Vesuvio: the 1631-1944 eruptive cycle

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Vesuvio volcano, Italy

The 1631-1944 eruptive cycle

So far, I can offer only a few spectacular photos that illustrate the activity of Vesuvio during its most recent cycle of activity. Soon, there will be a list of eruptive sub-cycles and short descriptions of the major events during that period.

Rebuilding itself after the catastrophic 1631 eruption, Vesuvio is seen here during its major eruption in April 1694, the first well-documented event after 1631. A new cone has formed within the vast 1631 crater but is still significantly lower than Monte Somma (to the left of the active cone). For the first time, lava overflows the rim of the 1631 crater and spills down a narrov ravine on the W flank of the volcano without reaching inhabited areas. This illustration is from Bulifon and shows small and sketchy views of the 1631 eruption as well as of the mountain after that event.

Vesuvio in eruption, August 1779. This eruption was a typical subcycle-closing event, characterized by the ejection of spectacular lava fountains rising several km above the summit, and devastating tephra falls in the northeast sector of the volcano. Image was taken from Alfano and Friedlaender 1928.

One of the most devastating eruptions after 1631, that of 1794 destroyed the town of Torre del Greco almost completely. The lava flow that did the destruction extended out into the Gulf of Napoli forming a new headland that is well represented in this woodcut. Vesuvion is shown in the culminating explosive phase in the background when lava emission had already ceased. Taken from Alfano and Friedlaender (1928).

During the waning stage of its 1872 eruption, Vesuvio emitted jets of black ash every 10 seconds or so, as illustrated neatly in this drawing by Heim (1873) of 29 April 1872. Still later, the emitted ash assumed a whitish color which was taken by the local population as evidence that the eruption had ended.

Heim (1873) drew these comparison views of Vesuvio, showing the volcano before (top) and after the 1872 eruption (bottom). Note the newly emplaced lava flows and morphological changes in the summit region.

One of the earliest photos ever taken of a volcanic eruption, this spectacular image shows Vesuvio during the culminating phase of its 1872 eruption, on 26 April. A dense ash column rises about 6 km above the summit while steam trails mark the paths of lava flows on the NW flank. This photo is one of a series taken by A. Sommer.

Shortly after the climax of the violent 1906 eruption, Vesuvio emits dense but weak plumes of grayish ash that are driven northwards. The destruction of the summit is already evident. Vesuvio lost more than 100 m in height during that eruption which was its largest since 1631. Photo by Perret (1924), taken on 10 April 1906.

Person wading through deep, uncompacted volcanic ash on the base of erupting Vesuvio, 9 or 10 April 1906. The ash had a thickness of about 0.3 m in this area (on the W side of the volcano) but much heavier tephra fallout occurred on the N and NE sides where several villages received up to 1.5 m of pyroclastics and almost all roofs caved in. Several hundred people died as a result of this disaster.

Going up to the Vesuvian observatory along the funicular railway during the April 1906 eruption. The landscape is deeply buried with light-colored ash.

Vesuvio decapitated after the 1906 eruption, May 1906. The mountain lost at least 115 m in height, having reached its maximum ever measured elevation of 1335 m in May 1905. During the years after the 1906 eruption, collapse of the crater walls led to further diminuition in the height of the active cone. The photo was taken from Monte Somma (a part of which is visible in the left foreground, by Perret (1924), looking south.

Towards the end of the 1913-1944 subcyle, the 1906 crater was completely filled with lava and a minor amount of pyroclastics. This and the following two images are rare color shots of the typical intracrateral activity during that period, taken in 1941 or 1942. In this photo, incandescent pahoehoe lava tongues are seen at the base of the snow-covered, steaming central intracrateral cone ("Piccolo") in the background. This cone eventually had become the highest summit of the volcano.

Pahoehoe lava slowly spreading across the floor of the crater in 1941 or 1942. The source of this persistent, low-level activity is the "Piccolo" cone in the center of the 1906 crater of which parts are visible in the background.

Another close up view of pahoehoe lava moving over slightly older lava in the crater of Vesuvio in 1941 or 1942. The main flow channel is visible in the background.

Night view of Vesuvio during the increasing phase of its March 1944 eruption. Fire fountains rise from the crater and a tremendous display of lightning illuminates the eruption column. The photo was taken by Giuseppe Imbò, then director of the Osservatorio Vesuviano. Note the large incandescent boulders at the base of the active cone. Photo was taken on the evening of 22 March 1944, published in Imbó (1949).

During the first stage of its 1944 eruption, Vesvio produced major volumes of lava at a greatly increased effusion rate. In this aerial view taken from N on 23 March 1944, two lava lobes are seen moving towards the villages of Massa (at left) and San Sebastiano (at right). A small branch of lava has just started moving towards Cercola which is visible in the center foreground. The Somma-Vesuvio complex is visible in the background with the Somma ridge covered with snow and the active cone in the stage of vigorous lava fountain ejection. The photo was published in Imbó (1949).

This view is from the modern town of Pompei (adjacent to the excavations of the Ancient Roman city) towards Vesuvio on 24 March 1944. The dense ash plume is being thrown up in pulses and then driven towards W. The main fallout during the 1944 eruption, however, affected areas on the E side of the volcano around Terzigno where the ash cover is still visible. Photo is from Imbó (1949). The church tower is of the Santuario of Pompei. The irregular black lines in the center are artefacts or damage of the original photo.

Sequence of aerial views of hot avalanches descending the erupting cone of Vesuvio during the 1944 eruption. The avalanches were described by Imbó (1949) as "glowing clouds". They reached only the base of the active cone and left conspicuous tongue-shaped lobes (see the photo at the bottom of this page). View is from the W on 24 March 1944.

Vesuvio in eruption, March 1944, seen from Napoli. Taken during the culminating explosive stage of the most recent eruption to date when thousands of residents had to be moved away temporarily. Allied troops had to cope with tephra fallout severely hampering use of aircraft during this decisive stage of WW-II in Italy. This rare color photo was taken from the Time Life book "Volcano".

Aerial view of the Somma-Vesuvio complex from the SW, taken no more than 10 years after the 1944 eruption. The 1944 crater gapes at the top of the historically active "Gran Cono" while the major lava flow of the 1944 eruption is visible in the upper left corner, at the base of the steep caldera wall of Monte Somma. Note the numerous tongue-shaped features on the left base of the cone, these are lobes of pyroclastic avalanches that came down during the 1944 eruption. They have been interpreted as seismically triggered by Hazlett et al. (1991).

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This page was last modified on 10 January 1996