Mount Vesuvius

Sarah Coleman

Imagine this: you live in the beautiful country of Italy. Your town has a lot of earthquakes, so they aren't that important to you. One day, on a warm and sunny August, the mysterious mountain in your town begins to blow a little cloud of steam and you feel a minor earthquake below your feet. You think nothing of it because it does that all the time. Suddenly a loud boom shakes you, you hear screams in the city streets, and you see your neighbors and friends running for their lives under the sky that is now dark grey. Oblivious to what's happening, you see it for yourself. Mount Vesuvius is violently exploding, killing everyone in its way. As the smoky, dusty, air begins to water your eyes and suffocate you, you begin to run with your loved ones. Unfortunately, it's too late. They are swallowed by the toxic fog, dead, covered in ashes. You begin to run as fast as you have ever ran before, but your legs can't take it, and the air is too hard to breathe. You tumble to the ground, and you are suffocated by ashes and smoke that is too thick to breathe. Now you lay dead, too.


Although this is fictitious, it could have potentially described a civilian's life in Pompeii in 79 CE.

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Where is Pompeii?

Pompeii is the ancient city of Campania, Italy, at the southeastern tip of Mount Vesuvius, which is what violently destroyed the whole city as well as other communities in 79 CE.

What happened in Pompeii?

Mount Vesuvius violently erupted tons of molten ash, gas and pumice into the atmosphere. These vapors poisonously swallowed Pompeii and suffocated civilians of this ancient town, and the nearby cities, Herculaneum and Stabiae. These cities stayed undiscovered until excavations in the eighteenth century.

What type of volcano is mount vesuvius?

Mount Vesuvius is also known as a cone. It grew in the caldera, or a large volcanic crater, of the Mount Somma volcano (stratovolcano); whose most recent eruption was close to 17,000 years ago. Therefore, this volcano is a caldera volcano. A diagram of one (as well as other types of volcanoes) is shown below.
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How many times has mount vesuvius erupted? has it erupted since 79 ce? if so, when?

Even though Mount Vesuvius is most famous for its eruption in 79 CE in which it ruined Pompeii and other neighboring cities, it has experienced 8 major eruptions in the last 1700 years. The most recent eruption was in 1944. Though that was 72 years ago, Mount Vesuvius is still a danger to nearby cities, including Naples, a large city in southern Italy.

Were there eruptions before 79 AD?

Mount Vesuvius had two major eruptions that are rated as some of the largest in Europe. This dangerous area was often shaken from large earthquakes. The stonework to the right naturally recorded the damage caused by an earlier earthquake; potentially the earthquake of 62 AD in which it was followed by the famous eruption of 79 AD. The eruption in 79 was the first ever volcano to be described in detail.

Why is mount vesuvius still a danger? What caused these eruptions?

Vesuvius is part of a line of volcanoes formed over a subduction zone from the African and Eurasian plates coming together, or converging. This is called the Campanian volcanic arc. This zone is the same length as the Italian peninsula and produces other volcanoes (like Mount Etna and more). Below Mount Vesuvius, the lower part of the slab pull detached from the upper part to make a “slab window”. This causes Vesuvius’ rocks to be chemically different from other rocks in from the other volcanoes in the Campanian volcanic arc.

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Oceanic and continental crusts converged together.

How are the rocks of Mount Vesuvius different?

Andesite rocks are erupted from Vesuvius, which is a volcanic intermediate rock (around 53-63% silica). The lava created from these rocks create eruptions that are highly explosive, which adds to the unpredicted danger of this volcano.


What does this mean for the future? Is Mount Vesuvius still active?

Mount Vesuvius is not active at the moment, but it still produces minor earthquakes and outgassing from its summit crater, but more violent activity from Mount Vesuvius is very possible, such as another eruption.

Were people prepared for the eruption in 79 CE?

Scientists were able to preserve writings from a Roman poet, Pliny. Pliny states the signs of an eruption were present, but the people of Pompeii did not think of it as catastrophic as it was because there were always earthquakes, so even though the signs were present, they were not prepared for it because they didn’t think it was anything to worry about.

How has the preparedness for natural disasters changed from then to now?

Due to technology, scientists can monitor seismic activity and from that, predict when an eruption will be. They also know that all Vesuvius’ activity occurs over and over, and the greater the explosion will be if there are longer intervals between one eruption and another. Frequent low activity relieves magma pressure, but the eruption of 79 was connected with the inactivity that followed it. A long interval combined with building seismic activity is a sign of catastrophe. The people of the past didn’t have the technology that we do, but we learned a lot from Pliny. The long dormant state of Vesuvius made people think they were safe, even though they knew the signs of an eruption.

Works Cited

Ball, Jessica. "Mount Vesuvius - Italy." Mount Vesuvius, Italy: Map, Facts, Eruption Pictures, Pompeii. Geology.com, n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2016. <http://geology.com/volcanoes/vesuvius/>.

"The Destruction of Pompeii, 79 AD." The Destruction of Pompeii, 79 AD. Ibis Communications, Inc, n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2016. <http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/pompeii.htm>.

Hadrill, Andrew Wallace. "Pompeii: Portents of Disaster." BBC. BBC, 29 Mar. 2011. Web. 4 Apr. 2016. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/romans/pompeii_portents_01.shtml#two>.

"Pompeii." Britannica School. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2016. Web. 22 Mar. 2016. <http://school.eb.com/levels/high/article/60753>.

"Volcano World." Vesuvius. Oregon State University, n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2016. <http://volcano.oregonstate.edu/vesuvius>.

Author Bio

Sarah Coleman is a freshman at Northview Middle School (class of 2019).
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