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volccasehist - Volcanic Case Histories EENS 204 Tulane...

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This page last updated on 08-Oct-2007 EENS 204 Natural Disasters Tulane University Prof. Stephen A. Nelson Volcanic Case Histories In this lecture we will discuss three case histories of important eruptions that have occurred within recorded history. The eruption of Mount Vesuvius, Italy in 79 A.D., the eruption of Mount Pelée on the Caribbean island of Martinique in 1902, and the eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980. Vesuvius, 79 A.D. Mount Vesuvius is located to the southeast of Naples, Italy along the Bay of Naples. Prior to the catastrophic eruption of 79 A.D. Vesuvius was considered an extinct volcano by the inhabitants of the area, who were flourishing at the height of the Roman Empire. The area northwest of Naples, known as the Phelegrean Fields, was known to be an active volcanic area, however. Nevertheless, when earthquakes became frequent in the Vesuvius area in 62 A.D., they caused no alarm because earthquakes were quite common throughout Italy. What we know of the eruption that took place in 79 A.D. comes from two different sources: (1) Two letters written by the Pliny the Younger, the nephew of Caius Plinius (Pliny the Elder), to the historian Tacitus concerning the death of his uncle. Pliny the Elder was an admiral in the Roman navy and well known in his time. (2) Information from geological and archeological studies that have examined the area around Vesuvius. We start with the account given by Pliny the Younger in his letters to Tacitus. About 1 P.M. on August 24, 79 A.D. the Plinys were in Misenum, about 30 km across the Bay of Naples from Vesuvius. A large cloud appeared above the volcano, growing rapidly, rising many thousands of meters and spreading out laterally in the atmosphere. Pliny the Younger states that the cloud Volcanic Case Histories 10/8/2007 Page 1 of 8
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had the shape of a Mediterranean pine tree, with a narrow trunk at the base, spreading out like branches above. Pliny the Elder was curious about the cloud and began to plan a trip across the bay to investigate. Before he could get his ship ready, he received word from people living closer to Vesuvius that people needed help, and his investigative mission became instead a rescue mission. He organized his fleet and set sail with the intention of rescuing people living near the base of the volcano at Torre del Greco. As he crossed the bay his ship was showered by hot ashes and pumice which accumulated on the deck. He soon found it was impossible to make the rescue attempt and he turned in the direction of the wind and instead landed at Stabiae, to the south of Vesuvius. At Stabiae, conditions were still mild and he encountered his friend Pomponianus who was trying to escape to the sea, but the winds were not favorable. In order to reassure Pomponianus that there was no danger, Pliny went to the local baths and sat down for a meal. As night came, Pliny retired for several hours of sleep.
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