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Earth is a real cauldron

By Don Farmer

[email protected]

Talk about sitting on a powder keg, that’s what it appears the people of Naples are doing but then they have been aware of the explosive nature of their backyard for many, many years.

That’s because towering above their city is the infamous Mt Vesuvius, the rumbling giant that put paid to Pompeii way back in 79AD, leaving behind an archaeological legacy that has intrigued hordes of tourists ever since.

But it is what has just been revealed this week that must be sending shivers down the spine of the inhabitants of Naples and would do so here.

Six undersea volcanoes were discovered off the shores of Naples using a technique involving firing compressed air at the sea bed and reading what comes back in the way of vibrations.

According to a report on what was found each volcano is up to a kilometre in width with all but one being buried in sediment and they are all belching carbon dioxide into the sea.

The good news, I suppose, is that they are all at least 19,000 years old so they haven’t exactly been playing living hell lately but in geological time that span is a mere blink.

Vesuvius itself last erupted in 1944 when 26 people died and discovery of the six at-sea volcanoes – all described as being side vents of Vesuvius – has led to scientists urging the Italian government to re-think emergency and evacuation plans.

Apparently those that now exist expect 500,000 people would have to leave the area within 72 hours if Vesuvius got cracking but that would be a snails-pace evacuation if Mother Nature brought all her arsenal to bear.

As Kiwis we are fairly au fait with volcanoes, having several active ones of our own, many other so-called inactive ones dotted about the landscape and others out at sea.

From time-to-time we all get to thinking about the potential for damaging, even devastating, eruptions as we do with earthquakes and although we can do precious little about them we can certainly do plenty to prepare well for them.

The “problem” with civil defence is that it never goes away, you can never drop your guard but that’s just the way it is.

That doesn’t mean we all have to go about our daily lives in mortal fear, because with properly prepared plans and the knowledge of knowing what to do if disaster strikes fear can be softened somewhat.

That there have been some mighty eruptions over the eons if obvious, the creation of Lake Taupo being our most obvious example and the explosive power of that event must surely have been earth shattering.

One of the expected “biggies” that must eventually arrive is the eruption of Yellowstone Park in North America.

This enormously impressive national park that spans nearly 9000 km2 over areas of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana is centred over what is known as the Yellowstone Caldera, the largest super-volcano on the American continent.

It is an active volcano which, according to scientists, has erupted with tremendous force several times in the last two million years.

Yellowstone is a magnificent wilderness park and its destruction by forces of nature would be sad indeed.

It would also be catastrophic for people living anywhere within cooee and the impacts of a major eruption there would impact on the entire planet, likely inducing a nuclear winter that could take years to clear.

It doesn’t bear thinking about and only re-enforces the obvious truth that nature holds the whip hand.

We can only hope she refrains from giving us the lash any time soon.

Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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