Exploring Italy's Underwater Giant: The Marsili Volcano

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When thinking of submarine volcanoes, the image of explosive eruptions and destructive tsunamis often comes to mind. However, few know that these volcanoes can contain deposits of precious metals, thanks to hydrothermal processes that allow minerals such as copper, zinc, gold, and silver to deposit. In the southern Tyrrhenian Sea, the Marsili and Palinuro are true "treasures," thanks to the presence of very rich hydrothermal deposits.

Marsili and the Palinuro volcanic chain

Palinuro volcan chain Marsili volcan
Palinuro Volcan Chain

The seabed of the Tyrrhenian Sea is characterized by the presence of numerous submarine ridges and volcanic reliefs, resulting from volcanic eruptions that occurred over millions of years. Many island or coastal volcanoes, such as Stromboli, have extensive submarine parts. In fact, there are entirely submarine volcanoes that can be similar in size or even larger than those on the surface.

The difficulty in studying them stems from the lack of direct access, but in recent decades marine geology studies have allowed for greater understanding of their nature and functioning. Observations and sampling are carried out through oceanographic vessels.

In the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Strait of Sicily, some areas of the Earth's crust are thinner and fractured, leading to the concentration of submarine volcanic activity in these areas. Some submarine volcanoes are still active and sometimes manifest their presence by releasing gas and deforming very slowly, while others are now extinct and represent true underwater mountains (seamounts).

In the southern Tyrrhenian Sea, a chain of 15 volcanoes has been discovered, of which 7 were previously unknown. This chain, called the Palinuro volcanic chain, extends for about 90 km south of the coast of Salerno up to 30 km east of the coast of Sangineto, in Calabria. The volcanic chain is named after the famous Cilento promontory of Capo Palinuro located to the north of the volcanic apparatus.

The discovery of this volcanic chain has had a great impact on the scientific community, as it could provide new information on submarine volcanic activities in this area of the Mediterranean. Studies and research are ongoing to better understand the nature and origin of these volcanoes and their possible implications for the safety of the territory and coastal population.

Marsili: the underwater giant of the Tyrrhenian Sea

The Marsili is a submarine volcano located in the Tyrrhenian Sea, about 150 km southwest of the city of Naples, near the southern coast of Italy. Its name comes from the Italian geologist Luigi Ferdinando Marsili, who identified it in 1666.

The Marsili is one of the largest submarine volcanoes in Europe, with a height of about 3000 meters from the sea floor and a summit located about 500 meters below sea level. This submarine volcano is about 70 km long and 30 km wide. It is believed to have formed about 500,000 years ago and is still considered active. The Marsili volcano does not look like a typical volcano, it does not have the classic cone shape but is elongated because it is formed by a series of cones and eruptive fractures.

Despite its volcanic activity, the Marsili does not pose an immediate threat to the population, as it is located at a depth of about 2000 meters below sea level. However, its activity could cause earthquakes and tsunamis that could affect the surrounding coasts.

Currently, the Marsili is constantly monitored by a network of sensors and seismic instruments to monitor volcanic activity and prevent potential hazards. Scientists continue to study the volcano to better understand its structure and the potential risk it could pose to the surrounding region.

A bit of history of Marsili, the underwater "monster"

Bathymetric map of the Marsili seamount and the Palinuro volcanic complex. Image by L. Cocchi.
Bathymetric map of the Marsili seamount and the Palinuro volcanic complex. Image by L. Cocchi.

Studies on the underwater volcano Marsili have a long history dating back to at least the 1970s. Over the decades, scientists have used various techniques to study the volcano, including seismology, geophysics, geochemistry, marine biology, and seafloor mapping.

In 2001, a research mission was conducted aboard the Italian oceanographic vessel "Urania," during which numerous seismic and geological investigations were carried out on Marsili. This expedition led to the production of a detailed map of the volcano, which provided important information on its structure and volcanic activity.

Over the years, studies on Marsili have led to the discovery of several interesting features of the volcano, including the existence of subsea fumaroles and thermal springs. Additionally, scientists have detected an increase in seismic activity in the volcano's area, which has led to the need for constant monitoring of its activity.

In recent years, studies on Marsili have been expanded thanks to the use of new technologies, such as remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROVs) and high-resolution sonars. These technologies have enabled exploration of areas of the volcano that were difficult to reach in the past, offering new opportunities to better understand its structure and volcanic activity.

What would happen if Marsili actually erupted?

Despite being located in a remote area of the Tyrrhenian Sea and distant from the coast, the submarine volcano Marsili's volcanic activity could still pose some potential risks.

Firstly, the volcanic activity of Marsili could cause earthquakes and tsunamis in the surrounding region. In the event of a volcanic explosion, there could be a large emission of toxic gas and ash, which could pose a threat to human health and marine fauna.

Additionally, Marsili is located in a high seismic risk zone, and volcanic activity could contribute to destabilizing the region and cause earthquakes or landslides.

However, it is important to note that Marsili is constantly monitored by a network of sensors and seismic instruments, which allow monitoring of its activity and prevent potential dangers. Furthermore, scientists continue to study the volcano to better understand its structure and the potential risks it may pose to the surrounding region.

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