The Italian Affair

Photograph by M. Rundo, the beautifull old harbour built by Traianus.

Photograph by M. Rundo, the beautifull old harbour built by Traianus.

My family owns a perfect piece of nasty swamp. It started its days as a mountain lake that probably contained trout and other nice things, but over the years it silted up and it slowly turned into a swamp. Some twenty years ago it was totally covered up with peat and turned into a rather nice ground to pick cloudberries.

Five years ago a rockslide fell into one of the sides of the swamp and a couple of days later a thunderstorm struck the area. Que me on a cloudberry picking round, as I came there I noticed a heat shimmer out near the middle of the swamp. As I gingerly picked my way further out I found a 1.5 meter high sputtering flame coming out of the swamp.

What has happened was not so hard to deduce really. As the rockslide hit the swamp it increased the load on the top and trapped gasses was pushed towards the softer middle where it started to gush up. The gasses form as plant material decomposes in the oxygen free environment. The decomposition is slow since it is caused by anaerobic sulphur bacteria. If you apply pressure and time to such a place you get coal or oil. In this case a lot of methane had been produced, and that was what was burning. After a year the pressure was lowered enough for the flame to go out, instead a spluttering hole formed filled with bubbly mud water interspersed with half rotten plant material.

This has of course sparked my interest in odd boggy features of bubbly nature.

Fiumicino mud geyser

The spectacular Lago di Traiano from Google Earth.

The spectacular Lago di Traiano from Google Earth.

On the 23rd of August a hole opened in the ground in a turnabout next to the airport of Rome situated in the ancient roman port city of Fiumicino. Back in the day this was where the mighty roman eastern fleet was gathered, and where all goods travelling by sea to Rome was offloaded.

One can still see the spectacular roman fortified fleet harbor in the form a of a hexagonal lake called Lago Traiano, back then it was known as Porto Traiano (Port of Traianus). Another feature is quite dominant in Fiumicino and that is the river Tiber. During the time it served both as a water way to Rome, and as the main means of garbage disposal. It was back then so disgusting when it left Rome that a standard roman joke was that you could walk dry footed across the river as it left the city. The truth was probably not that far off.

Map of the ancient port with the Island of Pharos.

Map of the ancient port with the Island of Pharos.

As the old port Ostia Antica became to silted up Emperor Traianus decided to build the new port, as they did that they dug a new canal that connected the Tiber to the ocean. The canal was built through an old swamp land created by the river as it moved around creating an ancient delta.

The Tiber has created an area filled with mud and decomposing material, this in turned into a swamp, then a canal was dug that further filled up the area with decomposing material. And as the modern man needed an airport the entire area was further filled up with landfill (garbage) creating a perfect breeding ground for anaerobic sulphuric bacteria.

The source of this weeks hubbubb.

The source of this weeks hubbubb.

As the mud geyser came to life it was believed that it might have been volcanic in nature. In reality the closest volcanic field is more than 50 kilometers away at the Alban Hills, and there is nothing pointing towards the area having been geologically active in a truly long time.

In theory there could have been volcanic activity under Fiumicino more than a million years ago, and in theory the gasses could come from an ancient gas pocket. But the nature of the gasses, CO2, methane and H2S (hydrogen sulphide) points away from volcanic origin (but does not prove it so).

Most likely the Fiumicino mud geyser has formed from rotting plant material, roman corpses, roman feces, and other assorted roman nasty things. And as the landfill was laid on top the pressure in the end became high enough to start squeezing up gasses and sulfide mud (the gray material).

To me this is a miracle of the ancient world, not a volcanic feature.

Video showing an early stage of the mudcano:

Newest video of the mudcano showing how it is slowly evolving:



In a rather unlcear bulletin INGV has declared that it is a Mud Volcano. They do point to it being in an area where volcanism exist, but do not point to a certain volcanic origin. The volcanic area they point to is Monti Sabatini, and not Fiumicino and the area north west of Lago Traiano. Monti Sabatini is of volcanic origin, and the area now is not of certain volcanic area. I fear we are as much in confusion after this bulletin and have to wait for hard scientific data.

