Italian Supervolcano at ‘Critical Stage’: Eruption Threatens 360,000 Lives

Supervolcano Campi Flegrei is at a critical stage and scientists have warned that European authorities need to be ready – as experts fear the lives of more than 360,000 people across Europe could be at risk.

Campi Flegrei, located around 11 miles (18 kilometres) southwest of Naples, Italy, has not erupted since 1538, but volcano experts believe it could be building up to another devastating eruption.

Scientists from the University College London (UCL) and the Vesuvius Observatory in Naples have been studying the patterns of unrest since Campi Flegrei’s last eruption more than 500 years ago.

They concluded that the volcano may be “closer to an eruption than previously thought” and was instead “approaching a critical stage”.

Dr Christopher Kilburn, director of the UCL Hazard Centre, said: “By studying how the ground is cracking and moving at Campi Flegrei, we think it may be approaching a critical stage where further unrest will increase the possibility of an eruption, and it’s imperative that the authorities are prepared for this.

“We don’t know when or if this long-term unrest will lead to an eruption, but Campi Flegrei is following a trend we’ve seen when testing our model on other volcanoes, including Rabaul in Papua New Guinea, El Hierro in the Canary Islands, and Soufriere Hills on Montserrat in the Caribbean.”

He added: “We are getting closer to forecasting eruptions at volcanoes that have been quiet for generations by using detailed physical models to understand how the preceding unrest develops.”

Episodes of unrest in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s sparked small earthquakes which were caused by the movement of magma around three kilometres below the volcano.

Thousands, possibly millions, of people across Europe could be effected if Campi Flegrei has a big eruption.

The whole of Campi Flegrei covers more than 100 square kilometres outside the western suburbs of Naples and it is the closest historically-active volcano to London.

Smoke and ash if Campi Flegrei erupts could disrupt air traffic but the immediate impact would be felt around southern Italy.

But Dr Luca De Siena, from the University of Aberdeen, who has also studied the volcano has said current activity does not suggest a “big” eruption may occur, although he said “a small one could take place”.

He said: “In case of a small one, similar to the eruption in 1538, people living near the point of the eruption would be affected. We are still talking of thousands of people who could die or lose their houses, and the warning would be much less than for a big one.

“In case of a big one, it could affect our chances to live in Europe, immediately killing hundreds of thousands if not millions. Ashes would cover the sun, possibly for days/months/years, affecting humanity, fauna, and flora in other continents.”