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Puyehue Cordón Caulle at the NASA Earth Observatory 9 March 2012

Posted by admin in Chile, NASA Earth Observatory, natural hazards, Puyehue.
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The eruption under way at the Puyehue Cordón Caulle volcanic complex in Chile, which began in June 2011 and which caused large-scale evacuations and much disruption last year, may yet reach its first anniversary but appears to be waning. The NASA Earth Observatory has published images of the volcano captured in February and March 2012 which show a small diffuse plume, much reduced from the voluminous ashy emissions that were causing so many difficulties across South America and further afield last year. Click on the image below (MODIS/Terra image, 7 March 2012) to go to the article at the NASA Earth Observatory.

Puyehue Cordon Caulle, 7 March 2012 (NASA MODIS/Terra image).

As the Earth Observatory article points out, although ash levels are much reduced the legacy of Puyehue’s emissions remains for the local environment, with vegetation killed and lakes coated in floating particulates. An article at the Nature News Blog discusses some of the effects of the eruption on regional ecosystems. Recovery will of course occur, as the article recognizes, ending with the confident prediction by an Argentinian scientist that ‘the ecosystems will recover in due course’. Indeed, it is somewhat anthropocentric to talk, as the Nature News article does, of volcanic ash ‘disrupting’ local ecosystems when volcanoes are themselves a part of those systems.

Puyehue-Cordón Caulle – NASA Earth Observatory, 9 March 2012
Chilean volcano’s ash is still disrupting ecosystems – Nature News Blog, 22 February 2012

The Volcanism Blog

New Zealand to fund volcano monitoring improvements in Vanuatu 6 March 2012

Posted by admin in natural hazards, Pacific, Vanuatu, volcano monitoring.
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Vanuatu has plenty of volcanic activity: Ambrym, Aoba, Gaua, Yasur are perhaps the best-known of the archipelago’s historically active volcanoes, all of which have produced violent and disruptive eruptions in the past, and have plenty of destructive potential for the future.

The news that Vanautu’s volcano monitoring capacity is to be enhanced in a five-year programme with the help from New Zealand is therefore very welcome. The New Zealand Government’s aid agency is providing NZ$500,000 for real-time seismic and camera monitoring of Ambae (Aoba), Gaua and Tanna (Yasur) volcanoes. A programme of community outreach and education, technical training and volcanic emergency response plan development is also being supported in a partnership between GNS Science in New Zealand and the Vanuatu Meteorology and Geohazards Department.

Five-year project to see seismic cameras placed on three Vanuatu volcanoes – Radio New Zealand International, 6 March 2012
NZ volcano project to help Vanuatu – MSN NZ, 6 March 2012
NZ scientists introduce volcano life-saving monitoring devices to Vanuatu – Bernama, 6 March 2012

Volcanoes of the world: Vanuatu – information from the Global Volcanism Program on Vanuatu’s volcanoes

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Prof warns of volcanic threat to south-east Australia: that word ‘overdue’ again (updated) 5 July 2011

Posted by admin in Australia, natural hazards, volcano monitoring.
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Professor Bernie Joyce of Melbourne University is reported as warning, again, that south-east Australia is ‘overdue’ for a volcanic eruption – ‘well overdue’, in fact, according to a story today headlined ‘Victoria’s overdue for volcano – warning’ in Melbourne’s Herald-Sun newspaper:

Scientists have told a conference it is only a matter of time before volcanoes erupt in Victoria, and warned there is no disaster plan for when it happens.

According to scientists at Melbourne University, a series of volcanoes in Victoria’s west are well overdue to erupt.

Eruptions should occur in the region about every 2000 years, but the south-east of the country hasn’t experienced any volcanic activity since Mt Gambier erupted over 5000 years ago.

