Scientists have raised the alarm that Campi Flegrei, a massive supervolcano situated beneath the metropolitan area of Naples on the coast of southern Italy, is showing disturbing signs of renewed activity and that it could be on the brink of erupting catastrophically.
A major eruption of Campi Flegrei could prove deadly because the supervolcano is situated under one of Italy’s most densely populated urban areas, CNBC reports experts warned. The Naples metropolitan area also ranks among the most densely populated areas in the world, with an urban core population estimated at more than 3 million.
According to scientists, a major eruption of Campi Flegrei (“burning fields”) could have more than just local or regional impact. The supervolcano, with a 12-kilometer caldera, caused one of the biggest volcanic eruptions in Europe in the last 200,000 years when a major eruption 39,000 years ago triggered a “volcanic winter.” Some experts believe that the eruption might have caused a major global extinction event, including the extinction of Neanderthals.
It is believed that other major eruptions of Campi Flegrei occurred 35,000 and 12,000 years ago. The last eruption that occurred in 1538 was comparatively minor, although it lasted eight days and spewed up enough material to create a new mountain called Monte Nuova.
The Italian volcanologist Giuseppe De Natale told Reuters in 2012 that Campi Flegrei is one of the few supervolcanoes in the world that “can give rise [ to eruptions] that can have global catastrophic effects comparable to major meteorite impacts.”
According to a team of Italian and French experts, in a study published on December 20, 2016, in the journal Nature Communications, measurements show that magma beneath the surface at Campi Flegrei is approaching a critical pressure point called the “critical degassing pressure” (CDP). This means that the rate of accumulation of vast volumes of gasses below the surface is accelerating and that sudden release of the gasses could lead to rock failure and the eruption of the supervolcano.
“Hydrothermal rocks, if heated, can ultimately lose their mechanical resistance, causing acceleration towards critical conditions.”
“We propose that magma could be approaching the CDP at Campi Flegrei, a volcano in the metropolitan area of Naples.”
Researchers first detected signs of a reawakening of the long-silent supervolcano in the 1950s, following minor seismic activity and hydrothermal degassing at the site. The activity stopped after the year 2000 but resumed in 2005, with significant acceleration of build-up of pressure below the surface. The increased activity at Campi Flegrei forced scientists to alert the authorities and warn that the ongoing uplift could trigger a major eruption.
Researchers raised the alert level from Green to Yellow in 2012, indicating that Campi Flegrei had gone from “quiet” to a level of activity requiring constant scientific monitoring, according to the Washington Post. Scientists renewed the warning recently after noticing further significant acceleration of uplift activity that caused ground deformation around the supervolcano.
According to researchers, the unpredictability of the uplift activity means that it’s hard to say when an eruption would occur.
“Volcanology is not a precise science. We have many uncertainties and long-term previsions are at the moment not possible!”
“It is not clear whether this unrest will culminate in an eruption and if it does over what timescale this will occur.”
But according to Giovanni Chiodini, the Italian expert who led the study, the volcano appears to be approaching a critical pressure point at which magma accumulating below the surface could lead to a major explosion. He warned that the high population density of the area around Campi Flegrei means that a major eruption of the supervolcano could be catastrophic regarding human lives. He emphasized that the situation was urgent and that the authorities need to focus efforts on monitoring and studying the volcano to improve predictive capability.
The Italian authorities are also concerned about the risk of the eruption of the nearby Mount Vesuvius. An eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. wiped out Pompeii and neighboring settlements. Mount Vesuvius last erupted in 1944. Experts say that the volcano goes through a 20-year eruption cycle. This means that the volcano is overdue for another major eruption.
The latest warning comes after Italy was hit by several earthquakes. A magnitude-6.6 quake, the strongest in nearly four decades, hit the country last October. Italy also experienced a magnitude 6.2 earthquake last August. About 300 people died in the quake that hit the town of Amatrice, in the province of Rieti in northern Lazio, central Italy, according to the Inquisitr.
Early in November, central Italy was hit by a magnitude-5.0 quake that damaged buildings and monuments.
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