Lake Kivu, African Great Lakes, Congo, Rwanda

Lake Locations:

African Great Lakes - Congo (DRC) - Rwanda -

Also known as:  Lac Kivu

Lake Kivu is one of the youngest of the African Great Lakes. Located in the Rift Valley, Lake Kivu is thought to be only 15,000 years old. Forming part of the border between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the lake formed during the Pleistocene Era when volcanic events in the Virunga Mountains blocked these southern areas from the River Nile Basin to the north. Some of the volcanoes are still active as evidenced by two volcanoes on the northern shore: Nyiragongo erupted in January 1977 and again in January 2002. Nyamulagira erupts every few years.

The lake is exceptionally deep as it lies within the rift itself which is continually widening. The huge 550,000-acre lake’s primary outlet is the Ruzizi River which empties into Lake Tanganyika to the south. Two million people live along the lake’s shore and often depend on the lake for their livelihood as a food and water source. As the two developing countries struggle to modernize, Lake Kivu can represent both a blessing and a curse. Lake Kivu’s deep waters conceal copious amounts of carbon dioxide and methane. The methane can offer a huge amount of fuel for power generation if it can be safely tapped. But both gases can also kill-and have in the past. Maintaining the careful balance while relieving the volume of gases and capturing the methane has been the subject of years of ongoing study.

Several of the larger cities along the shoreline are considered resort destinations. Goma and Bukavu, DRC and Kibuye and Cyangugu, Rwanda all hold resort hotels and guest quarters. Some are very luxurious, with pristine white sand beaches, swimming pools and luxury rooms or cottages. Others are more basic and are often found at a more affordable price. The lake is breathtakingly picturesque, with steep, forested and terraced hillsides descending to the water’s edge. Although not prohibited, swimming in the lake itself is usually not recommended due to the incidence of water-born tropical diseases and cholera in some areas. From these hotels, visitors can arrange for tour guides to lead them to such popular destinations as Parc National des Volcans to the north for mountain gorilla tracking or Nyungwe Forest National Park to view chimpanzees. Unfortunately, another popular nearby mountain gorilla range, Virunga National Park, is currently closed due to active fighting in the area. Sadly the Democratic Republic of the Congo has experienced a series of armed conflicts which threaten these endangered creatures. The services of a reputable guide service is necessary to assure tourists’ safety when desiring to visit these areas.

As surface travel is rather primitive due to poor roads, most visitors arrive by air via one of several airports near the larger cities. Once at Lake Kivu, travel is usually by boat between lakefront cities. Some boating lines operate large cruise-type ships on a regular schedule between larger cities and some of the islands. Arrangements may also be made to travel via smaller speedboats, which are best for accessing the smaller villages. Evening cruises are especially spectacular as passengers can often see the red glow of lava flowing from the summit of one of the volcanoes.

Sport fishing isn’t a particularly popular sport at Lake Kivu, mainly because the few species of fish that are most common in the lake are not considered popular angler’s prey. Local fishermen on the lake primarily net tilapia, indugu and isambaza, a sardine-like fish introduced into the lake from Lake Tanganyika in the 1960s to increase the available food supply. Overfishing has recently depleted some species, and the lake is currently closed to fishing until numbers recover. The native fishing craft are unique, consisting of three dug-out canoe-type craft connected by timbers with nets strung between them. There appears to be no sport boating on the lake to speak of yet but likely will develop as facilities around the lakeshore improve. With a shoreline of over 250 miles, Lake Kivu offers much space for improvement and modernization once electrical power and clean drinking water are available to the populace.

The gases trapped beneath the surface of Lake Kivu can cause the same kinds of disastrous outcomes as the explosive escape of carbon dioxide at lakes in Cameroon in recent years. The deep lakes all have water that remains stratified; bottom layers of water never mix with higher layers. The gases eventually reach saturation limits within the water. It is somewhat unclear what eventually causes a limnic explosion of the gases, but both volcanic and seismic activity are thought to contribute. In other cases, it appears temperature changes may lead to the highly-carbonated water rising rapidly upward with such force it can actually create a small tsunami. Both Lake Nyos and Lake Monoun in Cameroon have experienced limnic eruptions in which carbon dioxide was released in large quantities from the depths of the lakes and suffocated people and animals on-shore in low-lying areas. Both lakes contain carbon dioxide-saturated waters at the deepest levels due to underwater volcanic activity.

At Lake Kivu, there are occasional deaths of persons who are caught in pockets of carbon dioxide near the lake, and some native swimmers have complained of becoming light-headed and disoriented while swimming, possibly due to carbon dioxide escaping. However, microbial reduction of volcanic CO2 in Lake Kivu has also produced a huge quantity of methane trapped within the depths of the lake. Luckily, there has been no major limnic eruption of these gases at Lake Kivu, although small releases of carbon dioxide have occurred in response to earthquake activity. Until major studies were undertaken after the eruption of Lake Nyos, the danger hidden in the depths of Lake Kivu wasn’t fully realized.

A plan is being devised in conjunction with the Rwandan government to ‘mine’ the methane in Lake Kivu as fuel to generate electricity. The amount of trapped methane is estimated to be enough to power Rwanda’s electricity needs for several generations. Small amounts of methane are being drawn off already to fire steam boilers for local industrial power; a much larger plan in the works will remove major amounts of the methane for use while pumping the carbon dioxide back into the water. Scientists aren’t quite sure yet what is the best solution for dealing with the carbon dioxide; the total amount dissolved in the water is thought to equal about 2% of the earth’s existing atmospheric carbon dioxide. Removing it also increases the water’s salinity. Leaving it there is dangerous in the long run due to possible explosive activity. Studies are still ongoing to determine the best ways to reduce both the methane and the carbon dioxide levels for safety without damaging the environment.

Certainly, cheap electrical power can do wonders for both tourism and industrial development in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, enriching the lives of their citizens. Increased prosperity would likely also tend to calm tribal tensions and armed uprisings. When that occurs, Lake Kivu will no doubt become one of the hottest resort destinations in the Rift Valley. This majestic lake is worth a visit, as are the nearby reserves for the mountain gorillas and other native animals.

*Statistics are assumed to be approximate as published figures for the lake vary.

Things to do at Lake Kivu

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Swimming Pool
  • Beach
  • Canoeing
  • National Park

Fish species found at Lake Kivu

  • Tilapia

Lake Kivu Photo Gallery

Lake Kivu Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 548,574 acres

Shoreline Length: 250 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 4,799 feet

Average Depth: 787 feet

Maximum Depth: 1,591 feet

Water Volume: 445,892,257 acre-feet

Drainage Area: 2,700 sq. miles

Trophic State: Oligotrophic

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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