December 22, 2016
Supervolcano Campi Flegrei Beneath Naples Is Reawakening: Eruption Could Cause Global Catastrophe, Experts Warn

Experts have warned that the Campi Flegrei supervolcano beneath Naples on the coast of southern Italy is showing signs of reawakening after nearly 500 years of inactivity. The 12-kilometer-wide caldera that caused one of the biggest eruptions in Europe in the last 200,000 years is showing disturbing signs of "reawakening." The volcano could be close to a critical pressure point that triggers a massive eruption, causing widespread and possibly global catastrophe.

Giving a warning of the grave danger when experts first noticed signs of activity at the caldera in 2012, Giuseppe De Natale, a scientist at Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, said the supervolcano "can give rise to the only eruptions that can have global catastrophic effects comparable to major meteorite impacts," according to the Washington Post.

Giovanni Chiodini, a volcanologist at the Italian National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, who led the team of Italian and French experts that investigated the supervolcano and published their findings in the journal Nature Communications on December 20, 2016, said they were unable to say exactly when the volcano would erupt.

"In general, unfortunately, volcanology is not a precise science," Chiodini told the Washington Post. "We have many uncertainties and long-term previsions are at the moment not possible!"

However, the team said that the supervolcano appeared to be nearing a threshold or critical pressure point at which rising magma below the surface could trigger a massive eruption, according to Agence France-Presse.

"Hydrothermal rocks, if heated, can ultimately lose their mechanical resistance, causing acceleration towards critical conditions."
Campi Flegrei
Gulf of Pozzuoli, Naples, Campi Flegrei, Italy [Image by Lauradibi/Shutterstock]

Campi Flegrei ("burning fields") is bigger than neighboring Mt. Vesuvius, which erupted catastrophically in 79 A.D., wiping out entire Roman communities in Pompeii and environs.

Experts first drew attention to the build-up of pressure below the surface at Campi Flegrei in 2005 and warned that the ongoing uplift caused by volatile gasses rising to the surface at an increasing rate could trigger an eruption.

Volcanologists have been monitoring the supervolcano closely since 2012 when the authorities raised the alert level for the volcano from Green ("quiet") to Yellow ("requiring scientific monitoring"). But recently, scientists noted an uptick in the rate of ground deformation and seismic activity around the volcano.

The danger signals forced the researchers to warn that Campi Flegrei, which last erupted in 1538, poses a grave danger to more than 500,000 people living in the densely populated area in and around the volcano. Part of the city of Naples is situated directly on top of the supervolcano, inside the bowl-like depression of its caldera.

Mt. Vesuvius
Eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in A.D. 79 buried several communities in Pompeii and environs [Image by BlackMac/Shutterstock]

Chiodini added that the dense, urban population of the area makes the developing situation very dangerous. He emphasized the urgency of active monitoring and study of the volcano to obtain a better understanding of its behavior and a more accurate assessment of the risk of an eruption.

The experts noted that two other active volcanoes, Rabaul and Sierra Negra in Papua Guinea and Galapagos, respectively, showed similar uplift signs of increasing pressure characterized by the acceleration in ground deformation before they erupted.

The last eruption of the volcano in 1538, although minor in comparison with the massive eruption that occurred 39,000 years ago, continued for eight days, spewing copious amounts of volcanic material that built up into a new mountain, christened Monte Nuova.

The massive eruption that occurred 39,000 years ago at the formation of the Campi Flegrei caldera, threw hundreds of cubic kilometers of volcanic material into the air. It was the largest eruption in Europe in the past 200,000 years. Some researchers believe that the massive eruption 39,000 years ago may have triggered a "volcanic winter" that led to the extinction of the Neanderthals.

The volcano also had major eruptions 35,000 and 12,000 years ago.

Most of the total of 24 craters composing the Campi Flegrei supervolcano are hidden beneath the Mediterranean sea, according to Science Alert.

[Featured Image by Peter Schwarz/Shutterstock]