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Officials discuss evacuation scheme around Campi Flegrei supervolcano following recent earthquakes, Italy

campi flegrei earthquakes september - october 2023

The Italian government is exploring the potential evacuation of tens of thousands of residents living near the Campi Flegrei supervolcano, 20 km (12.5 miles) from Naples, following over 1 100 earthquakes in the area within a month. The announcement was made on Thursday, October 5, 2023, and further measures are set to be discussed in a cabinet meeting.

The Italian cabinet is set to discuss a series of new measures designed to ensure the safety of the more than 500 000 residents in towns and villages surrounding the Campi Flegrei supervolcano. The measures include building assessments, following months of seismic activity that has featured over 1 100 earthquakes, with the strongest registering a magnitude of 4.2. This was the most powerful earthquake in the region in the last 40 years.

Experts attribute the heightened seismic activity to a geological phenomenon known as bradyseism. This is characterized by a cyclical rise or fall in the Earth’s surface due to the filling or emptying of underground magma chambers. Currently, the ground around Campi Flegrei is rising by 1.5 cm (0.6 inches) per month, sparking concerns about the structural integrity of local buildings.

campi flegrei earthquakes september - october 2023 bg
Campi Flegrei earthquakes from September 6 – October 6, 2023. Credit: TW/SAM, Google (Data source: INGV)
campi flegrei earthquakes september - october 2023 bgz
Campi Flegrei earthquakes from September 6 – October 6, 2023. Credit: TW/SAM, Google (Data source: INGV)

Civil Protection Minister Nello Musumeci stated that evacuations would be initiated only in cases of “extreme necessity.” Additional resources are expected to be allocated to local civil protection agencies to ensure rapid intervention in emergencies. A communication campaign aimed at raising public awareness about the situation is also in the planning stages.

Local media have reported that starting from Friday, a group of area hospitals will commence evacuation tests. This development comes as part of a broader strategy to prepare for stronger earthquakes or potential volcanic eruptions.

Mauro Di Vito, Director of the INGV Vesuvian Observatory, recently stated that the situation is under constant monitoring. Geophysical and geochemical parameters suggest that the ongoing dynamics, including soil lifting at a speed of around 15 mm (0.6 inches) per month, show no significant changes compared to previous data. “At present, there are no elements that suggest significant evolutions of the system in the short term,” Di Vito said.

Map of horizontal (a) and vertical (b) GNSS movements recorded in the Phlegraean area from January 2016 to August 2023
Map of horizontal (a) and vertical (b) GNSS displacements recorded in the Phlegraean Fields area from January 2016 to August 2023. Credit: INGV
Epicenters (on the map) and hypocentres (in the EW sections below and NS on the right) of the earthquakes with magnitude Md≥0.0 located in the Campi Flegrei in the period 1 August – 7 September 2023
Epicenters (in map) and hypocenters (in sections E-W below and N-S to the right) of earthquakes with magnitude Md≥0.0 located in the Phlegraean Fields from August 1-September 7, 2023. Credit: INGV

Campi Flegrei is a 13 km (8 miles) wide caldera that encompasses part of Naples (population 3 million) and extends to the south beneath the Gulf of Pozzuoli.

The area has a history of intense volcanic and seismic activity. Episodes of bradyseism—slow ground movement—accompanied by seismic swarms have been observed in the past, particularly during 1969 – 72 and 1982 – 84 (during which around 40 000 people were temporarily evacuated from the nearby town of Pozzuoli). More recently, ground uplift in the Rione Terra area reached approximately 113 cm (44 inches) by July 2023.

The supervolcano’s last major eruption occurred in 1538 (VEI 3), but its most devastating eruption took place approximately 39 000 years ago. This ancient event is believed by some researchers to have potentially led to the extinction of Neanderthal man and even dispersed magma as far as 4 500 km (2 796 miles), reaching Greenland.

References:

1 Italy plans for possible evacuations from super volcano near Naples – Reuters – October 5, 2023

2 Seismic swarm at Campi Flegrei raises questions but not immediate alarm, Italy – The Watchers – September 27, 2023

Featured image credit: TW/SAM, Google

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