Bay of Naples, Italy, June 4, 2017 | © Courtesy of sarahtarno.

An Interview with Francesco Stoppa on a Geoscience Article Dealing with the Volcanic Activity of Vesuvius

In early 2017, Open Geosciences has published Stoppa et al.’s research results on the historical eruption of Vesuvius in 1631, in which a novel, simplified model of its volcanic activity has been proposed.

A Blog Interview by Pablo Markin.


While the model proposed by Stoppa et al. (2017) can help predict future volcanic eruptions and explains those that have occurred in the past, it also makes a contribution to the theorization of how volcanoes work.

Furthermore, as Prof Karoly Nemeth from the Institute of Agriculture and Environment, Massey University, Palmnerston North, New Zealand, indicates “Vesuvius is in general a reference volcano in many aspects in volcanology holding probably one of the most complete and best studied eruptive record of a single volcano on Earth. The 1631 eruption has produced a complete tephra sequence this article documents excellently from chemical aspects and proposed a new and innovative model to demonstrate that a chemically layered magma feeding system must exist below the volcano. The paper brilliantly summes up the fine details from seismic record to chemical data to demonstrate the potential effect of mafic refilling to an evolving magma chamber gradually “destabilising” it to trigger volcanic eruption. [One can h]ighly recommend this article to anyone wishing to read a multidisciplinary approach to understanding volcanci processes from a volcanic hazard aspect.”

Though for this study a group of authors have collaborated, Pablo Markin has conducted an interview with Francesco Stoppa, as one of principal researchers, to gain a behind-the-scenes perspective on the scientific work done during geological survey and samples collection.

Vesuvius on fire, Italy, July 13, 2017 | © Courtesy of European Space Agency.
Vesuvius on fire, Italy, July 13, 2017 | © Courtesy of European Space Agency.

Pablo Markin (PM): What were the theoretical, empirical and methodological challenges that this research topic has involved?

Francesco Stoppa (FS): We think that a geological model must follow a linear logic, it may be complex but it should not be overly complicated. If one needs to complicate it, to solve the pattern of causal interrelations, that model probably is not realistic. We believe that the field geology is the primary answer to the research question of this article and that theoretical models can only be confirmed by studying volcanic deposits and volcano behaviour. Nature is repetitive within certain limits. The biggest challenge for us was to find a theoretical model that would fit the field research data. It took us an amazingly long time to arrive at an extraordinarily simple model.

PM: How unique is Vesuvius as a research site both historically and internationally in terms of its geological activity?

FS: Vesuvius behaves like all volcanoes. It does not have its own character or activity profile but it can exhibit a wide range of geological behaviour. What makes it unique is its being surrounded by a megalopolis with many millions of inhabitants. The interest for Vesuvius in general culture adds to the particularity of this study. Vesuvius has been the first volcano studied historically. Its study has given rise to important schools of geological thought. The latter are so important that, despite being obsolete, they continue to be espoused. However, science must always overcome itself. Consequently, we have tried to overcome the so-called cow path theories.

PM: Since in your article you propose a simplified model of Vesuvius’s volcanic behavior, do you credit this to your interpretation of new empirical findings or to recent theoretical developments that have ultimately guided your study?

FS: Simple is better than sophisticated. The classic method of stratigraphic observations, that is, the geologically significant behavior of a volcano was important to us. Thus, this study has inquired into the type and distribution in time and space of the eruptions and differences in the composition of the magma emitted, and the change in the volcanic activity’s character from explosive to effusive. While being relatively uncomplicated, these scientific procedures can be highly important if they indicate a pattern of a relatively predictable and repetitive volcanic behavior. The present research team made up of scientists from various scientific organizations and nations has been very useful for overcome each one’s preconceptions. We think that overcoming these preconceptions is the most important thing for the prediction of possible future eruptions of this volcano, which can also save human lives.

PM: What have been the reactions that this article has received in Italy, regionally, e.g., in the European Union, and internationally?

FS: Though this publication has been published relatively recently, so far we have received positive comments. However, I do not think many scholars abandon the old idea that the volcano works like a furnace that digests sedimentary rocks to turn them into magmatic rocks. Certainly, this can be demonstrated on a small scale in the laboratory setting by mixing the most varied ingredients and providing a lot of energy from the outside. This type of experiments only validates itself, rather than what happens under natural conditions. We did not consider it. I am afraid this could be off-putting for many scholars, who are not used to climbing volcanoes.

PM: Given that Open Geosciences is an Open Access journal, what your experience in terms of securing funding, such as for article processing charges, publication workflow and article visibility has been?

FS: It seems to me that we have had a publication experience comparable to that we had with publishing articles in journals in other formats. But given the importance of mitigating the risk of volcanic eruptions, we may be disappointed that only 100 individuals have read the article so far. Perhaps in Italy the Vesuvius problem does not receive serious attention since it seems it is impossible to solve it.

By Pablo Markin

Francesco Stoppa is a tenured professor specializing in petrology and petrography at the Department of Psychological, Health and Territorial Sciences at the Università degli Studi “G.d’Annunzio”, Chieti-Pescara, Italy.


Featured Image Credits: Bay of Naples, Italy, June 4, 2017 | © Courtesy of sarahtarno.

This article has originally appeared in OpenScience, 28/08/2017, http://openscience.com/an-interview-with-francesco-stoppa-on-a-geoscience-article-dealing-with-the-volcanic-activity-of-vesuvius/.


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