Russian scientists voice concerns about dangers of a supervolcano erupting in Italy

Thursday, January 31, 2013
By Paul Martin
January 31, 2013

ITALY – It looks like we may be in for an earth-shattering explosion. A dormant super volcano appears to be stirring under the Phlegraen Fields of Naples in Italy. Rising soil temperatures and surface deformation in the area have alarmed seismologists. In the distant past, volcanic super eruptions caused global climate change responsible for mass extinctions of plant and animal species. So far, scientists are unable to model the potential consequences of an awakening supervolcano. Latest studies show that the Phlegraen Fields have actually been swelling above sea level at a rate of 3 cm per month. Micro quakes and large amounts of gases accumulated in soil indicate that the volcano may be preparing to erupt, says Vladimir Kiryanov, Assistant Professor of Geology at the St. Petersburg University. “The Phlegraen Fields is a supervolcano. Yellowstone in the United States and Toba in Indonesia are also supervolcanoes capable of spewing more than 1,000 cubic km of magma. These are catastrophic eruptions. There was a huge volcanic eruption in the Phlegraen Fields some 30,000-40,000 years ago. Volcanic ash from that eruption is still found in the Mediterranean, Bulgaria, Ukraine, and even in Russia. We are now seeing the expansion of a magma pocket, which means that there might be an eruption at a certain time.” Super eruptions of such magnitude may produce the so-called “volcanic winter” effect when sulfur gases and ash will reach the stratosphere and cover the globe with thick ash clouds that solar rays will be unable to penetrate. Condensed sulfur trioxides will react with moisture, forming sulfuric acid. Downpours of sulfuric acid will hit the Earth. Scientists have obtained new evidence of a similar cataclysm following the eruption of the Toba super volcano on island of Sumatra in Indonesia about 74,000 years ago. But today, things promise to be even more devastating. Suffice it to recall the havoc wreaked by a minor increase in volcanic activity in Iceland in 2010 on air transportation over Europe. Super eruptions occurred so rarely that it is virtually impossible to calculate the approximate time span between the first and last stages of a future potential eruption. In the 1970s, the Phlegraen Fields inflated by more than 50 cm. There were even cracks in house walls. But then the process slackened. Apparently, the fact itself that a magma chamber is being filled with magma may or may not signal any immediate eruption. Alexei Sobisevich, laboratory chief at the Institute of Volcanology and Geophysics of the Russian Academy of Sciences, shares his view: “It actually seems to be a long-term precursor. A magma chamber may be filled up within a span ranging from decades to centuries. Many mounts grow by 5 cm per year. This is a natural process.” Some scientists hold that the volcanic system of the Earth is becoming increasingly tense and that underground cavities are full of magma, threatening to burst out any moment. Whether this will be a super eruption or a string of smaller eruptions, we should prepare for the worst. –Voice of Russia

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