A supervolcano which hasn’t erupted for 12,000 years may be waking up, and ‘reaching a critical state’ say scientists who published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

Aside from an inconsequentially small eruption in 1538, this same volcano also erupted about 40,000 years ago, and could have contributed to the extinction of the Neaderthals, as suggested by a 2010 study.

supervolcano-copyThe supervolcano lies under 500,000 people in Campi Flegrei, Italy in one of the most densely populated areas of Naples.

Scientists led by Giovanni Chiodini of the Italian National Institute of Geophysics in Rome used computer modeling and physical measurements to deduce that the volcano could be reaching critical degassing pressure, and be close to exploding. The sudden release of hot magmatic gases could trigger an eruption, the scientists warn, although they did not predict a specific time, saying this was impossible.

Italy’s government has raised the volcano’s threat level from green to yellow in response to the findings. This means that instead of assuming the volcano will be quiet, it will be under constant 24-hour-a-day scientific surveillance to look for additional clues that it might be ready to erupt.

As National Geographic explains,

“Campi Flegrei means “burning fields” in Italian. The volcanic region is also known as the Phlegraean Fields. Like other supervolcanoes—such as the one responsible for the geothermal features of Yellowstone—it is not a single volcanic cone. Rather, it’s a large complex, much of it underground or under the Mediterranean Sea, that includes 24 craters, as well as various geysers and vents that can release hot gas.”

The Campi Flegrei system, also known as or the Phlegraean Fields is one of the most active volcanic systems in the world. It is part of the Campanian volcanic arc, a chain of volcanoes that includes the infamous Mt. Vesuvius which entombed the city of Pompeii under a river of molten rock in 70 A.D.

The world has an opportunity to test its volcano warning systems as never before. If all those craters started spewing hot lava at once, people would surely want some advanced notice.

Image: 1, 2, Weather Channel

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