A pair of volcanoes that loom over Naples, Italy are considered the most dangerous in the world. Eruptive history at these volcanoes is well documented with eruptions occurring several times with the past 18,000 years, the most famous of which was the eruption at Vesuvius that destroyed the cities of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Stabiae. The 79 A.D eruption at Vesuvius was written about extensively by Piny the younger, and it is from his writings that we get much of modern terminology that is used in modern volcanology. Much of this terminology is still in use today, a testament to the impact that Vesuvius has on the history of western civilization. The very type of eruptions that Vesuvius has been known for are named after Pliny the Younger because of the extensive descriptions he made of the eruptions that he witnessed. Pliny the Younger’s father was killed during the eruption of Vesuvius while mounting a fateful rescue operation.
The Vesuvius complex is made up to two separate volcanoes. The first is Monte Somma, where the original 79 AD eruption took place. In successive eruptions since the 79 AD eruption the Gran Cono Vesuvius formed which now sits beside the Monte Somma Caldera. The landscape at Vesuvius-Somme has gone under tremendous change since the eruption in 79 AD. The volcano last erupted 300 years ago. Vesuvius and Monte Somma are the is the only volcanoes that sit on the main European continent that has erupted within the past 300 years. Another Italian volcano that has made the news in recent years is Mt. Etna. Mt. Etna sits off the coast of Italy on Sicily.
The First Volcano Observatory
The first volcano observatory in the world was established at the base of Mount Vesuvius and Monte Somme. The past eruptions along with the most current eruption in 1944 have allowed geologists to create an extensive geologic record of the eruptions at Mt Vesuvius. Extensive emergency action plans have been created that should allow most of the 3 million inhabitants that live near Mt Vesuvius to evacuate the area. Most scientists believe that they will be able to predict an eruption of Mt Vesuvius up to 20 days in advance, and this should allow enough time the get the evacuations in order.
Planning for an Eruption at Mt Vesuvius
Building construction around Mt Vesuvius has gone unabated in recent years. Development has occurred near the volcano almost all of the way up to the volcanic cone itself. The large population density in and around Mt Vesuvius make it one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world.