The Italian Almanac

Mount Vesuvio

Italian Science - June 21

Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, teams from the "Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia" (National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology) roughly 100 researchers and technicians monitor seismic activity. They are looking for changes or deformities in the ground caused by earthquakes, and changes in the temperature and chemical composition of gases emitted from Mount Vesuvius, the active volcano near Naples, an urban area home to two U.S. Navy bases and about 10,000 sailors and their families.

Contrary to popular myths of gloom and imminent doom resulting from an eruption similar to the one in 79 A.D. that buried Pompeii and Herculaneum, Vesuvius isn't going to spontaneously blow. That’s according to Giovanni Macedonio, director of the institute that began in 1841, making it the oldest scientific institution devoted to the study of volcanoes.

Surfacing lava would have to break through encrusted rock covering a chamber between four and 6¼ miles below the mouth, he said. There would be earthquakes and gases would seep through cracks, sending a warning to those keeping watch. “It needs weeks or months, and is not going to be an instantaneous eruption. It’s not possible that you go to sleep at night and it will explode,” Macedonio said of the 20,000-year-old volcano.

The Ministry of Civil Protection, based in Rome, has an emergency eruption plan that details where the more than 600,000 residents who live in the “red zone” of Mount Vesuvius would go should they be evacuated.