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Four-and-a-half miles below the surface a bolt of magma has escaped the main reservoir and is rising upwards, changing and solidifying.

As it reaches groundwater, it’s converted into a sponge-like stone.

As the water boils away it feeds critical amounts of gas into the sponge, and the pressure builds until finally it explodes like a malfunctioning boiler.

Hundreds of billions of cubic feet of volcanic rock blasts up into the atmosphere: an explosion 200 times greater than that of the Icelandic Eyjafjallajökull volcano, which brought chaos to Europe, grounded planes in the UK for a week and is said to have cost the world economy in excess of £3 billion.

A few steps further and we hit a wall of sulphur, which rolls over us in invisible waves, collecting in our throats and turning our stomachs.

Where once there was green hillside there’s now an atrophic scar of sponge-like volcanic rock.

Yet despite the urgency, the mayor of Naples has just dramatically halted the project. The road runs out, and Somma stops the car beside an abandoned earthquake-damaged building. To our left is a five-a-side football pitch and the valley below.

Drilling was to begin this month on the site of the old Bagnoli steel mill, on the eastern part of the caldera, but was stopped following the very public objections of a sole local scientist, who has warned that the drilling itself could actually trigger an explosion that could destroy the city. Naval officers until a rise in the ground of 6ft led to an earthquake that damaged the base, and saw the U. The only curious thing is the colossal plume of steam energetically billowing upwards from behind the pitch.

He’s part of a long tradition of UK volcanology, which stretches back to the grand tour of the 18th century, when Sir William Hamilton provided some of the first scientific observations of Vesuvius.

While a new eruption here would be more likely to result in the creation of another Vesuvius-like cone, the worst-case scenario could see it obliterating much of life in Europe It begins with a swarm of 1,000 small earthquakes that ripple under the pavements of Naples.

Air-conditioning units fall from the sides of buildings and tiles slip from the walls.

They watch helplessly as a boiling black cloud of hot gas and rock rolls over the horizon at hurricane speed, suffocating everything in its path.

In this area inhabited by millions, built in one of the most dangerous volcanic regions on earth, all life is over. Although there’s no picture-postcard volcanic cone, hidden beneath the seemingly placid landscape lies a volcano of immense power.The UCL group are now world leaders in rock physics – especially in understanding how the Earth’s crust deforms and breaks – which makes Kilburn a vital member of the drilling team.



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