Poking At the Phlegrean Fields

Interesting item — there’s possibly hubris or a bit of Greek or Latin poetry lurking in here — from the UK version of Wired:

Pozzuoli and the Campi Flegrei with names. Pho...
Pozzuoli and the Campi Flegrei with names. Photo taken from the ISS. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The mayor of Naples, Luigi de Magistris, has approved the first stages of a plan to drill into the Campi Flegrei caldera, a so-called “supervolcano” in the south of Italy.

The region, which is also known as the Phlegraean Fields, is a 13-kilometre-wide caldera lying mostly underwater, which includes 24 different craters and other volcanic edifices, close to the nearby Mount Vesuvius (pictured). Among them is the Solfatara crater, which the Romans believed to be the home of Vulcan, the god of fire. The region formed over thousands of years of collapse of several volcanoes in the area, and seismologists believe that any eruption would have significant repercussions for the local area and the global climate.

In 2008, to try and find out more about the risks posed by the geology of the area, a team of experts proposed drilling a four-kilometre-deep hole into the caldera, but the plans were vetoed by the mayor at the time, Rosa Russo Iervolino, after others expressed concerns over the risks of the project.

Benedetto De Vivo, a geochemist at the University of Naples, told Science in 2010 that the project carried risks of seismic activity or even explosions. “Nobody can say how bad this explosion would be, but it could put at risk some of the surrounding population,” he said.

However, Ulrich Harms of the German Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam countered that “there is no risk to the public,” so long as the drilling is done in a controlled way. He pointed out that there have been no explosions at the various multikilometre-depth wells drilled around the world to generate geothermal energy. He argued that the project is necessary to find out more: “It’s not clear if there is a volcanic risk, but it cannot be excluded, and this is why it is better to get more of an idea.”

Naples’ new mayor, de Magistris, has given the green light to the drilling of a pilot hole 500 metres deep, which will be filled with sensors and used to monitor the rising and falling of the surface above the caldera due to movements of the magma within. It’s possible that the readings could be used to inform future strategies for generating geothermal energy in the region, too.

Drilling should start, according to project co-ordinator Giuseppe De Natale, “within a few months”.

I think the jury’s still out on how this one will turn out … they’ve been talking about this sort of thing for a few years now . Stay tuned …

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