Sunday, August 5, 2012

"Super volcano" lurks near Pompeii

(Reuters) - Across the bay of Naples from Pompeii, where thousands were incinerated by Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, lies a hidden "super volcano" that could kill millions in a catastrophe many times worse, scientists say.

The boiling mud and sulphurous steam holes of the area west of Naples known as the Campi Flegrei or Phlegraean Fields, from the Greek word for burning, are a major tourist attraction.

But the zone of intense seismic activity, which the ancients thought was the entrance to hell, also could pose a danger of global proportions with millions of people literally living on top of a potential future volcanic eruption.

"These areas can give rise to the only eruptions that can have global catastrophic effects comparable to major meteorite impacts," said Giuseppe De Natale, head of a project to drill deep under the earth to monitor the molten "caldera".

One such meteorite impact is thought to have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago when debris thrown into the atmosphere from the huge explosion plunged the earth into darkness.

Scientists plan to drill 3.5 km (2.2 miles) below the surface to monitor the huge chamber of molten rock near Pompeii and give early warning of any eruption from a 13-km-wide collapsed volcanic caldera.

The Campi Flegrei are similar to the Yellowstone caldera in the U.S. state of Wyoming but of more concern because they are in an area populated by around 3 million people in the Naples hinterland. Read More