Campi Flegrei Ready To Blow Up Naples – But It’s Been Like That For Decades Already


Here’s one of those stories that does the rounds every few years, the Campi Flegrei is about to blow up and take Pozzuoli/Naples/Half of southern Italy with it. The Campi being the proper name for the whole super volcano system that includes Vesuvius and roughly enough extends from there all the way over to Baia at the other end of the bay. My own interest being that I spent a couple of years of my childhood right in the middle of it all and was back there only a few weeks ago. These stories about it being about to blow have been running all my lifetime at least.

A supervolcano in southern Italy is building huge magma reserves as it prepares to erupt at ‘some undetermined point in the future’, scientists say.

The vast Campi Flegrei volcano is made up of 24 craters and scientists have found it is accumulating the magma as part of a transition into a ‘pre-eruption’ phase.

Experts have said that an eruption is not expected in the imminent future but the volcano has shown signs of significant unrest over the last 60 years.

Unrest over the 60 years, yes, it has.

The scientists, led by volcanologist Francesca Forni from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, examined 23 eruptions from Campi Flegrei’s chequered history.

The most recent of these, an eight-day eruption in 1538, may have been powerful enough to birth a new mountain – the aptly named Monte Nuovo – but was a comparatively minor bang in Flegrei’s rap sheet.

Monte Nuovo I know, used to live on it. Walked over it a few weeks back in fact:

Located in one of the most populated regions on Earth, Camp Flegrei is an active and restless volcano that has produced two cataclysmic caldera-forming eruptions and numerous smaller eruptive events over the past 60,000 years. Here, we combine the results of an extensive petrological survey with a thermomechanical model to investigate how the magmatic system shifts from frequent, small eruptions to large caldera-forming events. Our data reveal that the most recent eruption of Monte Nuovo is characterized by highly differentiated magmas akin to those that fed the pre-caldera activity and the initial phases of the caldera-forming eruptions. We suggest that this eruption is an expression of a state shift in magma storage conditions, whereby substantial amounts of volatiles start to exsolve in the shallow reservoir. The presence of an exsolved gas phase has fundamental consequences for the physical properties of the reservoir and may indicate that a large magma body is currently accumulating underneath Campi Flegrei.

Nobody really doubts any of this, it’s the details which are discussed. Two little stories from the past.

A couple, a seniorish bod from a governmental organisation, trying to work out whether there’s danger in keeping facilities in the area. Accompanied by his wife, in a lab which studies earthquakes and volcanoes in this area.

“Oh look, darling, there’s the map, there’s our house, there’s this blue line that runs right through it. What do you think it is?”

Senior scientist, sepulchurally “That’s the fault line Madam.”

It would be pernicious to detail exactly who was involved but speculations that my mother might have been involved would not get too strong a denial.

The other, distinguished English vulcanologist invited out to check on the same problem. This scene, as with the one above, takes place in the early 1980s.

“So, yes, it’s obviously going to blow at some point but when we just don’t know. Could be thousands, tens of thousands of years.”

“Well, professor, are there any signs that it’s a bit more imminent than that, things to look out for?”

“Yes, certainly. If you get land moving up and down by feet amounts in a year, that’s a sign.”

“Yes, we get that, the Greek temple over at Pozzuoli is sometimes below sea level, sometimes above.”

“Ah, yes, well, as things progress you’ll get a smell of sulphur sometimes.”

“Oh, yes, that’s common.”

“Hmph, well, next, fumaroles. Out at sea normally, or rather very coastal. Water hot enough to burn coming up out of vents. Might even see burnt fish floating near them.”

“Oh, yes, that’s a standard party trick of the local fishermen.”

“Really? Well, it might be sooner then. There’s one last, when you see a pimple of a hill appearing, growing feet or even metres in a day, that’s when to run like buggery.”

It only being that one last which hasn’t appeared as yet.

Campi Flegrei is going to blow. The only thing we don’t know is when. And it’s not for a lack of effort in trying to work it out, either.

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