I would also like to clearify that this post is giving my opinion of what I think is the most likely cause of the Mud Volcano. If new data comes to light I will post a new post.

114 thoughts on “The Italian Affair

  1. It dawned on me that most in here never have either seen or heard of cloudberries. It is one of the most health inducing berries on the planet with sky high vitamin content. It grows out in bogs and swamps so it can be a bit hard to pick, but well worth it since they taste divine.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic

    • Wow i want some!!!!
      And thanks for the very interesting article!
      Btw, i need to apologize for being lazy here lately and not contributing much.
      I am sorry, but i am totally overworked with my job and other things. And that wont be changing in the very near future because of the festival starting next week and my holidays in Lazarote afterwards AND… tomorrow i ll be half a century old. Normally i dont make a big fuzz about my bdays but the 50th is different. Big celebrations coming the next days 😉 Yippeh!

      • I wish I had known, then I would have sent a jar of cloudberry jam to you.

        And may your vacation be a very nice one (take pictures of volcanoes for us) 🙂

      • Hi Spica. Happy birthday. Gute Geburstag !

        If you need some info on Lanzarote I’ve been there a few years ago. Very different from Tenerife you’ll see.

        Hi Carl

        Thanks for this burning actuality ! I know there are other mud volcanoes on the mainland and there are also some in Sicily. I’ll find the location on google earth.
        I’m redoing my El Hierro update plot as there were a few earthquakes today, should be ready in 2 hours.
        By the way, speaking of fruits, I hope you did not get any problem with loose mooses at home…. 😀

        • Yes, there are several around Rome, but they are all found on the known volcanic hills around Rome, non are close to Fiumicino and no volcanic feature are known at a closer distance than 50 kilometers from Fiumicino. So, I think that the origin is quite different.

    • There have been tests taken, and sooner or later we will have the answer to that.

      But, I still believe this is not volcanic, after all the distance to the closest known volcanic feature is fairly long, and we are talking about swampland.

      And, if I am wrong I get the opportunity to write a new piece about that.

      Regarding the pressure, the pressure in the swamp flame was higher than it is in Fiumicino, so pockets of swamp gas can be fairly high. There is also the possibility that there is a hydrocarbon trap down below containing coal or oil. That could also explain what we are seeing. I think that the volcano angle is the least probable.

      • There was an article and a video (links given by Pyter yesterday) that indicated Volcanic origin. The video is in Italian, but the lady seems to be some scientific authority. She speaks of volcanic origin, and of gas composed of CO2, H2S and maybe some radon (but I’m not sure they made the analysis).
        The mud seems hot as there is some vapor rinsing.

        I think also that lago di vico and lago di bracciano are of volcanic origin….they are not that far.

        Anyway let’s wait for the analysis….

            • Natural gas quite often come in high temperature, and the same can happen for pockets of decomposition gas. As far as I know no temperature reading have been published, but then my Italian is better for ordering food than anything else… 🙂

  2. We have what is known as “Salmon Berries” here bit tart though, very similar color….
    I think you might be on to something here. In my local area the old garbage dump is located on
    a Basalt outcrop known as “Fox Hill” when they double tracked the UP rail lne through the Blue
    Mountains some years ago to Pendelton, they mined the rock from the area of the old dump.
    As they were digging out the old refuse (about 120 years worth) they encountered a nasty pocket of
    methane from old horse and cattle carcasses. Bit fragrant and dangerous.. Had to wait until dissipated…
    Happened at the Height of tourist season (summer.)

  3. It would be interesting to know how far down it is until bedrock. The sediment of the Mississippi Embayment is reportedly about 12 to 15 km thick. Then you reach Jurassic era magma emplacements. Layered in there are hydrocarbon bearing strata that yield oil or gas. So much so that there are some asphalt volcanoes and hydrocarbon seeps. All driven by the intense pressure and the slow lithification of the strata.

    Silt → Mudstone → Shale → Slate → Phyllite → Schist.

  4. In the article, Carl mentions a sputtering jet of flame from middle of the swamp. How did it start?

    Simple. Phosphine. PH3 is one of the decomposition products mixed in with the methane and H2S.

