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Explosive Eruptions

Felsic magmas erupt explosively and cause widespread damage, including many fatalities.

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Visit to Pompeii, 79 AD

Visit to Pompeii, 79 AD

Credit: Karl Briullov (1799?1852)
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Karl_Briullov,_The_Last_Day_of_Pompeii_(1827%E2%80%931833).jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Imagine strolling along a city street in the Ancient Roman city of Pompeii in 79AD. Slaves care for you and you have plenty of chances for amusement. Then, at midday on August 24th things go very, very wrong.

A Time Capsule of Ancient Rome

  • Much of what we know about the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD comes from two letters written by Pliny the Younger. In fact, extremely explosive eruptions, such as happened at Vesuvius that day, have been named Plinian eruptions for his vivid descriptions. In a Plinian eruptions an enormous column of gas and ash explodes into the stratosphere and then collapses. Scorching hot flows of ash and rock fly down the volcano after the collapse. This eruption of Mount Vesuvius destroyed Pompeii and was one of the most catastrophic eruptions his history.
  • Credit: Robert S. Duncanson
    Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:RobertDuncanson-Vesuvius_n_Pompeii_1870.jpg
    License: CC BY-NC 3.0

    Painting of Pompeii and Vesuvius in 1870 [Figure2]


  • Although the eruption was tragic, the City of Pompeii was essentially frozen on a single day nearly 2000 years ago. Archeologists have been able to reconstruct much of ancient roman life from the site. Pompeii is one of the most famous sites for tourists in Italy.

Explore More

With the links below, learn more about the eruption at Pompeii in 79 AD. Then answer the following questions.

  1. Describe the eruption at Pompeii at (1) midday, (2) evening, (3) midnight, (4) early morning
  2. What sorts of objects did people take with them as they tried to flee the eruption?
  3. What was the size and energy of the eruption? How many people were killed and how much was destroyed?
  4. Describe a pyroclastic flow. What causes a pyroclastic flow?
  5. What killed the people of Pompeii during the eruption?


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