1,100 earthquakes in one month, thousands displaced

The last major volcanic eruption occurred in 1538

In a span of one month, the region experienced 1,100 earthquakes, prompting concerns that hundreds of thousands of residents around the massive volcano in the Phlegraean Fields near Naples might need to be evacuated. The Italian government is contemplating this large-scale evacuation as part of new measures to assess the structural integrity of buildings in the area, following months of recurring seismic activities.

The Phlegraean Fields, located to the west of Naples, house several towns and villages, including Pozzoli, Aniano, and Bacoli, with a combined population of over 500,000 people. This caldera, boasting 24 craters, surpasses nearby Vesuvius in size and was the cause of the destruction of the ancient city of Pompeii in 79 AD.

The heightened seismic activities, including a magnitude 4 earthquake this Monday and a magnitude 4.2 tremor last week (the strongest in the region in four decades), have raised concerns among experts. They attribute the increased seismicity to bradyseism, a phenomenon characterized by gradual upward or downward movements of the Earth’s crust due to filling or emptying of underground magma chambers. While most volcanologists assert that there is no immediate threat of an eruption, the rising ground at a rate of 1.5 centimeters per month has raised fears about its impact on local infrastructure.

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Italy’s civil protection minister, Nello Musumeci, stated that mass evacuation would only occur in case of “extreme necessity.” The government plans to discuss these issues, along with reinforcing local civil protection services and launching a public awareness campaign, during a cabinet meeting. Additionally, local hospitals are conducting evacuation drills to prepare for potential stronger earthquakes or explosions.

This cluster of earthquakes in the Phlegraean Plains is the most significant since the 1980s, with the last major volcanic eruption dating back to 1538. Researchers speculate that a massive eruption 39,000 years ago might have led to the extinction of Neanderthals, with traces of the eruption’s magma discovered as far as Greenland, 4,500 km away.

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