    Phosphine spontaneously combusts in air, and is generally accepted as the source for the will-o-wisp phenomena. (less scary than the lost and wandering soul explanation)

  5. Thanks Carl for the post, you caused me allot of issues. 🙂 I was thinking that, however I explained it as a possible vent or something volcanic in nature, my audience were all Italian.

    Tomorrow, I will lie and say it disappeared, due to an EQ. 😀

  6. Thanks Carl for the great post!

    According to a review by Anzidei et al. 2009 available at (open access, requires registration), levelling surveys over 43 years, GPS and InSAR indicate a few millimeters uplift per year centered around the villages Arricia and Albani on the western end of the Colli Albani.

    …this volcano, which is currently affected by an ongoing uplift, by periodic seismic swarms and by a huge release of gas of magmatic origin , is a potentially active volcano”

    Mogi models suggest a magma chamber at 4.6 to 7.2 km depth with a volume increase of 2 to 22 x 10-4 km3 per year west of Lake Albano. That is over 20 km distance from the roundabout. Bob is about 15 km from Tanganasoga…

    I would not disregard the possibility that the mud geysir is of volcanic origin, but swamp gas also sounds plausible. Time will tell.

    • Post is updated!

      It actually did not say it was a volcano, instead it was just a confirmation of a Mud Volcano and that there is volcanism in the region. I found the INGV bulletin a bit confusing to say the least, both in Italian and English. It lacked hard data.

      Thank you Lughduniense for finding this bulletin.

      • Very interesting. I am looking forward to it a lot.
        One thing is though sure, it is a Mudcano, questions are though as ever, what drives it, and what caused it?

    • In October and November they will be looking for landslides in the Puerto Rican Trench, ash and debris deposits at Monserrat and then to Grenada to explore Kick-em Jenny volcano. That should be very exciting.

  7. Apologies if this has been mentioned (been away 🙂 ) but it seems that the end of the Tolbachik eruption was *tentatively* called on the 24th

  8. I have a question, or perhaps more of a request?
    Is there anyone who feel the urge to write a post for Monday? If so, please holler and one of the Gentle Dragons will guide thee! 🙂

  9. Mostly perplexed right now. My wife just got a back child support check. Her ex husband has been dead for about 20 years. It’s pretty weird… maybe they tracked him down in the spirit realm. I always believed that the Government was into voodoo and black magic. This sort of proves it.

    • A golden rule that I have…
      Never ever question unexpected money arriving. Especially if it comes from the Government.

      • A mondegreen is the mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase as a result of near-homophony, in a way that gives it a new meaning.

        While sitting with the wife, watching Wheel of (mis)Fortune, I got up to go wash my hands. (I had been playing with the dog) I heard the host ask the contestant who was at the show with him, out in the audience. I know he didn’t say it, but what heard was “My evil Stepmother Merriss.”

        I really hope for his sake that was a mishearing of his statement.

      • My wife contacted them to verify that it was valid. It is. They had one of their Shaman track him down and extract the amount that was in arrears.

        Yeah, I’m joking

    • Any one happen to know a good fractioning rate for a magma chamber?

      In other words, how many percent per day/year does it become more and more silica rich?

      (yes, I already know it’s gonna be temperature loss dependent. I’m just looking for a ballpark figure.)

    • In the articles I read up on recently and when doing research on the Kagoshima Graben for Kyushu caldera post, the inflation rate and edifice height is getting close to where it was prior to the VEI-4 1914 eruption.

      A large magmatic eruption will occur sooner or later at SakuraJima, it’s just a question of how long it will take for this to occur. I wouldn’t doubt in the next 20 years or so, we’ll see a VEI 4-5 at the minimum somewhere from the Aira Caldera system. Luckily, the Japanese are pretty good at monitoring SakuraJima, although that still can only go so far when there is upwards of a million people living in the vicinity of Kagoshima Bay (or aira caldera in other words).

      I kind of wonder how stable the edifice is. If a slope failure occurs there, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere nearby when water starts to interact with the magmatic systems (not to mention the huge bathtub tsunami that would occur from slope collapse).

