Articles | Volume 3, issue 5
Special issue:
31 Oct 2003
31 Oct 2003

Simulation of tsunamis induced by volcanic activity in the Gulf of Naples (Italy)

S. Tinti, G. Pagnoni, and A. Piatanesi

Abstract. The paper explores the potential of tsunami generation by pyroclastic flows travelling down the flank of the volcano Vesuvius that is found south of Naples in Italy. The eruption history of Vesuvius shows that it is characterised by large explosive eruptions of plinian or subplinian type during which large volume of pyroclastic flows can be produced. The most remarkable examples of such eruptions occurred in 79 AD and in 1631 and were catastrophic. Presently Vesuvius is in a repose time that, according to volcanologists, could be interrupted by a large eruption, and consequently proper plans of preparedness and emergency management have been devised by civil authorities based on a scenario envisaging a large eruption. Recently, numerical models of magma ascent and of eruptive column formation and collapse have been published for the Vesuvius volcano, and propagation of pyroclastic flows down the slope of the volcanic edifice up to the close shoreline have been computed. These flows can reach the sea in the Gulf of Naples: the denser slow part will enter the waters, while the lighter and faster part of the flow can travel on the water surface exerting a pressure on it. This paper studies the tsunami produced by the pressure pulse associated with the transit of the low-density phase of the pyroclastic flow on the sea surface by means of numerical simulations. The study is divided into two parts. First the hydrodynamic characteristics of the Gulf of Naples as regards the propagation of long waves are analysed by studying the waves radiating from a source that is a static initial depression of the sea level localised within the gulf. Then the tsunami produced by a pressure pulse moving from the Vesuvius toward the open sea is simulated: the forcing pulse features are derived from the recent studies on Vesuvian pyroclastic flows in the literature. The tsunami resulting from the computations is a perturbation involving the whole Gulf of Naples, but it is negligible outside, and persists within the gulf long after the transit of the excitation pulse. The size of the tsunami is modest. The largest calculated oscillations are found along the innermost coasts of the gulf at Naples and at Castellammare. The main conclusion of the study is that the light component of the pyroclastic flows produced by future large eruptions of Vesuvius are not expected to set up catastrophic tsunamis.

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