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Please Don't Provoke the Supervolcano

Earlier today I was nodding along to Chris Orr's good-humored critique of 2012, but, you know, news like this makes me think more people really need to see the movie and learn not to antagonize supervolcanoes:

To ancient Romans the Phlegraean Fields hosted the entrance to Hades. In modern times it is better known as the site of a "supercolossal" volcanic eruption 39,000 years ago.

Will we see the next disaster coming? That's one of the questions an ambitious drilling project hopes to answer by sinking boreholes into Campi Flegrei, as the giant collapsed volcanic crater is now called. Starting as early as next month, the Campi Flegrei Deep Drilling Project is planning to drill seven holes in the region.

Though the researchers on this particular project point out that any risk is small, it will begin amid debate about whether such endeavours are safe, given the unknowns of a volcano's interior. A few say drilling might even trigger a major eruption.

The story clarifies, as always, that supervolcanoes aren't like ordinary volcanoes—Campi Flegrei is much, much bigger than nearby Vesuvius, and has most of metropolitan Naples sitting within its caldera. A major eruption like the one that happened 39,000 years ago would "leave large parts of Europe buried under a thick layer of ash." In any case, the story clarifies toward the end that the risks of setting off an eruption (say, by piercing a high-pressure magma chamber and releasing trapped gases) do seem to be minimal, but that would be quite the "oops."

(Flickr photo credit: angeloaversa)