The paper concerned was presented at the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics Conference in Melbourne, an event which has a silly subtitle (‘Earth on the Edge’) and a complete mess of a website. In a model of how not to use the web to communicate important information, the full programme for the conference appears only to be available as a 255-page PDF document, so it’s not as easy as it should be to find the descriptions of individual contributions. Two papers by Bernie Joyce are listed in this mammoth publication: E. B. Joyce, R. Hughes, ‘Analysing the spatial distribution of volcanic activity over time: the young monogenetic Newer Volcanic Province of southeastern Australia’, and E. B. Joyce, ‘A new assessment of risk and hazard for the young volcanoes of Australia’. It sounds as if the latter, sole-author, paper is the one at the bottom of this report, but without knowing what it actually says it’s hard to judge how fair the Herald-Sun‘s reporting of it is – whether the term ‘overdue’ actually appears, for example. Then again, the things Professor Joyce does say on this topic are pretty well guaranteed to feed sensationalized headlines, as we have seen before.

In any case, the word ‘overdue’ is never a wise choice when it comes to the behaviour of volcanoes. They are not trains and do not run to a timetable. Such loaded terminology is always going to feed sensationalism in the press and create a misleading and unnecessary public apprehension of danger. There is a balance between appropriate preparedness based on a rational assessment of potential hazards and volcano fear-mongering. Scientists cannot exert much control over the way their words are twisted in the world of the media – which is pretty clueless on volcanic matters as a rule anyway – but reputable scientists (even ones with books to sell) do have a responsibility not to feed the fear-mongers.

UPDATE. Here we go: ‘Volcanoes “due to erupt”‘ (Melbourne Age), ‘Aussie volcanoes due for eruption’ (The Australian), ‘Australian regions should brace for volcanic eruptions soon’ (International Business Times). That last report is particularly ludicrous, with its advice that entire regions should ‘brace for volcanic eruptions’ – grab a table or something, quick – and its claim that research ‘has verified [verified!] that Western Victoria and South Australia are overdue for an eruption that could potentially affect thousands of local residents’. This really is wretched scare-mongering stuff.

FURTHER UPDATE. The idiocy continues. Earth tremors affecting Melbourne? Definitely a sign of approaching volcanic geotectonic mayhem, says the Herald-Sun: ‘The biggest aftershock from yesterday’s 4.6 magnitude earth tremor was a forecast that Victoria’s dormant volcanoes are overdue to erupt. … Seismologists said aftershocks would be felt for days. But the future painted by scientists in Melbourne for today’s Congress of Geodesy and Geophysics was more apocalyptic. Scientists said volcanoes in the Western District were overdue to blow’. And here’s the text all the papers are merrily recycling: a University of Melbourne press release, headed ‘Australian volcano eruptions overdue, new study confirms’.

Victoria’s overdue for volcano – warningHerald-Sun, 5 July 2011

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Merapi eruption update 5 November 2010

Posted by admin in activity reports, eruptions, Indonesia, Merapi, natural hazards, volcano monitoring, volcanoes.
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To my great regret I’ve only been able to run a minimalist blog recently and haven’t been able to cover the Merapi eruption up to now, but fortunately Erik Klemetti’s coverage of this dramatic and tragic event at the Eruptions blog (click here for ‘Merapi’ tagged posts) couldn’t be bettered.

The news from Indonesia today continues to be grim indeed. News reports say that a further eruption of Merapi, ‘the biggest so far’ according to Indonesian volcanologist Surono (quoted by AFP), took place just after midnight local time on Friday 5 November, although this may have been a dome collapse rather than a new eruptive event. Darwin VAAC reports emissions at FL550 (55,000 feet / 16,700 metres a.s.l.), with the plume extending 190 nautical miles (~350 km) to the west and south-west. Pyroclastic flows reached 13 km, and perhaps as far as 18 km, from the volcano’s summit, pushing at the limits of the exclusion zone as then in force and destroying villages on the slopes. Many more people have been killed: news reports give death tolls of around 50, with at least 70 critically injured. The total number of deaths in this eruption is now around 100. Ash fall occurred in the city of Yogyakarta, 30 km from Merapi, and the sound of the latest eruption was heard up to 20 km away. Flights from Yogyakarta airport have been disrupted again, after resuming briefly yesterday.

