Scientists are baffled by a random hole which opened in the ground near a street-crossing at International Fiumicino airport in Rome last weekend. At first thought to be caused by either a broken water or gas line, geologists and engineers have determined this week that the geyser-like event is volcanic in nature, labeling the opening a fumarole. Researchers have no idea as yet how this transpired in a major city without any advanced notice, noting that they have only just begun their studies of the phenomenon.
Approximately two meters (six feet) in diameter, this miniature volcano burst open early on August 24th, surprising local residents by spewing steam and mud. As mentioned above, scientists had no forewarning that there was even a potential for volcanic activity under the metropolitan area of 2.75 million people, despite the generous number of hot springs within city limits. The closest known volcanic system is the Monti Albani, believed to be dormant, which is 20 kilometers (12 miles) southeast of Rome.
While scientists are excited about this rare event, others are alarmed. Monti Albani's last known major activity was 20,000 years ago, thus the prospect of it violently waking up without notice - and presenting evidence of its awakening so far northwest - is unsettling for many, even though this event is a minor one. A few others are even questioning this explanation as a possibility, however, given the distance of Rome from Albani; they fear instead a thus-far undiscovered volcanic system is brewing deep beneath the surface of the city, though supporters of mainstream science consider that scenario ludicrous.
If this fumarole is verified to be tied to Albani the ramifications are still disconcerting. The region is both currently and historically subject to low-level swarms of earthquakes, and is known for its persistent emissions of CO2 gases. Furthermore, the growing magma chamber beneath the area leads some geologists to conclude another major eruption is possible, an event which would be devastating to Italy's densely-populated capitol city.