Scientists Warn Italian Supervolcano Is Closer To Erupting Than We Think
The lyrics to 'Pompeii' by Bastille do a good job of describing the scenes in the eponymous Roman town, as it was destroyed by a wave of volcanic ash in 79AD. "In your pose as the dust settled around us / And the walls kept tumbling down / In the city that we love / Grey clouds roll over the hills / Bringing darkness from above..."
But were the London electro-pop band describing the past or predicting the future? The chances are that Pompeii mk II could soon be on the cards, according to scientists.
The Phlegraean Fields supervolcano, known in its native Italy as Campi Flegrei, is potentially on the edge of an eruption.
A brand new modelling study has concluded that the prolonged period of rest for the volcano, in Southern Italy, has pushed it closer to eruption than previous research has suggested.
Two teams, one from the University College London (UCL) and another from Naples' Vesuvius Observatory, have highlighted that the 13km-wide caldera has been rumbling for nearly 70 years.
The pressure seems to go through periods of inflation and deflation, putting a lot of stress on the overlying crust, which keeps the magma trapped underground.
It was initially thought that in times of deflation the pressure on the crust was relieved, and the stretching ceased, but the research suggests otherwise. Scientists now say that it's not true, and it just accumulates over time, without really decreasing.
Christopher Kilburn, director of the UCL hazard centre, said: "By studying how the ground is cracking and moving at Campi Flegrei, we think it may be approaching a critical stage where further unrest will increase the possibility of an eruption.
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"It's imperative that the authorities are prepared for this," he added.
Although the scientists can't put a date on when it may explode, they fear that it is closer than initially thought and the volcano is not lying dormant.
Two recent papers also support this: one says that the earth has rise 38cm since 2005 around the area. The second says that a critical threshold has been reached and the volcano is just priming itself for an eruption.
Gas explosions, fluid movements, and magma production are all reasons why the ground may have risen. And there's no need for panic just yet. Between 1982 and 1984 the same thing happened - arguably worse, in fact (the ground rose by 1.8m), but without disastrous consequences.
Kilburn added it was the "first sign of uplift at the caldera for four centuries." When that last happened, in 1538, Campi Flegrei erupted.
"Please note, though," he said, "that an eruption is not guaranteed - it's just more likely than during previous episodes of uplift.
"At present, there are resident who have been through two emergencies without eruption, so it is natural for them to be sceptical.
"However, the lack of eruption until now is no reason to believe this will always be the case."
At least one million live within the crater of the supervolcano, and six million within the blast zone.
Similar scares were also seen in Tenerife last year, when 100 mini-earthquakes were recorded in just four hours.
Despite the rise in huge seismic activity, there was no eruption and the island remained safe.
Scares of a volcano eruption are always present on various tectonic plate fault lines. When they do, like this one in Japan, there is also something quite mesmerising about them.
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