Is an Italian supervolcano awakening from its slumber?
Thursday, May 18, 2017, 2:32 PM - A supervolcano in Naples, Italy, is causing concern amongst scientists, after showing recurring signs of reawakening.
Campi Flegrei, which means ‘burning fields’ in Italian, has been showing renewed activity since 2005, with recent findings by researchers at the National Institute for Geophysics and Volcanology in Rome suggesting the magma chamber has reached ‘Critical Degassing Pressure' (CDP). The findings were published in Nature Communications.
When a volcano reaches CDP, it means that the magma chamber's pressure is reaching a level of unrest. This increased pressure can cause deformation and failure in the chamber rock, triggering a volcanic eruption.
As a supervolcano, an eruption from Campi Flegrei could be more catastrophic.
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“Eruptions from supervolcanoes can put enough ash into the air to blot out the sun for weeks at a time, altering weather patterns and causing significant cooling of the Earth,” says Weather Network meteorologist Scott Sutherland.
“A super-eruption of Campi Flegrei would not likely have any direct, destructive impact on Canada, however we would still be affected by the ash such an eruption would throw into the atmosphere.”
The volcanic ash, being made up of microscopic rock particles, will be thick and heavy, potentially killing crops and other plant life across Canada and the world, while the alternate weather patterns will make it difficult for any new vegetation to grow in its place. This, however, would be determined based on what level of the Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI) the eruption would reach.
The VEI is a measurement of how much magma and ash is produced from a volcanic eruption. The 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens was measured at VEI 5, which means it produced just over 1 km3 of ash and magma. A supervolcano, such as Campi Flegrei, can reach VEI 7 (100 km3) or a VEI 8 (1000+ km3). This means that Campi Flegrei has the potential to produce an eruption 100 to 1,000 times greater than Mount St. Helens.
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This is all worst case scenario, though regardless, an eruption from the supervolcano would have an impact on the 10 million residents of Naples. The good news is, Campi Flegrei's eruptions have been small compared to its supervolcano siblings.
Its super-eruption from 40,000 years ago had minimal effect on humans, despite reaching VEI 7, and though it has been believed to be a contributing cause in the extinction of the Neanderthals, this has recently been proven incorrect. It’s most recent eruption, in 1538, lasted eight days, killing 24 people and creating Monte Nuovo.
Campi Flegrei is a cause for concern, with its activity being closely monitored. Like any volcano, however, it cannot be predicted exactly when Campi Flegrei will go from ‘restless’ to ‘erupting,’ and no one can tell whether its next eruption will be like its small eruption in 1538 or something more catastrophic.
“The best that can be said with Campi Flegrei is that there will likely be an eruption from there sometime in the future, but that could be a year from now, ten years, a hundred years or even longer,” said Sutherland.
“Right now, it is still very difficult to predict volcanic eruptions. It requires very close observations of the volcano’s activity, and a good knowledge of the volcano’s history.”