Some areas of the world just can’t catch a break.
While scientists are by no means certain of the eventual outcome, a recent study has noted that the area around Campi Flegrei (“burning fields”), a supervolcano in Italy, is showing signs of increased pressure, which could mean an eruption.
And by “eruption,” we’re talking a catastrophic event that could put the destruction of Pompeii to shame.
Unfortunately, volcanic science is hardly…well, a definitive science when it comes to predicting eruptions.
Lead study author Giovanni Chiodini explained that his team’s experiments and observations have shown Campi Flegrei to be reaching its “critical degassing pressure”—the point at which volatile gases will be released, likely leading to an eruption.
If the underground magma loses too much water, it will harden and stop the eruption. But if the increased steam destabilizes the rock and accelerates the deformation process, the supervolcano could blow.
“We have many uncertainties, and long-term previsions are at the moment not possible,” Chiodini wrote in an email.
Campi Flegrei has had only two major eruptions in the past 40,000 years, the most recent of which was in 1538. On the other hand, there are currently 500,000 people living in and around the area, so an eruption at this point would be catastrophic, to say the least.
The supervolcano, 8 miles wide and located beneath the Bay of Naples, was upgraded in 2012 from alert level green (quiet) to yellow (scientific attention). That means French and Italian geoscientists, including Chiodini’s team at the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Bologna, have been keeping a close eye on the situation, in particular how the ground in the area has risen in recent years.
Between 1982 and 1984, the ground in the area moved upward 5.9 feet at a rate 24 times as fast as the current rate of ascension. At the time there was no eruption, but the reasons behind the accelerated rate of movement are still being debated.
While scientists aren’t advocating mass evacuation just yet, they are definitely watching for danger signs.