The exclusion zone around the volcano has now been extended to 20 km from the summit. Between 70,000 and 100,000 people have fled the area around the volcano, stretching Indonesia’s emergency resources to the limit. But tribute must be paid to Indonesia’s volcanologists and emergency officials, who have been providing all the information and warnings they can about this eruption as rapidly and effectively as possible throughout. Their warnings have not always been heeded, sadly. Information from the Volcanological Survey of Indonesia about the ongoing activity at Merapi (in Indonesian) can currently be found here.

Indonesian volcano claims another 49 lives – AFP, 5 November 2010
Death toll from Indonesian volcano nears 100Times of India, 5 November 2010
Dozens die in new Mount Merapi eruption in Indonesia – BBC News, 5 November 2010
Deaths from Indonesian volcano wrath near 100 – GMANews.TV, 5 November 2010
Death toll from Indonesian volcano tops 100 – ABC News, 5 November 2010

Global Volcanism Program: Merapi – summary information for Merapi (0603-25=)
Volcanological Survey of Indonesia – News and information portal for the Volcanological Survey of Indonesia

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San Salvador: living under the volcano 28 September 2010

Posted by admin in El Salvador, natural hazards, San Salvador, volcano monitoring, volcanology.
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Dominating the landscape to the west of El Salvador’s capital of San Salvador is the massive volcano that shares the city’s name. San Salvador volcano last erupted in 1917, the beginning of the eruption being marked by an earthquake estimated to have been magnitude 5.6 which left up to 90% of the capital’s housing stock damaged or destroyed according to contemporary reports (see today’s Daily Volcano Quote). The 1917 eruption, the seat of which was El Boquerón, the main summit of San Salvador, lasted from June to November and produced extensive lava flows and ashfall, damaging crops and causing some fatalities in the surrounding region.

Today the city of San Salvador has a population estimated at 2.2 million and its suburbs encroach upon the lower slopes of San Salvador volcano. A fresh eruption of San Salvador on almost any scale would have serious consequences for the city of San Salvador. Even without any eruptive activity, the volcano’s unstable slopes pose a significant landslide hazard for the surrounding areas.

The authorities in El Salvador are very conscious of the hazard San Salvador poses. Yesterday the Salvadorean newspaper El Diario Co Latino reported that the Salvadorean environment ministry, the Ministerio de Medio Ambiente  y Recursos Naturales (MARN) has been working with geologists and non-governmental organizations from across the world to assess the potential threat of San Salvador and plan hazard mitigation and response strategies. Taking into account San Salvador’s 3000-year history of frequent activity, ‘The likelihood that a phenomenon such as that of 1917 will occur within the next 100 years is high, but it is not possible to give an exact time range’, says volcanologist Dolores Ferrés, author of the study Estratigrafía, geología y evolución del volcán de San Salvador: Aplicación en la evaluación de peligros volcánicos y su posible impacto, which was presented to the media at a congress held by MARN on 21 September.

Ferrés’s study is described in a news release from El Salvador’s Servicio Nacional de Estudios Territoriales (SNET) as ‘a breakthrough in the generation of knowledge about volcanic risk in the country and providing vital information to decision-makers in various sectors’. The intention is to carry out a comprehensive hazard assessment programme for San Salvador volcano and the surrounding area. ‘Although the volcano currently shows only very week activity (fumaroles in Cerro La Hoya and very sporadic volcanic-tectonic seismicity) it is considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in Central America because of its proximity to large urban areas and its eruptive history’, is the SNET’s current verdict on San Salvador volcano.

Presentación Estudio volcán de San Salvador – SNET news release, 21 September 2010
Volcán de San Salvador: un gigante activoDiario Co Latino, 27 September 2010

Global Volcanism Program: San Salvador – summary information for San Salvador (1403-05=)
Volcano Hazards in the San Salvador Region – USGS report, 2001, available at the CVO website

The Volcanism Blog

Fire, ice, and Eyjafjallajökull 23 September 2010

Posted by admin in current research, Eyjafjöll, geoscience, Iceland, natural hazards, volcanology.
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A fascinating article in Science News, magazine of the Society for Science and the Public, explores the role of ice in volcanism with particular reference to the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull earlier this year. When Eyjafjallajökull erupted on 20 March 2010 it began with a fissure eruption characterized by relatively quiet effusive activity and limited ash emissions. This changed in mid-April when the seat of the eruption moved west to an area beneath the ice-cap. As the eruption became sub-glacial, explosivity and ash production increased, with the disruptive consequences that we are all familiar with.

