Campi Flegrei, a supervolcano just west of Naples, Italy, has been quiet for almost five centuries. However, some scientists are speculating that the ancient caldera is reawakening and possibly gearing up for another eruption.
Earlier this week, a team of scientists studying the supervolcano’s activity reported that Campi Flegrei is approaching “critical degassing pressure.” According to the report, this pivotal point is soon followed by the release of super-hot gas that heats the surrounding rock and fluids, potentially triggering a collapse and eruption of the supervolcano.
Since the 1950s, measurements taken in the region indicate the ground around Campi Flegrei has been rising over the past half century and the pace has been accelerating in recent years. Volcanologists think explosive gases and liquid rock moving upwards and pushing on the surface are likely causing this “uplift.” This pattern of seismic activity has been associated with similar volcano eruptions in other parts of the world.
Meaning “burning fields” in Italian, Campi Flegrei is a giant collapsed volcanic crater that formed nearly 39,000 years ago. This ancient supervolcano stretches almost eight miles wide and is made up of 24 smaller volcanic craters, many of which are beneath the Mediterranean Sea.
Italy’s supervolcano has had three known eruptions. The first was 35,000 years ago and is believed to be one of the most destructive volcanic events to have ever occurred. The decline and eventual extinction of European Neanderthals may have been quickened because of this explosion. Campi Flegrei erupted again roughly 12,000 years ago.
In 1538, Campi Flegrei erupted for a third time. This more recent volcanic event lasted for eight days without interruption and emitted enough material to form a new mountain, now known as Monte Nuovo.
Fearing a supervolcano eruption, Italy’s government has raised the alert level from green to yellow. Green level means all is quiet, while yellow calls for “scientific monitoring.”
The Campi Flegrei caldera is so huge, an eruption would certainly alter weather patterns worldwide. The toxic gases and ash discharged from a supervolcano of such magnitude would remain in the atmosphere for years.
“If it does erupt, it certainly could be a very serious matter,” said volcanologists Oded Navon, as cited by Tech Times.
“It isn’t a volcano, it’s a supervolcano.”
Another supervolcano located in the northwest United States have scientists on edge should an eruption take place. Volcanologists predict an eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano located in the states of Wyoming and Montana would be thousands of times more devastating than the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980, emitting enough ash into the atmosphere to block out the sun and send the Earth’s climate into a tailspin of extreme cold.
An eruption of the supervolcano in Italy could have similar consequences. However, the nearly 500,000 residents living nearby do not need to run for cover just yet. Geoscientists admit the science of predicting a supervolcano eruption is not perfect and cannot say with certainty when the caldera will explode. While the signs of certain seismic activities like earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are easy to detect and measure, identifying when an explosion will occur is essentially impossible.
“In general, unfortunately, volcanology is not a precise science,” wrote volcanologist Giovanni Chiodini in an email, according to a Washington Post report.
“We have many uncertainties and long-term provisions are at the moment not possible! For example, the process that we describe could evolve in both directions: toward pre-eruptive conditions or to the finish of the volcanic unrest.”
The team of scientists, led by Chiodini, published their supervolcano study findings in the journal Nature Communications earlier this week. The Italian National Institute of Geophysics is currently monitoring the region and taking real-time measurements in anticipation of an eruption of Campi Flegrei.
[Featured Image by Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images]