Most of us think of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in Pompeii as a singular, past-tense event. Like a myth, we can recount the story, the stunning loss of life, and the magnitude of awesome power that the supervolcano in Pompeii showcased as if it could never happen again. But can it?
Well, it has. It probably will again, according to scientists.
When Mt. Vesuvius exploded in 79AD, it spewed tons of molten ashes and sulfuric gas high into the atmosphere. A maelstrom of poisonous haze and molten refuse engulfed the surrounding area, suffocating the residents of the Roman cities of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae. Debris blanketed the streets, homes, and fields of these once thriving metropolises until it was unrecognizable to future human eyes. The cities remained buried and undiscovered for almost 1700 years until excavation began near 1750. It is still being excavated to this day.
Roman senator and writer known as Pliny the Younger, who was seventeen years old at the time of the eruption, witnessed Vesuvius flip its lid in 79 AD from the home of his uncle in Misenum. He wrote what is known to be a highly accurate account of the events 25 years later.
The letters were written with the purpose of going to the famous historian Tacitus, to describe the death of his uncle Pliny the Elder. The letters were later discovered in the 16th century and had become an important piece of evidence in figuring out the various stages of the eruption. Eyewitness History recounts the letters here:
“…It seemed as though the sea was being sucked backwards, as if it were being pushed back by the shaking of the land. Certainly the shoreline moved outwards, and many sea creatures were left on dry sand. Behind us were frightening dark clouds, rent by lightening twisted and hurled, opening to reveal huge figures of flame. These were like lightening, but bigger.
You could hear the shrieks of women, the wailing of infants, and the shouting of men; some were calling their parents, others their children or their wives, trying to recognize them by their voices. People bewailed their own fate or that of their relatives, and there were some who prayed for death in their terror of dying. Many besought the aid of the gods, but still more imagined there were no gods left, and that the universe was plunged into eternal darkness for evermore.”
Is this what the modern inhabitants of Pompeii have to look forward to? Japanese scientist Nakada Setsuya of the University of Tokyo believes so. He also believes that an eruption could happen at any time. Though there should be clues to whether an eruption is imminent, there is fear that a surprise eruption with few warning signs could also happen.
It does not sound so farfetched considering that Mt. Vesuvius has erupted about three dozen times since the famous eruption in 79 AD. The last event ended in 1944 and killed 26 people. It is still an active volcano. It will erupt again – the question is when, and how severe will the blast be? The famous eruption in 79AD killed more than 16,000 people and encapsulated a whole city like a morbid time capsule. It is also estimated that the eruption of Mount Vesuvius released approximately 100,000 times the energy of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima.
With history like this, Nakada Setsuya urges Italian officials to have an emergency plan in place. Express talks more about the population of these nearby cities, and the challenges they face when drafting a plan for what they call the ‘yellow zone’:
Officials in the city have added around 1.5 million people living in 63 towns and villages on the outskirts of Naples to an existing red-zone of 600,000 people, within the closest 200 square kilometres to the peak, who were already deemed most at risk – taking the total to 2.1 million.
Vesuvius is so dangerous because it is on top of at least 154 square miles of bubbling magma, meaning a major eruption would send enough ash into the atmosphere to block out sunlight for months.
It would affect huge parts of Europe or even further afield, potentially causing a mini ice age.
This is highly reminiscent of Yellowstone’s problem. Scientists have found a growing thermal area – which is currently around eight acres in size – by observing the amount of dead trees in the vicinity. The perplexing phenomenon has been labelled a ‘tree kill zone’, as the ground is warmer than its surroundings and kills any vegetation that begins to grow there. While scientists have only just confirmed its existence, the United State Geological Survey (USGS) estimates it’s been forming over the last twenty years.
The supervolcano (named aptly so because it is thousands of times more powerful than a regular volcano) that is underneath Yellowstone is being watched closely, because even though the chances of it erupting anytime soon is small, the aftermath should it happen would be catastrophic. There is speculation that if it erupted, it could bury states like Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Colorado in up to three feet of toxic volcanic ash.
The moral of the story is that, no, we don’t know when these supervolcanos could erupt but yes, we should have a plan if they do. We don’t want to be caught jerking off like this guy when these volcanoes finally blow. (Before people jump in here, I know he wasn’t actually masterbating. His limbs flexed inwards due to the extreme heat. It would still suck to be found like this, though.)
How’d u like to be forever know as the masterbating man like the one in Pompeii
— very stable genius (@Forevrlost) October 27, 2017
So what does active really mean?
via http://t.co/RVUhgEjNe6#funny #volcano pic.twitter.com/0VtkTewDme
— Nature's Forces (@NaturesForces) March 3, 2014
Heading to Hawaii for a bit…#FamilyGuy #Hawaii #hawaiivolcano #Volcano #funny #lol pic.twitter.com/1Bl0oiFOQs
— EtariL1v1ngSacr1f1ce-Play and Grow Rich-MAGcenter (@EtariSacr1f1ce) May 15, 2018
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