The 79 AD eruption of Somma: The relationship between the date of the eruption and the southeast tephra dispersion
Somma-Vesuvius is a composite volcano on the southern margin of the Campanian Plain which has been active during the last 39 ka BP and which poses a hazard and risk for the main population center situated around its base. The fieldwork and data analysis on which this report is based are related to the eight Plinian eruptions that have occurred in the last 25 ka. For six of these eruptions, the fallout products were dispersed to the east-northeast, whereas deposits from the 25 ka Codola and AD 79 eruptions were dispersed in a south-easterly direction. During the AD 79 eruption, in particular, the dispersal axis migrated from the east-southeast to south-southeast. New high level wind data collected at the weather stations of the Aereonautica Militare data centres at Pratica di Mare (Rome) and Brindisi have been compiled to characterize the prevailing wind condition in the Somma-Vesuvius region. The common north-easterly dispersal directions of the Plinian eruptions are consistent with the distribution of ash by high-altitude winds from October to June. In contrast, the south-easterly trend of the AD 79 products appears to be anomalous, because the eruption is conventionally believed to have occurred on the 24th of August, when its southeast dispersive trend falls in a transitional period from the Summer to Autumnal wind regimes. In fact, the AD 79 tephra dispersive direction towards the southeast is not in agreement with the June-August high-altitude wind directions that are toward the west. This poses serious doubt about the date of the eruption and the mismatch raises the hypothesis that the eruption occurred in the Autumnal climatic period, when high-altitude winds were also blowing towards the southeast. New archaeological findings presented in this study definitively place the date of eruption in the Autumn, in good agreement with the prevailing high-altitude wind directions above Somma-Vesuvius. Moreover, wind data and past eruptive behaviour indicate that a future subplinian-Plinian eruption at Somma-Vesuvius has a good chance to occur when winds are blowing toward the eastern sectors (northeast-southeast), in the Autumnal-Winter period, and only a slightest chance in Summer, when winds are blowing toward the west, depositing ash fallout on the Neapolitan community.