Italy's Volcanoes: The Cradle of Volcanology

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Vesuvio Gallery, 1631-1944

Rebuilding itself after the catastrophic 1631 eruption, Vesuvio is seen here during its major eruption in April 1694, the first well-documented event after 1631. A new cone has formed within the vast 1631 crater but is still significantly lower than Monte Somma (to the left of the active cone). For the first time, lava overflows the rim of the 1631 crater and spills down a narrov ravine on the W flank of the volcano without reaching inhabited areas. This illustration is from Bulifon and shows small and sketchy views of the 1631 eruption as well as of the mountain after that event.
Vesuvio in eruption, August 1779. This eruption was a typical subcycle-closing event, characterized by the ejection of spectacular lava fountains rising several km above the summit, and devastating tephra falls in the northeast sector of the volcano. Image was taken from Alfano and Friedlaender 1928.
The 1794 eruption, one of the most devastating since 1631, destroyed the town of Torre del Greco almost completely. The devastating lava flow extended out into the Gulf of Napoli forming new headland shown in this impressive woodcut. Vesuvio is shown in the background during the culminating explosive phase after cessation of lava emission. Image from Alfano and Friedlaender 1928.
One of the earliest photos ever taken of a volcanic eruption, this spectacular image shows Vesuvio during the culminating phase of its 1872 eruption, on 26 April. A dense ash column rises about 6 km above the summit while steam trails mark the paths of lava flows on the NW flank. This photo is one of a series taken by A. Sommer.

During the waning stage of its 1872 eruption, Vesuvio emitted jets of black ash every 10 seconds or so, as illustrated neatly in this drawing by Heim (1873) of 29 April 1872. Still later, the emitted ash assumed a whitish color which was taken by the local population as evidence that the eruption had ended.
Outer left: Shortly after the climax of the violent 1906 eruption, Vesuvio emits dense but weak plumes of grayish ash that are driven northwards. The destruction of the summit is already evident. Vesuvio lost more than 100 m in height during that eruption which was its largest since 1631. Photo by Perret (1924), taken on 10 April 1906.
Inner left: Person wading through deep, uncompacted volcanic ash on the base of erupting Vesuvio, 9 or 10 April 1906. The ash had a thickness of about 0.3 m in this area (on the W side of the volcano) but much heavier tephra fallout occurred on the N and NE sides where several villages received up to 1.5 m of pyroclastics and almost all roofs caved in. Several hundred people died as a result of this disaster.
Inner right: Going up to the Vesuvian observatory along the funicular railway during the April 1906 eruption. The landscape is deeply buried with light-colored ash.
Outer right: Vesuvio decapitated after the 1906 eruption, May 1906. The mountain lost at least 115 m in height, having reached its maximum ever measured elevation of 1335 m in May 1905. During the years after the 1906 eruption, collapse of the crater walls led to further diminuition in the height of the active cone. The photo was taken from Monte Somma (a part of which is visible in the left foreground, by Perret (1924), looking south.

Towards the end of the 1913-1944 subcyle, the 1906 crater was completely filled with lava and a minor amount of pyroclastics. The photos at left are rare color shots of the typical intracrater activity during that period, taken in 1941 or 1942. In the upper photo, incandescent pahoehoe lava tongues are seen at the base of the partially snow-covered, steaming central intracrater cone (named "il Piccolo") in the background. This cone, site of persistent Strombolian activity, eventually had become the highest summit of the volcano. Lower photo shows more detail of pahoehoe lava flowing across the floor of the 1906 crater.

Top: Night view of Vesuvio during the increasing phase of its March 1944 eruption. Fire fountains rise from the crater and a tremendous display of lightning illuminates the eruption column. The photo was taken by Giuseppe Imbò, then director of the Osservatorio Vesuviano. Note the large incandescent boulders at the base of the active cone. Photo was taken on the evening of 22 March 1944, published in Imbó (1949).
Bottom: This view is from the modern town of Pompei (adjacent to the excavations of the Ancient Roman city) towards Vesuvio on 24 March 1944. The dense ash plume is being thrown up in pulses and then driven towards W. The main fallout during the 1944 eruption, however, affected areas on the E side of the volcano around Terzigno where the ash cover is still visible. Photo is from Imbó (1949). The church tower is of the Santuario of Pompei. The irregular black lines in the center are artefacts or damage of the original photo.

Top: During the first stage of its 1944 eruption, Vesvio produced major volumes of lava at a greatly increased effusion rate. In this aerial view taken from N on 23 March 1944, two lava lobes are seen moving towards the villages of Massa (at left) and San Sebastiano (at right). A small branch of lava has just started moving towards Cercola which is visible in the center foreground. The Somma-Vesuvio complex is visible in the background with the Somma ridge covered with snow and the active cone in the stage of vigorous lava fountain ejection. Photo from Imbó (1949)
Bottom: Vesuvio in eruption, March 1944, seen from Napoli. Taken during the culminating explosive stage of the most recent eruption to date when thousands of residents had to be moved away temporarily. Allied troops had to cope with tephra fallout severely hampering use of aircraft during this decisive stage of WW-II in Italy. This rare color photo was taken from the Time Life book "Volcano".

Top: Sequence of aerial views of hot avalanches descending the erupting cone of Vesuvio during the 1944 eruption. The avalanches were described by Imbó (1949) as "glowing clouds". They reached only the base of the active cone and left conspicuous tongue-shaped lobes (see the photo at the bottom of this page). View is from the W on 24 March 1944.
Bottom: Aerial view of the Somma-Vesuvio complex from the SW, taken no more than 10 years after the 1944 eruption. The 1944 crater gapes at the top of the historically active "Gran Cono" while the major lava flow of the 1944 eruption is visible in the upper left corner, at the base of the steep caldera wall of Monte Somma. Note the numerous tongue-shaped features on the left base of the cone, these are lobes of pyroclastic avalanches that came down during the 1944 eruption. They have been interpreted as seismically triggered by Hazlett et al. (1991).


Copyright © Boris Behncke, "Italy's Volcanoes: The Cradle of Volcanology"

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