Friday, August 3, 2012

New Concerns About Campi Flegrei in Italy

There are less than 20 so-called "supervolcanoes" on Earth, and of those some are well known, and some are not. From Yellowstone to Taupo, Toba to Uturuncu, and more, we know that these volcanoes erupt with extreme volatility, yet very rarely... with the exception of some. The most recent magmatic eruptions from any known supervolcanic caldera has occurred in the Aira caldera in Japan, where the resurgent Sakura-Jima stratovolcano has been erupting in the center of the caldera for many decades. The most recent actual supervolcanic eruption (VEI 8) occurred over 75,000 years ago at Lake Toba volcano in Indonesia, which, according to widespread genetic analysis, may have reduced the modern human population to under 5,000 individuals worldwide (although the maximum population at that period has never actually been quantified).

Indeed, supervolcanoes are a terrifying thought, however these events are so rare, and nearly unpredictable (according to current science) that one should not even sweat one drop worrying that this may occur...

But this is not the case in Italy, as the Campi Flegrei volcano is again in the media spotlight (as occasionally Yellowstone or Uturuncu is when news outlets want some ratings).

As I have reported previously on this blog, Campi Flegrei is the site of a study that seeks to better  understand the dynamics and goings-on in the magma chamber beneath Pozzouli, Italy. The area boasts a population of over 3 million people, and any eruption from the restive caldera would be of grave concern to the government, and to the population. As recently as 2010, industrial drilling has taken place at the volcano, however once scientists proposed a drilling operation that would reach the magma chamber, unfounded concerns by non-experts forced the operation to be on hold until recently.

Now, a team of geologists will drill some 3.5+ km into the magma chamber in an effort to monitor and detail the dynamics of one of the world's most active super volcanoes. The last eruption from the Campi Flegrei field produced the Monte Nuovo cinder cone in 1538, which was documented thoroughly by local witnesses of the time. Earlier volcanism produced several solfatara fields, and modern-day activity has consisted mostly of fumerolic/phreatic activity, and gradual uplift of the caldera area, which in the 1980's prompted evacuations of some areas due to the rate at which the land was rising.

Current uplift has left some modern and ancient nautical ports/docks inaccessible due to he gradual and constant uplift of the land. In one port, the land has risen so much that the cement boat launch platform that used to serve the area pre-1970 is now so elevated that you might consider using it as a diving platform rather than a place to launch your boat.

Campi Flegrei is monitored by the Vesuvius volcano observatory in Italy (Vesuvius, another powerful and notorious volcano is located a mere 15km East of the Campi Flegrei Caldera), and lately, no warnings have been issued in regards to seismic swarms, magma intrusion, or increased fumerolic or solfataric activity in recent memory.

There is not enough data that currently exists at this time to say what the next phase for this sleeping giant would be, but most sources that know what they're talking about would tell you this: A super volcanic eruption is a rare event, which requires rare circumstances. The conditions at Campi Flegrei, and every other super volcano in the world suggest that while we are now aware of the existence of such volcanoes, we should sleep well at night knowing that none of them are currently capable of producing the conditions for such a natural disaster. Not even Yellowstone.

2 comments:

  1. The most recent VEI 8 eruption is now believed to be the "Oruanui" eruption of Taupo, NZ, some 26,500 years before present. It also had a VEI 7 in around 180 AD. If you're looking for a large caldera system that erupts frequently and is capable of producing a devastating VEI 6 or larger eruption, NZ is the place to go ...

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hatepe_eruption
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oruanui_eruption

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  2. If you're going to include the Aira Caldera as a supervolcano, it's actually had the most recent large scale eruption (approximately 22,000 years ago), although it wasn't quite VEI 8 (although neither was Campi Flegrei's largest eruption).

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