I remember my first visit to Pompei as a kid. It was a mind-blowing experience to learn what Mount Vesuvius, which I could see in the background, was able to do to the city and its inhabitants. An apparently quiet mountain, like the one we see now, caused an unimaginable destruction on the nearby cities of Pompei, Ercolano and Stabia, burying them with ash and hot rocks for centuries. I began to wonder what we can do to understand, and cope with, such a devastating fury.
The Pompei eruption in 79AD changed the course of history for the people living in the surroundings of Mount Vesuvius, and it is a startling reminder of the threat it poses to the broader Naples area. But the Earth has seen even more powerful eruptions during its history, including events that would jeopardize the survival of mankind if they occurred now1. Even recent smaller events, like the eruption occurred at Eyjafjallajökull (Iceland) in 2010, have the potential to cause large-scale loss of life and significant damage.
These events will happen again in the future, and we must be ready. Complex societal and business networks and infrastructures has led to an unprecedented well-being, but it has also increased the vulnerability of our style of life to unexpected events such as large volcanic eruptions.
Modern volcanologists work to improve our comprehension of volcanoes and may play a major role in mitigating the impact of eruptions. Because of the presence of three active volcanoes, Mount Vesuvius, Campi Flegrei and Ischia, Naples has always been a significant place for research into them. It hosts the oldest volcano observatory in the world (since 1851) – the Osservatorio Vesuviano. It is now part of the Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia (INGV), which is responsible for the monitoring of all active Italian volcanoes, including also Stromboli, Vulcano and Etna. INGV’s volcano monitoring networks are among the best in the world, and INGV volcanologists work with civil protection authorities to make sure people live safely in the volcanic areas.
To reinforce this natural liaison between the city and the volcanoes, the University of Naples, Federico II, and the Osservatorio Vesuviano-INGV, have launched a new master course for students who want to learn about volcanoes, their dynamics and the associated risks in this unique natural laboratory. The classes, in English, are held by world-recognized volcanologists from University of Naples, Federico II, and INGV–Osservatorio Vesuviano. Students learn the bases of modern volcanology, the physical and chemical processes that control the behaviour of volcanoes and the related hazards through in-depth theoretical and experimental studies. They also experience how such understanding may help mitigate the volcanic risk, with the experience of experts from the Italian Department of Civil Protection. At the end of the master course, students will have developed a wide range of skills, such as acquisition, processing and interpretation of quantitative field and/or laboratory data, application of cutting-edge mathematical and statistical techniques to describe the physical processes, geological mapping, collection, interpretation, representation and spatial analysis of data, volcanic hazard and risk assessment.
The major goal of the course is to prepare a new generation of volcanologists that will be able to fill the gaps in our knowledge on dynamics and to improve hazard forecasting capabilities, adopting a wide range of novel technical, mathematical and statistical techniques. These skills are particularly important to work for government agencies in hazard management, to work for volcano observatories, or in the commercial sector for either geotechnical-geophysical companies, or risk management and reinsurance companies. The course will also offer the possibility to do the Italian national exam (state exam) to become a geologist.
This master course also represents a response to the continuing reduction in Earth sciences enrolments in Italy2. For example, the number of students enrolled in geological science degrees have fallen by about 45% in the last 10 years. Very likely, natural risks will become a major issue in the near future. The ever-growing human exposition and delicate interconnections of global society will lead to an unavoidable increasing of natural disasters, and the current climate change is expected to exacerbate the problem. For example, we are already experiencing an increasing trend in the rate of extreme meteorological events.
A more resilient country requires more well-trained scientists and practitioners devoted to the mitigation of natural risks, which is also in line with the activities of the recent Italian project on risk assessment, PNRR-RETURN, funded by the NextGenerationEU plan and led by the University of Naples Federico II. The new volcanology course will contribute to this goal.