Volcanic Italy: News of the spectacular eruption of the Pacaya volcano in Guatemala on January 15 reminds us all that we are not too far from similar possibilities. Vesuvius on the Bay of Naples had been on a 25-30 year cycle of eruptions until the mid-1940's, but has not kept to its schedule and there has been no major activity since then. International vulcanologists (with strong Italian leadership) are not too worried about Vesuvius because gases have continued to vent from the crater and from other nearby fumaroles, and because the Solfatara volcano near Pozzouli, north of Naples in the Campi Flegrei, also seems to be relieving local pressure. Nonetheless, the whole system is active, and Vesuvius has been classified by the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth's Interior as one of sixteen "Decade Volcanoes" in the world, which require special watchfulness and study because of their past history, current seismicity, and location near heavily populated areas. (Solfatara, incidentally, is the center of a larger field than that of Vesuvius, and it is the main vent of the Campi Flegrei. Although it is active -- sulfur gas and hot mud -- it has not had a dangerous eruption for ten centuries. Solfatara is open for tourism.)

Etna and Stromboli, two of the three volcanoes further south, in and around Sicily, are in active eruptive status and are considered very dangerous. Etna appears to be getting ready for serious business on a scale even larger than its fiery display of late 1999. Stromboli is one of the world's most active volcanoes and has been in continuous eruption for more than 2000 years. It is currently ejecting lava "bombs" (globs of lava that explode due to pressure differentials when they reach high altitudes or when they crunch back to the surface) sometimes beyond the lip of the crater. This kind of activity in any volcano is called "Strombolian". The gas coming from Stromboli is also very dangerous because it is both poisonous and laced with airborne glass crystals. Casual visitors to both volcanoes are prohibited. Volcano, the third of the Sicilian/Aeolian volcanoes and the one from which all volcanoes get their name, is currently dormant.

There is a wealth of information on Italian and other volcanoes on the Internet and many of the web sites have interesting cross-links. Try the following:

http://www.iiv.ct.cnr.it/IIV_Home_pag_ingl/IIV_Home_page_ingl.html, or

http://vulcan.wr.usgs.gov/Volcanoes/Italy/framework.html, or

http://www.sveurop.org/gb/menu/fr_menu.htm, or

http://www.cotf.edu/ete/modules/volcanoes/vmtvesuvius.html, or

http://www.geo.mtu.edu/~boris/ETNA_news.html, or


For neat pictures of current eruptions, including both Stromboli and Etna, go to http://www.goodnet.com/~ej76707/cerupt.htm. This site also has pictures of Hawaii's Kilauea, Earth's largest volcano, which has been in continuous eruption since 1988.

For live and "almost live" pictures from "VolcanoCams" around the world, go to http://vulcan.wr.usgs.gov/LivingWith/volcano_cams.html#world.