German volcano could erupt

May 2, 1997

A "FIRE-SPITTING" volcano in the heart of Germany may force scientists to revise the European geological map, it is claimed.

Until now geologists thought the most recent volcanic activity in Germany had occurred about 11,000 years ago.

But John Grattan, David Gilbertson and Andreas Dill of the Institute of Earth Studies at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, have discovered a report, which appears to suggest a much more recent volcanic eruption.

The report, dated 1783, describes "terrible frightening thumps resembling explosions from cannons" and "the Gleichberg (volcano) opening up below thick sulphur clouds". It also describes how terrified inhabitants fled, while special church services were held amid the "terrible rumbling and roaring".

Now geologists are hoping to visit the region, in the former East Germany, in search of geological evidence to support claims that the Gleichberg erupted.

Bill McGuire, professor of geohazards at University College London, said: "If this is true, it would be amazing. The most recent volcanic activity in Germany was hot-spot related and was thought to have been more than 10,000 years ago.

"But an eruption in 1783 suggests it may very well still be hot down there. It could be fairly worrying for the Germans."

He added that 1783 saw the eruption of the Laki volcano in Iceland, which caused climatic abnormalities over Europe and America.

"People may have been confused," he said. "We need to go over there and look around. If there was an eruption 200 years ago, the material and ashes would be enormously different from what you would find if the volcano erupted 10,000 years ago."

Professor McGuire, who will be director of the new Greig Fester Centre for Hazard Research at UCL, said the description was quite convincing. He added that the reference to the mountain "as a barometer substitute" whose "periods of smoking always announce subsequent rainfall" was consistent with areas with hot ground surface temperatures.

"It sounds as if what is being described there is water vapour coming out of the ground," he said. "When it's cold and damp the water vapour stands out because it condenses more effectively. In the warm, it doesn't condense and therefore the mountain doesn't seem to be steaming."

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