The Science News article, an excellent piece of work by Alexandra Witze, looks at some of the research that is now going on in the wake of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption to explore the crucial issue of glaciovolcanism – the interaction between volcanic activity and ice.

Eyjafjallajökull’s eruption has refocused attention on a small but rapidly growing subset of volcanology: the study of volcano-ice interactions. Ice-covered volcanoes, or “glaciovolcanoes,” are not fundamentally different from other volcanoes in terms of plumbing or eruptive style. But they distinguish themselves the moment magma breaks through the crust and meets ice.

One reason to study icy volcanoes is to better understand their risks. Nobody died in the Eyjafjallajökull eruption, but in 1985 an eruption beneath an icy mountain in the Colombian Andes sent massive mudflows coursing downstream, killing more than 20,000 people. Dozens of volcanoes mantled with ice are scattered around the world, each posing a distinct hazard.

The volcano responsible for that killer eruption of 1985 was of course Nevado del Ruiz; the 25th anniversary of that event will be on 13 November this year. At Nevado del Ruiz human failings in monitoring and communication (along with unfortunate weather conditions that obscured the summit) rather than geology were to blame for the scale of the disaster, but the eruption certainly illustrates the particularly hazardous nature of ice-capped volcanoes.

Fire & ice: volcanoes and frozen lands make an explosive combo – Science News, 25 September 2010

The Volcanism Blog

INGV head ponders keeping seismic data secret 15 September 2010

Posted by admin in Italy, natural hazards.
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Dr Enzo Boschi, director of the Italian Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia, when not thinking aloud about Marsili seamount erupting and unleashing a tsunami on Southern Italy (‘it could happen tomorrow’), is concerned that the easy availability of scientific data in the non-specialist public arena is causing unnecessary fear and alarm. Perhaps, for example, the seismic data collected by the INGV should not be published? The media, says Boschi, distort the data and act as scaremongers, spreading panic and feeding the ‘prophets of doom’.

Apparently Boschi may just have been joking about halting the publication of data. But he will certainly have had his reasons for floating the idea.

IMPORTANT NOTE: please take the time to read an invaluable comment on this issue (also cross-posted to this thread at Eruptions) from Boris Behncke of the INGV.

UPDATE. Interesting sidelights on the Chinese approach to earthquake science in this article in New Humanist magazine: ‘An official from China’s national earthquake administration spoke positively on the programme about parrots that can predict tremblors and the paranormal abilities of a man who claimed he heard ringing in his ears before the April earthquake in Yushu, northwest China’. Following the Tangshan earthquake of 1976, which killed around 240,000 people, ‘Officials were singled out for having ignored purported natural indicators of disaster: these apparently included the migration of yellow weasels and unusually large catches of fish’. Italian seismologists have their problems, but things could be worse.

Italians consider hiding seismic data to reduce public ‘melodrama’ – ScienceInsider, 14 September 2010

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Support volcano monitoring in Guatemala 23 June 2010

Posted by admin in Guatemala, natural hazards, Santa María, volcano monitoring.
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Jessica Ball of the Magma Cum Laude blog has been in touch with news of a very worthy cause: supporting volcano monitoring in Guatemala. The government agency charged with monitoring Guatemala’s volcanoes, the Instituto Nacional de Sismología, Volcanología, Meteorología e Hidrología (INSIVUMEH), is staffed by some incredibly dedicated and hard-working men and women who do all they can to keep their people safe from volcanic hazards, but they do not have the equipment they need to do the job as well as it needs to be done. They need everything from computers to rock hammers, tape measures to digital cameras, laser rangefinders to geological hand lenses. That’s where you can help.

