Experts explore Taupo supervolcano and Pompeii

Wednesday 23 May 2012, 5:22PM
By Victoria University


Taupo’s volcano was the scene of the most recent super-eruption on Earth. Today it is quiet, but will one day erupt again.

This month two Victoria University experts are visiting Taupo to speak about supervolcanoes and the discovery of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii preserved by a volcanic eruption.

The lectures will be presented at the Great Lake Centre, Story Place, Taupo on Wednesday 30 May from 5.30-8.30pm.

Professor Colin Wilson, from Victoria’s School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences, studies the volcanoes that produce the biggest eruptions: supervolcanoes.

“The most recent eruption from a supervolcano was in New Zealand—at Taupo, about 27,000 years ago. It ejected 530 cubic kilometres of molten rock and caused several hundred square kilometres of land to collapse, forming the hole in which Lake Taupo now sits.”

In comparison, the biggest volcanic eruption in recorded history—the 1815 eruption at Tambora in Indonesia—ejected only 50 cubic kilometres of molten rock, yet the explosion was heard 2,000 kilometres away, and the eruption and its effects killed at least 71,000 people.

“Humanity has never experienced anything on the scale of a supervolcano,” says Professor Wilson, one of the world’s leading volcanologists.

“I’ve been close enough to erupting volcanoes to take photos of the eruption but with supervolcanoes we’re talking about eruptions where if you can see it, you’re going to be killed by it.”

His talk—‘You and your local supervolcano: when, what, how and, possibly,
why it erupts’—is followed by Associate Professor of Classics Dr Matthew Trundle’s lecture on the discovery and excavation of the Roman city, Pompeii, which was buried by the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79 AD.

“Pompeii is a window into the Roman world, yielding fascinating insights for historians,” says Dr Trundle, who worked on archaeological sites on the Greek mainland before coming to New Zealand.

“As well as being a history of Pompeii, the lecture is a history of archaeology. In many respects, the site over the years has reflected the times, from gentlemen ‘looting’ ancient artworks during the age of the Grand Tour, to Mussolini’s Roman revival through to the systematic analysis we see today.”

Dr Trundle says that only two-thirds of Pompeii has been cleared so there is plenty of potential for future discoveries.

“Although we’re more careful excavating than in the past, which is consequently slower, scientific analysis has helped immensely with dating and excavating objects, says Dr Trundle.

“In 50 years’ time, who knows how much more we’ll have found.”

The public lectures are part of a series in regional centres by Victoria University of Wellington.

What: Free public lectures by Professor Colin Wilson and Dr Matthew Trundle.

When: Wednesday 30 May, 5.30-8.30pm. There will be refreshments between the lectures.

Where: Great Lake Centre, Story Place, Taupo

RSVP:  If you’d like to attend, email rsvp@vuw.ac.nz with ‘Taupo Lecture’ in the subject line, or phone 04 472 1000 by Monday 28 May.