Swirling magma deep in the earth’s crust has pushed up the southern Italian port of Pozzuoli over 3m out of the sea over the last few decades. Now, going by rumblings deep inside the earth, volcanologists believe super-volcano Campi Flegrei is entering a critical phase when it could erupt, devastating the city of Naples.
Located 14km west of Naples, the 13km wide Campi Flegrei caldera has been restless for nearly 70 years, with small earthquakes taking place throughout the 1950s, 1970s and 1980s. A caldera is a volcanic feature formed by the collapse of a volcano into itself, making it a large, special form of volcanic ‘crater’. Although Campi Flegrei erupted in 1958 for the last time, its main periods of unrest were 1950s, 1970s and 1980s, with numerous small earthquakes, accompanied by uplift in crust, as magma builds up beneath the surface. During the geological unrest in 1970 and 1983, the port of Pozzuoli, near the caldera’s centre, was pushed over 3m out of the sea.
The super-volcano’s activity has been studied over the last 500 years. The ground is now cracking and moving at Campi Flegrei, which means ‘Flaming Fields’ in a blend of Italian and ancient Greek. Any substantial new uplift could split the ground beyond its breaking point and trigger an eruption.
Scientists previously thought that the stress, caused during periods of unrest, dissipates in the quieter intervals. But now, they say that the caldera’s crust has a kind of memory and stress accumulates over the decades. An eruption could disrupt air traffic in Italy. When Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted in 2010, all transatlantic flights were cancelled due to ash clouds.
Campi Flegrei is not as well-known globally as Vesuvius, but can be as devastating for the city of Naples and Pozzuoli (if it erupts). Nearly a million people live in Naples, while 360,000 live across Campi Flegrei’s caldera.