The International Volcano Monitoring Fund (IVMF) was set up by Dr Jeff Witter to help improve volcano monitoring in developing countries. Jessica Ball has done much of her volcanological research on Santiaguito volcano in Guatemala, and she has got together with the IVMF and INSIVUMEH to compile a list of what is needed and launch a fundraising effort for the Santaguito Volcano Observatory. Please go to Jessica’s page about the fundraiser at Magma Cum Laude, and to the IVMF’s Guatemala page, to find out what your donations can buy and how you can help.

This is a very worthy cause in which a few dollars can make a big difference: please help if you can.

The Volcanism Blog

Italy ponders volcanic threat from Ischia 28 April 2010

Posted by admin in Ischia, Italy, natural hazards, volcano monitoring, volcanoes.
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At the northern end of the Gulf of Naples in southern Italy lies the island of Ischia, a complex volcanic edifice with a long history of violent activity that last erupted in 1302 AD. It has a population of around 60,000 and is a popular tourist destination. Now the head of Italy’s civil protection service, Guido Bertolaso, is sounding alarm bells about the potential volcanic threat from Ischia in the Italian media (only a few weeks after his Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia counterpart Dr Enzo Boschi did the same thing over Mount Marsili).

During a press conference in which he discussed the range of volcanic risks faced by Italy, Bertolaso described Vesuvius ‘the biggest civil protection problem in our country’, but pointed the finger at Ischia as potentially the more immediate threat: ‘If I were to say what is potentially the volcano with a bullet in the chamber, I would say that it is not Vesuvius but the island of Ischia’. He said that since the eruption of 1302 the height of Mount Epomeo, the highest point of the island (which is a volcanic horst) has increased by 800 metres [EDIT, this should almost certainly be 300 metres, see comments below. FURTHER EDIT, the uplift is to ~780 metres a.s.l., but that’s over the past 33,000 years – see note at the end of this post.] and that the magma chamber is ‘reloading’. However, whereas everybody knows that Vesuvius is an active volcano there is not the same perception of Ischia: this is clearly something that Bertolaso wants to change.

Bertolaso also discussed the need for better monitoring of active undersea volcanoes, and floated the idea of a Europe-wide volcanic ash monitoring network, in the wake of the disruption caused by Eyjafjallajökull.

(INGV’s monitoring page for Ischia is here. There is no sign of any impending eruption at Ischia, as Bertolaso made clear in his remarks.)

NOTE: Ischia uplift. Poli et al (1989) note that ‘the rapid uplift of the central horst of Mount Epomeo … from about -200 m to 700 m occurred after 33,000 y. B.P., mostly in the last 20,000 years’ (p. 332). Poli et al also anticipated that the main potential volcanic hazard at Ischia was landslides and mudflows consequent on this rapid uplift, rather than the direct effects of volcanic activity, with future eruptions likely to be effusive rather than explosive, although there remains the possibility of ‘phreatic or phreatomagmatic crisis’ (p. 334). S. Poli et al, ‘Time dimension in the geochemical approach and hazard estimates of a volcanic area: the Isle of Ischia case (Italy)’, Journal of Volcanology & Geothermal Research, 36 (1989), pp. 327-335 [doi:10.1016/0377-0273(89)90077-2].

Bertolaso: allarme eruzione a IschiaCorriere della Sera, 27 April 2010
Bertolaso lancia l’allarme su Ischia ‘Un vulcano con il colpo in canna’La Repubblica, 27 April 2010
Vulcani: Bertolaso, parte il monitoraggio di quelli sommersi – AGI, 27 April 2010
Bertolaso propone sistema monitoraggio Ue per ceneri vulcaniche – Reuters, 27 April 2010
Ischia volcano eruption concerns – Press Association, 28 April 2010
Italy says Ischia volcano, near Naples, could blowThe Statesman, 28 April 2010

Global Volcanism Program: Ischia – information about Ischia (0101-03=) from the GVP
Osservatorio Vesuviano: Ischia – Ischia monitoring information from the INGV’s Vesuvius Observatory

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Marsili seamount: tsunami threat for Southern Italy? 30 March 2010

