Campi Flegrei Volcano Likely To Erupt, Research Shows

Herman Weaver
December 26, 2016

Now, the 7.5-mile-wide cauldron-like depression of the volcano shows signs of stirring up again after almost 500 years of inactivity. And the whole area seethes with hydrothermal activity: Sulfuric acid spews from active fumaroles; geysers spout water and steam and the ground froths with boiling mud; and quake swarms shudder through the region, 125 miles south of Rome.

The ancient volcano last erupted in 1538 although it was only minor, lasting for eight days.

In the new study, which was published in the journal Nature Communications, study researcher Giovanni Chiodini, from Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Bologna, and colleagues have identified a threshold beyond which the rising magma below the surface may set off the release of fluids and gases at a significantly increased rate.

The caldera has been showing signs of an explosive awakening since 2012, and a new study indicates that a destructive eruption of the volcano could be coming soon.

Campi Flegrei shows signs of the recent decrease in gas pressure (top right) and increase in temperature (bottom right), both of which are common precursors to an eruption.

And in 2012, Italian authorities raised the volcano's alert level from quiet to scientific attention.

Campi Flegrei
Gulf of Pozzuoli Naples Campi Flegrei Italy

A worldwide team of geoscientists had monitored the volcano's caldera for signs of activity and recently published results in the journal Nature Communications on the increased danger of an eruption. For half a century, scientists have measured "bradyseism" events - slow movements of the ground - that are indicative of molten rock slowly filling the mountain's magma chamber. 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. If that gas begins to escape and rise in the Earth's subsurface through magma, the gas will subsequently reduce the overlying pressure of the magma below it. At the critical degassing pressure point, this process accelerates tenfold.

If the magma loses too much water, it may harden and cease its upward motion, stopping the eruption in its tracks.

Chiodini says that scientists have been seeing increasing signs of an imminent reaction, following a pattern of activity seen around similar volcanoes before their eruptions.

Chiodini points out to Kaplan that it doesn't mean Naples and its 500,000 residents are in immediate danger.

Earlier this week, a team of scientists studying the supervolcano's activity reported that Campi Flegrei is approaching "critical degassing pressure". 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 large tract of land which lay between the foot of the mountain. and the sea. was seen to rise and take the form of the newly produced mountain".

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