      • The scary thing that you have to consider is that it doesn’t necessarily take a huge eruption or large wad of magma to create a slope failure. From what I understand, St. Helen’s 1980 slope failure really wasn’t a result of a huge input of magma, but was just enough to destabilize the edifice. Additionally, SakuraJima has a history of flank eruptions when forming larger eruptions. The precursor to these eruptions seem to be indicitave of a small cryptodome forming somewhere on the edifice, which is what I believe leads to many flank failure style eruptions.

  10. Back on the bug front…

    More than 100 elk found were dead on a ranch about 20 miles north of Las Vegas this week.

    Sky News 13 flew over the gruesome discovery on the sprawling 75,000-acre Buena Vista Ranch near Mora.

    The elk weren’t shot, so the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish is investigating just what caused the deaths.

    Their top suspicion: something called Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease, or EHD. The often-fatal disease is caused by insect bites.

    “With EHD, an elk could get a fever,” said Game and Fish spokesperson Rachel Shockley. “It’s usually a pretty fast illness, and up to eight to 36 hours later the animals go into shock, and then they die.”

    And, the first thing that went through my head was ‘were they in a small valley or depression?’

    Nevada has been the site of a few volcanic events over the last few million years or so. I have no idea where this ranch is located and I’m tired…. gonna go dream of lofty phreatomagmatic plumes.

    • I don’t recall the names of the movies, but Las Vegas is a favourite of Hollywood producers when it comes to total destruction. Why not a movie with a caldera-forming event centered on Caesar’s Palace…

      • I have visited Vegas-under duress. I have enjoyed that theme in movies myself.
        a biblical ending to the place somehow seems right,,,,
        I try to avoid even flying through there if I can..

        • Given the plethora of exclusion zones and the multitude of routes in that area of the country, I can’t imagine why a pilot would find it find it troublesome…. 😀

          Reportedly, Dusty Hill is an Elvis fan.

          Also shot in Vegas, though it’s not about Vegas. Features one of the more distinctive models of Firebird when Pontiac was desparately tying to hold onto the market share gained by the “Smokey and The Bandit” model. (Essentially that was a full length advertisement made to look like a movie.)

    • Very familiar with that part of NM. Here is a bit on La Vegas and surrounding geology.
      This is a good page for New Mexico in general..scroll down for general links.
      Place is as interesting as Oregon Geologically.

      GL Edit: Pulled link since it points to an internal attachment inside of G-Mail, potentially opening the account up for attack.

      If you like, you can forward the attachment to me and I will try to set it up as a publicly accessible link. I will send you an E-mail so that you can get my address.

      For All. Once I have the attachment I will edit this post to point at the document/data.

      Thank you for your patience. GeoLurking.

      • Just about all of the american southwest is technically volcanically active. The basin and range province is notorious for popping up monogenetic or basaltic lava flows in various areas caused by the rifting and spreading in the area south of the Yellowstone trail stuck between the sierra nevada and rocky mountains.

        When the farralon slab sunk down beneath this area is when stuff got really nasty (the western ignimbrite flareup). This resulted in some of the largest eruptions ever studied, and the single largest explosive tuff (fish canyon tuff) that people are currently aware of.

        The explosive stuff mostly stopped around 15 million years ago, but spreading is still occuring, which is why you see volcanic areas like the Ubehebe Craters, Valles Caldera, black rock desert, and other areas pop up in seemingly random areas. Most of the volcanism is due to rifting and spreading as previously mentioned.

        One interesting factoid is that the USA stores all their nuclear waste in a mountain right next to a volcanically active field in Yucca Mountain. If you look up and find Yucca Mountain, you’ll see that it’s virtually surrounded by basalt fields, monogenetic cones, and a bunch of other volcanic features. Luckily most of the volcanism in the area occurs in the graben areas (depressions), but in my opinion, it still wasn’t the smartest place to store a ridiculous amount of toxic nuclear waste.

        • If I am correct, the ignimbrite flare-up was related to the steepening of the subducting slab. It was flat-slab subduction due to an oceanic plateau, and during that time water percolated upwards and was stored in the overriding plate. Once it bent down again, the water-saturated continental crust melted and rose to the surface.

