Friday, April 29, 2011

Italy! Mount Vesuvius!

Mount Vesuvius is the only active volcano in mainland Europe, and has produced some of the continent’s largest volcanic eruptions. Located on Italy’s west coast, it overlooks the Bay and City of Naples and sits in the crater of the ancient Somma volcano. Vesuvius is most famous for the 79 AD eruption which destroyed the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Though the volcano’s last eruption was in 1944, it still represents a great danger to the cities that surround it, especially the busy metropolis of Naples. Mount Vesuvius has experienced eight major eruptions in the last 17,000 years. The 79 AD eruption is one of the most well known ancient eruptions in the world, and may have killed more than 16,000 people. Ash, mud and rocks from this eruption buried the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Pompeii is famous for the casts the hot ash formed around victims of the eruptions. The unfortunate people suffocated on ash in the air, which then covered them and preserved amazing details of their clothing and faces. Starting in 1631, Vesuvius entered a period of steady volcanic activity, including lava flows and eruptions of ash and mud. Violent eruptions in the late 1700s, 1800s and early 1900s created more fissures, lava flows, and ash-and-gas explosions. These damaged or destroyed many towns around the volcano, and sometimes killed people; the eruption of 1906 had more than 100 casualties. The most recent eruption was in 1944 during World War II. It caused major problems for the newly-arrived Allied forces in Italy when ash and rocks from the eruption destroyed planes and forced evacuations at a nearby airbase. The 79 AD eruption of Vesuvius is why volcanologists use “Plinian” to describe large volcanic eruption clouds. Pliny the Younger, a Roman historian who witnessed the 79 AD eruption, wrote the oldest surviving description of the tall, tree-shaped cloud that rose above the volcano. Modern volcanologists use the term to describe large-volume, violent eruptions that produce quickly-expanding clouds of rock, ash and gases which rise many miles into the atmosphere. Some more recent examples of Plinian eruptions include Mount St. Helens in 1980 and Pinatubo in 1990.

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