan Lake, New Zealand

I mean, with a name like that, who in their right mind would think, "man, this seems like a good place to go for a relaxing swim?" Located in New Zealand’s Waimangu Volcanic Rift Valley, as you might have guessed, this lake gets pretty hot.

Frying Pan Lake in Waimangu Volcanic Valley
Frying Pan Lake in Waimangu Volcanic Valley Source: Pseudopanax/Wikimedia

So hot in fact, it remains heated to temperatures around 113 to 131 degrees Fahrenheit (45 to 55 degrees C), so it's not exactly the most welcoming hot springs in the world. However, Frying Pan Lake is the largest, and is located in a portion of a volcanic crater known as Echo Crater. The lake itself covers more than 400,000 square feet (38,000 square meters). The lake itself is ordinarily just 18 feet (5.5 meters) deep but can go down as far as 60 feet (18 meters) at vents.

Even if it weren't so hot. you probably still wouldn't want to dive in: The Lake emits hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide. The eruption that created the crater—known as the Mount Tarawera eruption—killed over 100 people in 1886, so it has a pretty grim history as far as humans are concerned. Plus, it's literally called "Frying Pan Lake," so there's that... 

Jacob's Well, Texas

This may be one of the most unassuming inclusions. Jacob's Well is a beautiful and alluring swimming hole located northwest of Wimberley, Texas (about a 45-minute drive from Austin). Just by looking at it, you'd never know it has claimed the lives of at least 8 or 9 people over the past couple of years. 

Jacob's Well
Jacob's Well Source: Larry D. Moore/Wikimedia

If you just want to swim and have the skills to stay afloat, you're probably fine. The real danger of Jacob's Well lies in its attraction to divers. The main cavern is approximately 4,341 feet (1,323 meters) deep, which means it would require a substantial amount of oxygen supply if you wanted to make it to the bottom.

It's not quite so simple either, as the watering hole is filled with silted chambers and passageways. Many divers have died trying to explore it, and others have died merely trying to bring their remains back to the surface. 

Rio Tinto River, Spain

When you see a river tinged red, like blood, the last thing you'd probably want to do is swim in it. In the case of the Río Tinto River in Spain, you'd probably be right. While beautiful in its own unique way, this locale is heavily polluted by all sorts of iron and other heavy elements, making it one of the last places you'd want to take a drink from. If that wasn't bad enough, the water is highly acidic, therefore swimmers and those looking for water recreation should definitely go elsewhere.

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Rio Tinto River in Spain in 2006
The Rio Tinto River in Spain, Circa 2006 Source: Riotinto2006/Wikimedia

As you might have guessed, human activity is the reason the river is so polluted. Over 5,000 years of mining have contributed to the state of the river. However, strange forms of life thrive in the most inhospitable places. In the case of Rio Tinto, the river contains chemolithotrophic organisms, for example, iron-oxidizing bacteria and sulfur-oxidizing bacteria (chemolithotrophs derive energy via oxidizing inorganic compounds), which also are responsible for the river's color and general demeanor 

Lake Karachay, Russia

10 of The Most Dangerous Bodies of Water in the World
Source: Александр Корчик/Wikimedia

Speaking of pollution, Lake Karachay in Russia is thought to be one of the most polluted places on Earth. Located south of the Ural Mountains in eastern Russia, this body of water, which was only roughly a mile in size (1.6 km), was badly polluted by nuclear waste from the Chernobyl disaster and the recklessness of a nearby nuclear waste facility, which regularly dumped contaminated waste here. The soil is still highly radioactive from a depth of 11 feet (3.4 meters).

In the '90s, radiation levels were so high, the lake could deliver a lethal dose of radiation to humans in just one hour. The lake was backfilled in 2016—a process that actually began long before, due to the Kyshtym disaster in 1957. It is noted as the third-worst nuclear disaster in history after Chernobyl and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disasters.

Now, it's just a bad memory for the millions of people affected by its existence; Some people are still experiencing its effects now though. The region saw a 21% increase in cancer cases, more than a 25% increase in birth defects, and approximately a 41% increase in leukemia cases. The effect it has had on the surrounding towns can not be easily estimated. 

Onondaga Lake

This lake is proof that people sometimes fail to respect nature even if it puts an urban settlement in peril. Onondaga Lake is located in New York, northwest of Syracuse. It was once sacred to the Onondaga Native Americans of the area, before it was seized and settled by European-Americans in the late 19th century, The lake became somewhat of an attraction—with beaches, hotels, and recreation—but that didn't last long. 