        • One interesting factoid

          Actually, we don’t.

          On July 18, 2006 the DOE proposed March 31, 2017 as the date to open the facility and begin accepting waste based on full funding.

          Currently, waste is stored on site. We saw what a great idea that was over at Fukashima.

          Personally, I think they should box it up in those canisters that can withstand a direct hit by a train, and then dump them into deep subduction zone canyons. Effectively sending it back to where it came from. The issue with that is how long would it take for it to be silted over and become part of the subducted material? Until then, deep oceanic currents and quakes would be worrisome. Also, if you wanted to recover some of that material and reprocess it, the SZ disposal method would be pretty much irreversible. Keeping it inventoried and “on the shelf” in a storage facility means to me, that someone wants to be able to possibly retrieve it for future usage via reprocessing.

  11. Got home late last night but I had enough time to read this interesting post.
    I’m still quite doubtfull about the volcanic origin of this “mud volcano”. There was indeed a “cloaca massima” at Roman times that could yield to all kinds of putrefied material to behave in such a way.
    And Spica!!!!!! Happy birthday to you! Envy your trip to Canarias, but wish you a lovely and pleasant stay. You deserve it!

    • The “bra” avatar is back, don’t ask me why. Maybe it is because GeoLoco is back!
      @ukviggen – my laptop crashed, so you can feel revenged about your stolen laptop while in my country. 😉

      • Well, if you didn’t drive the laptop so fast you wouldn’t loose control and crash in the chicanes, they are tricky after all.

        In actuality though… most likely your avatar issue had to do with what e-mail addy you use when you post.

        When I get my addy wrong, I get a different avatar and usually thrown into the dungeon.

      • Aww! Believe me, you’re the last person I would wish any revenge on. Maybe you could buy a nice MacBook Pro on the black market somewhere – I hear there’s one going cheap … 🙂

  12. Happy birthday Spica, and many happy returns x
    Lanzarote is lovely, I also have some tips if you would like x

  13. Friday
    30.08.2013 13:27:33 64.601 -20.571 4.9 km 2.3 99.0 17.9 km SE of Húsafell
    30.08.2013 09:15:31 64.530 -20.346 3.1 km 1.6 99.0 23.8 km NE of Skjaldbreið

  14. Magnitude Mw 7.0, ANDREANOF ISLANDS, ALEUTIAN IS. Date time 2013-08-30 16:25:04.0 UTC, Location 51.79 N ; 175.14 W, Depth 40 km

  15. Relating to Yucca mountain as I was discussing earlier – there are some interesting studies done, one of which can be found here.

    “Most estimates put the disruption probability at a little greater than 10–8 events per year,
    which translates to a 1 in 7000 chance that volcanic activity could occur during the
    repository’s 10,000-year waste isolation period”

    I find the american west volcanism in the basin and range province super interesting as it’s one of the more unique areas geologically in the entire world with a long history of unique volcanism. Even more interesting, yet slightly related is the Silicic Large Igneous province of the Sierra Madre Occidental, which is very difficult to find any relevant information online about it (it’s very understudied it seems). There was a short post detailing it a while back on here, but there only is so much info about it out there. The idea of a LIP forming as a result of silicic explosive eruptions is somewhat profound.

    • Nevada is interesting when it comes to volcanism. It seems quiet when compared to Arizona or NM, but it is the only state that is fully in the basin and range.

  16. Belated happy birthday to our wonderful ‘Linzer Vulkanfrau’.
    On the one hand being 50 sucks, but on the plus side you have reached an age where you really, really don’t have to give a sh!t what anyone else thinks!!!
    Hope you had a great day, and have a fantastic holiday.

    Only one tip for Lanzarote – if you’re going to Timanfaya (and you absolutely must) then try to sit on the right-hand side of the bus!

    • Oh … and if you get to El Golfo (great spot) make time for a stroll along the coast path from the car park north of the village – it’s lava madness!

  17. Alles Gute Spica! Hope you had a great day yesterday. I had my 50th last yesterday and so far people have still been treating me like they normally do. I am keeping a watchful eye out though.

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