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Letters to Nature
Nature 367, 551 - 554 (10 February 1994); doi:10.1038/367551a0

Assessing the pyroclastic flow hazard at Vesuvius

Flavio Dobran*, Augusto Neri & Micol Todesco§

*Department of Earth System Science, New York University, New York, New York 10003, USA
Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica, Via di Vigna Murata 605, Rome, Italy
GNV, § Dipartimento di Scienze della Terra, Universita di Pisa, Via S. Maria 53, 56100 Pisa, Italy

IN large eruptions, Vesuvius has generated catastrophic avalanches of tephra and hot gases, such as those that destroyed Pompei and Herculaneum in AD 79, and Torre del Greco and surrounding towns in 16311,12. These avalanches (pyroclastic surges and flows) are produced from collapses of the eruptive column, and can travel at >100 m s-1, with temperatures exceeding 800 °C. In 1944 Vesuvius ended its most recent cycle of activity, which had begun with the explosive eruption of 1631. Here we use numerical simulations to assess the hazards posed by the pyroclastic flows that are likely to accompany the onset of the next cycle of activity. We examine three different scales of eruption, and use vent conditions established by modelling magma ascent along the conduit13,14. Our results indicate that large- and medium-scale eruptions can produce complete destruction in the 7 km radius around the volcano (an area in which one million people live and work) in about 15 minutes or less, and that only small-scale eruptions can be arrested by the topographic relief of Monte Somma.

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