Onondaga Lake
Onodonga Lake Shore Source: Hotshotfox/Wikimedia

Sadly, as the area industrialized, the lake became a huge repository for pollution, when untreated waste was dumped in the lake for many years. Unsafe levels of pollution led to the banning of ice harvesting by 1901. Authorities banned swimming in the lake in 1940—by 1970, even fishing was banned. It remains polluted, however, cleanup efforts are underway, and as of 1986, fishing is allowed. It's alleged that the lake is the cleanest it has been in over a hundred years, but it would take an estimated $2.16 billion dollars to restore it to its former glory. For now, it's still not a great place to take the boat out or go for a swim.

The Blue Lagoon, Derbyshire (UK)

This may be one of the most beautiful "lakes" in this list—at least it used to be. The lake once had a beautiful bright blue tint to it—making it seem alluring to swimmers. Despite many warnings and posted signs, people still swam in the lake, which came into existence after a massive flood, for decades. In 2013 and 2020, the water was artificially dyed black, which was meant to ward people off from swimming in it.

Blue Lagoon in the UK
The Blue Lagoon before it was dyed Source: Simon Harrod/Flickr

This 'lake' was beautiful, but toxic. Caustic chemicals gave it its blue hue. Meanwhile, the water had a pH level of 11.3, When you compare this to household bleach's pH level of 13, going anywhere near the water in this lagoon seems like a horrible idea. Exposure to the chemicals can cause skin irritation, stomach issues, and other problems. 

Posted signs also warn people that the water contains dead animals, cars, and other types of trash.

Lake Kivu, West Rwanda

Talk about terrifying, this lake—located west of Rwanda, Africa—is so volatile, it could literally explode at any moment. If and when it does, it won't just expel water, but tons of carbon dioxide and methane, which are pumped into the lake by underground volcanic springs and expelled by bacteria replicating deep beneath the surface. When she blows, she will wreak havoc on everything in her path.

Lake Kivu
Lake Kivu in West Rwanda Source: narvikk/iStock

Despite its unpredictability, it remains one of the most beautiful places on this list. It's also a hub for locals, and there is a lot of tourism in the area. Scientists are even working on a way to extract the lake's tremendous reservoirs of methane for use as a source of energy. 

Lake Nyos and Monoun 

Similar to Lake Kive, Lake Nyos and Monoun are explosive. However, they didn't merely present a threat, they actually did explode in the 1980s, causing the deaths of a number of people—8 people perished in Monoun, and there were another 1,700 other casualties around Nyos, where it was beyond tragic. Only 6 people survived in the small village of Nyos.

Scientists who studied the lakes after the explosion concluded that a landslide likely triggered a "carbon dioxide burst." Both of the lakes lie along underground volcanic vents, which produce CO2 and other gases. There must be a delicate balance maintained beneath the water, and disrupting it can be deadly. 

Lake Nyos after the deadly eruption
Lake Nyos merely 8 days after the explosion Source: United States Geological Survey/Wikimedia

When disturbed, the gases that normally sit on the bottom of the lake can bubble up to the surface, producing a fog-like cloud that expands and kills everyone in its path. A scientist explains, "Because CO2 is denser than air, it hugged the ground in low-lying clouds and killed the villagers while they slept, like a malevolent blanket." Thankfully, they lost consciousness pretty quickly, and most passed away quickly and quietly. 

The University of Michigan notes, "This process is identical to the removal of the cap from a bottle of soda—when the cap is removed there is no more pressure to keep the gas dissolved in the soda, and bubbles are formed. Once bubbles form in the lake, they rise rapidly and drag the deep water toward the surface, at which point additional deep water is drawn upward and depressurized. This leads to a chain reaction that eventually results in the violent release of enormous amounts of lethal CO2 gas. Because the gas content of these lakes is currently very high, catastrophes similar to those in 1984 and 1986 could occur at any time."

Great Blue Hole, Belize

Like Jacob's Well, Belize's Great Blue Hole looks extremely alluring to divers. The water is a beautiful deep blue color, and it's located fairly close—about 62 miles (100 km)—from the mainland. It has been deemed the second largest underwater sinkhole in the world. 

Extending about 984 ft (300 meters) across, and 354 feet (108 meters) deep, its barrier reef is second in size only to Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Beneath the surface lies a complex series of tunnels, which are home to various forms of coral and other wildlife. Scientists believe the hole was formed roughly 153,000 years ago—during the ice age. 

Great Blue Hole from Above
Great Blue Hole in Belize Source: U.S. Geological Survey/Wikimedia)

The caves make diving through the Great Blue Hole dangerous. However, what's worse is that scientists discovered that as they descended into the hole, signs of life became scarce. There's actually a thick layer of hydrogen sulfide spanning the entire width of the sinkhole. Underneath that there's no oxygen, and no life. 

As you can see, Earth is a wondrous place, but dangers lurk in the most innocuous-looking places. Be careful out there.

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