My favorite fireworks

Pumice, Geology Temp 68

Vesuvius is the most famous volcano in the world, probably because of its eruption in AD 70 which buried several Roman settlements, including Pompeii and Herculaneum. This was recorded by Pliny the Younger after Pliny the Elder died, apparently of a heart attack rather than directly by the eruption. It is regarded as the most dangerous volcano in Europe, chiefly because of the proximity of heavily populated places on the outskirts of Naples. At a conservative estimate, something like 300,000 people live on its slopes, with a million or more not very far away in the Naples area. Although the authorities have formulated an evacuation plan, I think that such would be the confusion along the autostrada and other roads that it would take a long time to reach safety. Two weeks ago I clambered up the cindery track to the crater, and was pleasantly surprised to see at least six fumaroles (steam vents) actively emitting their gases. Six years ago, when I last scrutinised the vent for activity, it was stone dead and completely inactive. Could this be a precursor of the next eruption?

Vesuvius has erupted many times since AD79, but in the last few centuries it has erupted in 1631, 1707, 1737, 1754 and 1760 when vents opened on the lower southern slopes. In 1767 lava flows spread in several directions, and an immense lava fountain marked the climax of an eruption in 1779. More noteworthy eruptions occurred in 1794, 1822, 1839, 1850, 1855, 1858, 1861 and 1872. It erupted continuously from 1875 to 1906, continuing on a minor scale until the 1944 eruption which brought this phase to an end.

SOMMA VESUVIUS has grown at the eastern end of the Campanian volcanic province in one of the most fractured and unstable zones in Italy. The activity is due to the westward encroachment and subduction of the Apulian and Adriatic micro-plates, and the eastward movements opening up the Tyrrenian Sea basin. Recent eruptions seem to have been due to the reactivation of major regional faults, along a fault trough running from northeast to southwest.

Gordon Hensman
BCGS Chairman
Dudley, West Midlands

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