What happens if Mount Vesuvius erupts again?

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“The Vesuvius is in front of me. Now it is blazing and smoking. What an extraordinary sight! imagine an enormous firework that does not stop for even a minute” Nicolaj V. Gogol’, 1838

Beneath the towering presence of Mount Vesuvius, a vast magma chamber extends to a depth of approximately 10 kilometers. Scientific studies have revealed that this chamber contains an astounding 400 cubic kilometers of liquid magma. This immense reservoir has the potential to fuel volcanic eruptions for thousands of years to come. Despite the looming threat, the city situated under the volcano continues to grow, seemingly unaware of the potential danger. Currently, the area is home to over 500,000 residents, spread across 18 different villages.

Italian authorities have renewed the cash offer of up to 30,000 euros (about $40,000) for any family wishing to move outside the shadow of Mount Vesuvius in the attempt to reduce the potential hazard of what has been described as the world’s most dangerous volcano. Campania, the region that includes Naples, last month set up a 30 million euro ($40 million) Vesuvius hazard risk program, confirming and improving last year’s cash offer for those wishing to relocate to safer areas.



The last time Mount Vesuvius erupted was in 1944, a violent event that claimed 26 lives. During that eruption, molten lava engulfed nearby orchards and residences, causing widespread destruction. Since then, the volcano has remained dormant, its fearsome power held in check, but certainly not forgotten.

“The government emergency plan for an eruption therefore assumes that the worst case will be an eruption of similar size and type to the 1631 VEI 4 one. In this scenario the slopes of the mountain, extending out to about 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) from the vent, may be exposed to pyroclastic flows sweeping down them, whilst much of the surrounding area could suffer from tephra falls. Because of prevailing winds, towns to the south and east of the volcano are most at risk from this, and it is assumed that tephra accumulation exceeding 100 kg/m² – at which point people are at risk from collapsing roofs – may extend out as far as Avellino to the east or Salerno to the south east. Towards Naples, to the north west, this tephra fall hazard is assumed to extend barely past the slopes of the volcano. The specific areas actually affected by the ash cloud will depend upon the particular circumstances surrounding the eruption.
The plan assumes between two weeks and 20 days’ notice of an eruption and foresees the emergency evacuation of 600,000 people, almost entirely comprising all those living in the zona rossa (“red zone”), i.e. at greatest risk from pyroclastic flows.\The evacuation, by trains, ferries, cars, and buses is planned to take about seven days, and the evacuees will mostly be sent to other parts of the country rather than to safe areas in the local Campania region, and may have to stay away for several months. However, the dilemma that would face those implementing the plan is when to start this massive evacuation, since if it is left too late then thousands could be killed, while if it is started too early then the precursors of the eruption may turn out to have been a false alarm. In 1984, 40,000 people were evacuated from the Campi Flegrei area, another volcanic complex near Naples, but no eruption occurred.
Ongoing efforts are being made by the government at various levels (especially of Regione Campania) to reduce the population living in the red zone, by demolishing illegally constructed buildings, establishing a national park around the upper flanks of the volcano to prevent the erection of further buildings and by offering financial incentives to people for moving away. One of the underlying goals is to reduce the time needed to evacuate the area, over the next 20 or 30 years, to two or three days.
The volcano is closely monitored by the Osservatorio Vesuvio in Naples with extensive networks of seismic and gravimetric stations, a combination of a GPS-based geodetic array and satellite-based synthetic aperture radar to measure ground movement, and by local surveys and chemical analyses of gases emitted from fumaroles. All of this is intended to track magma rising underneath the volcano. No magma has been detected within 10 km of the surface, and so the volcano is classified by the Observatory as at a Basic or Green Level” [Wikipedia]

List of the eruptions

Mount Vesuvius has a long and turbulent history of eruptions, tracing back to ancient times. The most infamous of these took place in 79 AD, which led to the complete destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Subsequent eruptions occurred in the years 172, 203, 222, and possibly in 303. The volcano remained active throughout the medieval period, erupting in 379, 472, 512, 536, 685, 787, around 860, around 900, 968, 991, 999, 1006, 1037, and 1049. There are also unconfirmed reports of eruptions in 1073, 1139, 1150, and potentially in 1270, 1347, and 1500.

The activity continued into more recent centuries. The volcano erupted again in 1631, experienced six eruptions in the 18th century, and erupted eight times in the 19th century, with the 1872 event being notably significant. In the 20th century, eruptions were recorded in 1906, 1929, and most recently in 1944. Since that last eruption, Vesuvius has remained dormant. Importantly, none of the eruptions following the devastating event of 79 AD have matched its scale or level of destruction.

Vesuvius erupting videos

Mount Vesuvius erupting in 1938 – “The Vesuvius is in front of me. Now it is blazing and smoking. What an extraordinary sight! imagine an enormous firework that does not stop for even a minute” Nicolaj V. Gogol’, 1838

Mount Vesuvius erupting in 1944


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