The Department, either alone or together with other organizations in the National Civil Protection System, is engaged with the work of predicting, preventing and mitigating volcanic risk in the Italian territory, adopting appropriate measures to reduce loss of human lives and property in the event of eruptions, it is likewise engaged with handling and resolving emergencies.
Predict a volcanic eruption signifies to predict when it will occur and what type it will be.
To be able to determine the “when”, a system of monitors has to be installed to register a series of physico-scientific parameters indicating the status of the volcanic system and any change as compared to the basic identified level.
A short to medium term prediction is in fact based on the recognition and extent of the phenomena accompanying the magma rising up towards the surface, called forewarning phenomena. The principal forewarnings consist of fractures opening up (earthquakes) caused by the mechanical stress to the rocks, swelling or changes in the shape of the volcanic edifice caused by the intrusion of magma, changes in the gravimetric and magnetic field surrounding the volcanic edifice, increased and altered composition of the gaseous emissions from craters and ground and changes to the physico-chemical characteristics of the water table.
These phenomena, accompanying the magma as it rises, can be recorded by appropriate fixed instrumental systems, recording data 24 hours a day, or else by regular measurement campaigns. Monitoring and control of Italian volcanoes is conducted and coordinated by the National Geophysical and Vulcanology Institute (Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia) operating, under agreement with the Civil Protection Department, through its Sections assigned to monitor volcanoes (Naples Section – Vesuviano Observatory, Catania Section, Palermo Section) and by the Department of Science of the Earth at Florence University. Signals from the principal monitoring and surveillance systems, operated by said competent Centres, are conveyed to the Central Operations Centre for Volcanic Risk (CFC-RV) to be able to share the data and information in real time and rapidly evaluate the criticalities.
Whereas, to predict what type of eruption the next one will be, should this occur (prediction of possible future eruptive scenarios), the eruptive history of the volcano in question must be studied and its future performance measured against that of the past. Another important contribution is had by geophysical studies (gravimetric and seismic tomographies) with the purpose of establishing the profound structure of the volcano as well as its current status.