Mount Vesuvius

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  • Topic: Mount Vesuvius, Volcano, Herculaneum
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Volcanic Eruptions: 79 AD Versus the Present
ATOC 250: Natural Disasters
Term Paper

Volcanic eruptions can be disastrous and deadly. It is, therefore, important to look back at prior eruptions and compare them to present eruptions in order to draw conclusions on what could be done to mitigate loss of life and destruction. The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD on Pompeii and surrounding areas proved to be catastrophic because of the location of the volcano and especially since citizens were not aware that an active volcano was in their midst. By examining the series of events that took place at Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD and comparing them to the impacts and forecasting of present day volcanism, one could draw better conclusions of the grandeur of the ancient eruption. After thorough analysis of scientific models, field data, and scientific journals, it is evident that the effects of the 79 AD eruption could have been lessened had roofing been better and had forecasting technology been where it is today. However, had the 79 AD eruption happened today there could have been far worse economic implications on the aviation and leisure industries. The conclusion is that though forecasting technology has come a long way, it should be improved upon so that regional disasters such as the 79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius can be avoided.

Mount Vesuvius is infamous for its eruption in 79 AD when the volcano’s pyroclastic flows simultaneously destroyed and preserved the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Many details of this legendary eruption are derived from ancient literature and witnesses. Therefore, aside from examining literature and witness accounts, this paper will also look at research conducted by modern scientists in order to uncover more about its formation, composition and eruptions. In order to estimate the grandeur of the 79 AD disaster and to elucidate how its effects differed from present-day eruptions or could have been mitigated using modern techniques, this paper will also analyze more recent effects of volcanoes and modern predictive methods.

Overview of the problem:
Mount Vesuvius is a Stratovolcano located on the Bay of Naples, Italy. It is the only European volcano located on the mainland to have erupted in the past 100 years. Two other major volcanoes in Italy are located on islands. This is a huge contributing factor to the great destruction caused to Pompeii and surrounding settlements by Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. The ruination rooted from its close proximity to the 20,000 inhabitants of Pompeii as well as other inhabited settlements. Though today the areas surrounding Mount Vesuvius are even more densely populated than in 79 AD, a settlement in the path of an active volcano is always extremely perilous. Today, Mount Vesuvius is encircled by three million inhabitants and is regarded as one of the most dangerous explosive volcanoes because it is the most populous volcanic region in the world (Marshall, 1906). The presence of cities and human activity at the base of an active and dangerous volcano is simply a plea for disaster if evacuation is not fast enough.

The problem and sequence of events:
Before discussing the series of events for a specific volcano, it is important to examine its structure and composition. The present-day state of Vesuvius differs from its structure in 79 AD. The 79 AD explosion itself altered the shape of Vesuvius due to the explosive nature of that particular eruption. Mount Vesuvius is a Stratovolcano composed of alternating layers of ash and lava as well as pumice and tephra. This type of volcano can produce two different kinds of eruptions; the first is an eruption that ejects primarily ash and cinders, while the other type ejects lava. Present-day Vesuvius has a large cone encircled by the rim of a summit caldera that began forming approximately 17,000 years ago. The large cone is in fact a product of the 79 AD eruption. (Vasallo,...
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