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Neanderthal-Killing European Supervolcano Is Getting Restless

Volcanoes are scary. Like, killer asteroid scary. Throughout recorded human history, volcanic eruptions have been known to destroy entire cities in just minutes, with little to no warning. As our technologies and knowledge of volcanoes have developed over the centuries, we can now detect warning signs which hint at upcoming eruptions – but these are far from perfect. The world might get a chance to test how well our volcano warning systems work in the near future, thanks to the work of geologists in Italy who have detected worrisome activity underneath a massive system of volcanoes which lie next to some of the most populated areas on Earth. Yikes.

"Say, right beside that giant volcano there seems like a nice place to build a city."

“Say, right beside that giant volcano there seems like a nice safe place to build a city.”

Campi Flegrei, or the Phlegraean Fields, an extremely active volcanic system west of Naples, Italy. The system consists of twenty-four separate calderas, or volcanic craters. The system is part of the Campanian volcanic arc, a chain of volcanoes that includes the infamous Mt. Vesuvius which entombed the city of Pompeii under a river of molten rock in 70 A.D. While the Campi Flegrei volcanoes were the source of a minor eruption in 1538, they were also the site of a massive eruption 200,000 years ago which is believed to have created a “volcanic winter” that killed of the Neanderthals. Double yikes.

The gasses beneath the volcano are approaching critical pressure.

The gasses beneath the volcano are approaching critical pressure.

According to a recent publication in Nature Communication, researchers believe the pressure of the magma underneath the volcano is approaching what volcanologists refer to as the critical degassing pressure (CDP) – the tipping point at which a volcano is likely to erupt:

We propose that magma could be approaching the CDP at Campi Flegrei, a volcano in the metropolitan area of Naples, one of the most densely inhabited areas in the world, and where accelerating deformation and heating are currently being observed.

The volcano chain lies dangerously close to several densely-populated areas; close to 500,000 people are thought to live within eruption range.

The volcano chain lies dangerously close to several densely-populated areas; close to 500,000 people are thought to live within eruption range.

While the volcano is currently the subject of close geological scrutiny, the researchers are quick to point out that ultimately, there is no way of knowing when or if the Campi Flegrei volcano chain (CFc) might explode in a potential deadly eruption:

Even if the magma underneath CFc is likely to be approaching the CDP, the possible future scenarios can be complicated by additional processes that have not been considered here.

Did I say yikes?