When Mt. Vesuvius erupted in A.D. 79, the people around it had little warning, and more than 10,000 of them died as a result. Bad as that was, an eruption of neighboring Campi Flegrei could be worse.
As a supervolcano, it's in the same category as Indonesia's Mt. Tambora, whose eruption in 1815 killed 92,000 people and caused the "year without a summer." Campi Flegrei's eight-mile-wide caldera is so low and unassuming that much of metro Naples was built on top, and yet a full eruption would be one of the largest in human history, the kind of geological event capable of plunging the world into a minor ice age. This time, scientists are determined to give the three million residents of greater Naples abundant warning.
That's part of the motivation behind the Campi Flegrei Deep Drilling Project. Co-sponsored by the European Union, a coalition of scientists from 18 countries plans to drill deep into the volcano and implant sensors that will measure changes in temperature, the movement of magma, and seismic activity. The first phase of the project involves drilling a 1,640-foot borehole to study the composition of the rock; phase two, drilling the narrow 2.4-mile master hole. Data collected from sensors that the scientists place at the bottom of those holes will make it possible to map the volcano's underground geometry with unprecedented precision. It could also give local authorities early warning if an eruption becomes imminent.
Either that, or the drilling itself could cause a disaster.
"There's going to be seismic activity," says Robert J. Bodnar, a geochemistry professor at Virginia Tech who has studied the site for 10 years. What's unclear is how much of a problem that would be. Bodnar says that any drilling-induced activity would be so minor that it would be felt only by seismometers, but he admits that it's impossible to rule out more severe consequences. If the drill hit an unexpected hydrothermal pocket it could cause explosions. Noxious gases such as hydrogen sulfide could also escape, possibly causing explosions as they escape and even triggering seismic activity. Or the gases could poison the topsoil.
The worst-case scenario, however unlikely, is that a shock to the Campi Flegrei system would set off a chain reaction that ended in an earthquake or even a full-on volcanic eruption. Similar disasters have happened before: In 2006, a scientific drilling project on the Lusi volcano in Indonesia triggered an eruption that killed 13 people and displaced 30,000. Scientists on the project argue that the hole they're drilling is too small to be dangerous. But at press time, the project was on hold. As the mayor of Naples, Rosa Russo Iervolino, told Newsweek last fall, without a guarantee that the project is safe, "there will be no drilling in any part of the caldera."
How We Can Do Better
Monitor the volcano's seismic activity from the surface, and develop a rapidly executable plan for moving Naples's citizens to safety.
Also, What Could Possibly Go Wrong with
I say go for it. Could be the NBT (Next Big Thing) in disasters...
Isn't this what happened when BP was doing some deep-drilling in the Gulf of Mexico? I hear that it was an accident as they were not expecting that high of pressure at the well-head.
In normal oil or gas wells one uses a special water or oil made up to replicate the weight of the earth. This drilling mud may weight up to 13 or more pounds per gallon.
Exactly what could be used to hold molten lava?
Mud volcano at the low end, a year without summer on the high end... Increase volcanic ash in order to offset the effects of global warming or gain insight on how a caldera works... I say let them drill as fast as possible =)
So why can't we simply use this drilling method as a form of energy production? Geothermal come to anyones mind?
Better fill that hole back up. Don't want the thermal heat to escape.
If we cool down the core too much, we'll lose are magnetic field and then life on Earth will stop.
"A scientific drilling project on the Lusi volcano in Indonesia triggered an eruption." - PopSci
"A oil exploration project may have created a new volcano, named 'Lusi,' in Indonesia." - Wikipedia
Nice reporting, Karla.
maybe they can release pressure before it becomes explosive too
Science is great as long as it's always productive. Just to predict if/when a volcano will go off is more self ingratiating than productive. Therefore, I agree with everyone here about geothermal drilling. As long as those scientists/engineers maintain control over the vein they're drilling, why not make their work even more productive?
LUSI was no way near scientific, it was a commercial project that grossly ignore good drilling practice due to "budget constrain".
And sadly speaking the oil company neglects their responsibility by declaring it as a natural disaster....
I think it is a dumb ideal!
There is already a passage to the molten lava capped by a mountain and you know sometimes the pressure is greater then the mountain.
let me see are you dumb look at last years history we have already woke the sleeping giant after 1 volcano A month going off last year are we looking to die before 2012 or are we going to be the cause of all the big volcanos going off at one time they are all connected to the earths core you know and by the looks of it somthings up
BP and Halliburton should be tapped to do this job. Their record of safety is impeccable. Their equipment is always in a perfect state of operation and their managers never would cut corners to save $100K. Give them the contract, a blank check and a release of liability. Then bend over and kiss your assets goodbye fool.