After 70 Years of Hibernation, Scientists Predict that Stratovolcano Mount Vesuvius Could Erupt at Any Time

Stratovolcano Mount Vesuvius has lain dormant since its last eruption in 1944. However, geologists have been constantly observing the volcano and have noticed the increase in activity within its crater, leading them to believe that it could erupt at any time.

Volcanologists have also been monitoring the seismic waves below the surface of the volcano, which suggest that there is magma 8 to 10 kilometers deep. Although this magma buildup may not potentially cause an explosion, scientists reason that because this volcano is still active, it will erupt again.

Eruption Could Destroy the city of Naples With Immense Ash Fall and Tephra

Currently, Vesuvius oversees the city of Naples which is home to almost 3 million people. This makes Vesuvius not only the most monitored volcano in the world, but also the most dangerous. The growing population of this city in addition to volcanologists' knowledge of the destruction of Pompeii many years ago are major reasons why they believe this densely populated city is in grave danger.

Vesuvius is mostly notorious for its immense eruption in 79 AD, when it buried the ancient roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum in piles of ash, gas and pumice, resulting in a total of 25,000 casualties. During this time, the prosperous roman cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii were settled at the base of the volcano, where the city of Naples currently resides.

This disaster left these neighboring civilizations completely submerged for more than 1,000 years until excavation helped to uncover what happened in this region. Today, the only remnants of these once thriving communities is old buildings, skeletons and shapes of human bodies covered in ash.According to an experiment conducted by volcanologist Guiseppe Mastrolorenzo, who works in the Naples Observatory, Vesuvius produced pyroclastic flows, avalanches of hot ash and debris, which traveled at about 400 mph and covered the whole area of present-day Naples, in addition to burning the ancient citizens. This could mean that the entire city of Naples could be wiped out if an eruption were to occur today.

Civil Authorities Devise an Evacuation Plan to Prepare for Disaster

After recognizing the potential risks that Vesuvius poses, the Italian government has concocted an evacuation plan in order to mitigate the potential effects of the eruption as much as possible. It can be quite difficult for even the most experienced volcanologists to accurately predict when an eruption can occur or even how severe it may be. This is the very reason why this plan was conducted based on an assessment of what could occur in the worst possible scenario; namely, an eruption similar to the one that happened in 79 AD.

In this plan, the area around the volcano is divided into three regions: red, yellow, and blue, with each region having its own specific hazard and warning time associated with it. The red zone is the zone closest to the volcano, which is about 200 kilometers around the crater in addition to the eastern district of Naples and is inhabited by around 600,000 people. This region is mostly at risk of getting destroyed by immense pyroclastic flows.The yellow region covers a much larger region composed of not only Naples, but also Salerno, Avellino and Benevento. This area inhabits around 2.5 million people and is mostly at risk of ash fall, tephra fall and toxic gases. The blue region encompasses a small portion of the yellow region and is at risk of mud flows and floods that may be a result of the explosion.

As far as warning time is concerned, the zones are evacuated in the order of how severe the hazard of the region is. Therefore the red zone would be evacuated first, as they are the closest to the volcano. The evacuation would begin within 72 hours of an expected eruption, after recognizing signs such as rumbling and seismic activity. Contrastingly, the yellow region would not be advised to evacuate until the actual eruption begins, in order to see whether or not this section would be severely affected by ash fall or other hazards.