Posted by admin in Italy, Marsili, natural hazards, submarine volcanism, volcano monitoring, volcanoes.
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Mount Marsili is a 3000-metre high seamount beneath the Tyrrhenian Sea, 150 km south-west of Naples. Marsili is active and recent research has indicated signs of restlessness (see this 2006 paper in PDF), although the risks of any dangerous eruptive activity are very slight). In an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, the director of the Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia (INGV), Dr Enzo Boschi, has reminded everyone that Marsili is active and that there is a potential threat of an eruption/collapse generating a tsunami that would threaten Southern Italy:

It could happen tomorrow. The latest research says that the volcanic edifice is not strong and its walls are fragile. Furthermore we have measured the magma chamber that has formed in recent years and it is of large dimensions. All this tells us that the volcano is active and could erupt unexpectedly.

According to the article, observations indicate that hydrothermal emissions from vents around Marsili have become more intense recently, and evidence of landslides discovered by the oceanographic research vessel Urania last February ‘indicate an instability impossible to ignore’. Dr Boschi warns that a flank collapse at Marsili ‘would displace millions of cubic metres of material, which would be capable of generating a wave of great power’. Marsili is currently unmonitored, observes Dr Boschi: ‘A network of seismometers should be installed around the edifice, connected on land to a volcano monitoring centre. But this is beyond the budget’.

And it seems reasonable to suggest that the budget is what this article is actually all about. Despite the new attention this story will bring to Marsili as it gets cut-and-pasted around the web, there is nothing substantially new here, as Aldo Piombino notes in a very comprehensive post published on his blog today. No new activity lies behind this report, and nor has the potential threat, such as it is, changed in any way. The novelty, he observes, is in public attention being drawn to the need to monitor Marsili, which has been invisible in every sense as far as the Italian public is concerned.

Undersea volcanoes tend to be out of sight and out of mind. Writing in 2008, Aldo Piombino called Marsili ‘one of the least-known of the huge volcanic systems of Europe’, and argued that more attention must be paid to this active and potentially very destructive underwater giant:

It is statistically very unlikely that in our lifetimes we will see an explosion of Marsili, and even less likely that we will see a tsunami caused by a landslide on its flanks, but it is to be hoped that it will be placed under close seismic and geochemical surveillance, as with other active Italian volcanoes. I believe that it is necessary for civil protection and for science that one of the largest volcanoes in Europe is better understood.

Boris Behncke of the INGV discussed Marsili’s activity in the course of his Q&A on Dr Klemetti’s Eruptions blog last year, but also remarked that monitoring Marsili was not a priority for the INGV [UPDATE: in fact that is not what Boris meant. He meant that Marsili has not been a priority for the Italian authorities, Civil Defence, and the Italian public, rather than the INGV – see his comment at Eruptions]. Dr Boschi’s comments today would seem to indicate that that has changed. Aldo Piombino observes today that the technology is available within the INGV to monitor Marsili directly from the seabed using new broadband seismometers transmitting to land-based monitoring stations, and supports Dr Boschi’s call for full monitoring of the volcano. But that cannot happen without money, which is more likely to be forthcoming if the potential (and real but, it must be emphasized again, very remote) dangers of a tsunami-generating collapse at Marsili are stressed – hence the Corriere della Sera article.

So, it seems that a push has begun within Italian volcanology to get Marsili wired up for continuous and comprehensive monitoring. Let us hope it succeeds.

UPDATE 30 March 2010: Dr Erik Klemetti has more on Marsili at Eruptions, and Boris Behncke, himself of the INGV (Dr Boschi is Boris’s boss), has an illuminating comment here.

Torna a far paura il vulcano sommerso nel TirrenoCorriere della Sera, 29 March 2010
Undersea volcano threatens southern Italy: report – AFP, 29 March 2010
Il Monte Marsili, un gigantesco vulcano nascosto dalle profondità del Mar Tirreno – scienzeedintorni, 4 April 2008
Finalmente alla ribalta il più grande fra i vulcani sommersi nel Tirreno, il Monte Marsili – scienzeedintorni, 29 March 2010

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