Skip to main content


We’d like to understand how you use our websites in order to improve them. Register your interest.

Lava identification by paleomagnetism: a case study and some problems surrounding the 1631 eruption of Mount Vesuvius, Italy


Detailed rock magnetic, paleomagnetic and absolute paleointensity studies of lava flows from the disputed 1631 Mount Vesuvius eruption are reported. The magnetic carrier consists of pseudo-single domain state Ti-poor titanomagnetites. Characteristic magnetization directions determined from detailed stepwise alternating field and thermal demagnetizations provide four new well-defined flow unit mean directions, with α95 ranging from 0.7° to 2.6°. Paleodirections for 11 lava flows from 24-four flows studied previously appear to be related to the 1631 eruption, as indicated by their correlation to the early 17th century segment of the Italian paleosecular variation reference curve. This provides new evidence supporting the conclusion that the 1631 episode was an explosive-effusive eruption. The paleointensity results obtained from this study are the first to be published for Mount Vesuvius, with virtual dipole moments of 9.24±1.8 × 1022 and 13.5±0.4 × 1022 Am2 higher than the present-day geomagnetic field strength.


  1. Arnó, V., C. Principe, M. Rosi, R. Santacroce, A. Sbrana, and M. F. Sheridan, Eruptive history, in “Somma-Vesuvius” Quaderni de “La Ricerca Scientifica” C. N. R., edited by R. Santacroce, 114, 243 pp., 1987.

  2. Bucur, I., The direction of the terrestrial magnetic field in France, during the last 21 centuries. Recent progress, Earth Planet. Sci. Lett., 87, 95–109, 1994.

  3. Calvo, M., M. Prévot, M. Perrin, and J. Riisager, Investigating the reasons for the failure of paleointensity experiments: A study on historical lava flows from Mt. Etna (Italy), Geophys. J. Int., 149, 44–63, 2002.

  4. Carracedo, J., C. Principe, M. Rosi, and V. Soler, Time correlation by palaeomagnetism of the 1631 eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Volcanological and volcanic hazard implications, J. Volcanol. Geothermal Res., 58, 203–209, 1993.

  5. Chauvin, A., Y. Garcia, P. Lanos, and F. Laubenheimer, Paleointensity of the geomagnetic field recovered on archeomagnetic sites from France, Phys. Earth Planet. Int., 120, 111–136, 2000.

  6. Coe, R., S. Gromme, and E. A. Mankinen, Geomagnetic paleointensity from radiocarbon-dated lava flows on Hawaii and the question of the Pacific non-dipole Low, J. Geophys. Res., 83, 1740–1756, 1978.

  7. Conte, G., J. Urrutia-Fucugauchi, A. Goguitchaichvili, and A. Incoronato, Paleomagnetic dating of lava flows of uncertain age, Somma-Vesuvius volcanic complex (Southern Italy), Int. Geol. Rev., 48(4), 349–359, 2006.

  8. Day, R., M. Fuller, and V. A. Schmidt, Hysteresis properties of titanomagnetites: Grain size and compositional dependence, Phys. Earth Planet. Int., 13, 260–267, 1977.

  9. Delibrias, G., G. Di Paola, M. Rosi, and R. Santacroce, La storia eruttiva del complesso vulcanico Somma-Vesuvio ricostruita nelle successioni piroclastiche del M. Te Somma, Rend. Soc. It. Mineral. Petrol., 35, 411–438, 1979.

  10. Di Girolamo, P., Geotectonic setting of Miocene-Quaternary volcanism in and around the Eastern Tyrrhenian sea border (Italy) as deduced from major element geochemistry, Bull. Volcanol., 41, 229–250, 1978.

  11. Dunlop, D. J., Theory and application of the Day plot (Mrs/Ms versus Hcr/Hc) 1: Theoretical curves and tests using titanomagnetite data, J. Geophys. Res., 107(B3), 10.1029/2001JB000486, 2002a.

  12. Dunlop, D. J., Theory and application of the Day plot (Mrs/Ms versus Hcr/Hc) 2: Application to data for rocks, sediments, and soil, J. Geophys. Res., 107(B3), 10.1029/2001JB000487, 2002b.

  13. Evans, M. E. and G. S. Hoye, Archaeomagnetic results from southern Italy and their bearing on geomagnetic secular variation, Phys. Earth Planet. Int., 151, 155–162, 2005.

  14. Fisher, R. A., Dispersion on the sphere, Proc. R. Soc. London Ser. A., 217, 295–305, 1953.

  15. Gallet, Y., A. Genevey, and M. Le Goff, Three millennia of directional variation of the earths magnetic field in western Europe as revealed by archeological artifacts, Phys. Earth Planet. Int., 131, 81–89, 2002.

  16. Genevey, A. and Y. Gallet, Intensity of the geomagnetic field in western Europe over the past 2000 years: New data from ancient French poteries, J. Geophys. Res., 107(B11), 2285, 10.1029/2001JB000701, 2002.

  17. Gialanella, R., A. Incoronato, F. Russo, and G. Nigro, Magnetic stratigraphy of Vesuvius products. I-1631 lavas, J. Volcanol. Geothermal Res., 58, 211–215, 1993.

  18. Hoye, G. S., Archaeomagnetic secular variation record of Mount Vesuvius. Nature, 291, 216–218, 1981.

  19. Incoronato, A., Magnetic stratigraphy procedures in volcanic areas: the experience at Vesuvius. Palaeomagnetic and Tectonics of the Mediterranean Region. Geological Soc. Special Pub., 105, 367–371, 1996.

  20. Incoronato, A. and C. Del Negro, Magnetic Stratigraphy Procedures at Etna, in The Mt. Etna Volcano, edited by A. Bonaccorso, S. Calvari, M. Coltelli, C. Del Negro, and S. Falsaperla, AGU Geophys Monogr. Ser., 143, 263–271, 2004.

  21. Incoronato, A., A. Angelino, R. Romano, A. Ferrante, R. Sauna, G. Vanacore, and C. Vecchione, Retrieving geomagnetic secular variations from lava flows: evidence from Mount Arso, Etna and Vesuvius (southern Italy), Geophys. J. Int., 149, 724–730, 2002.

  22. Jackson, A., A. Jonkers, and M. Walker, Four centuries of geomagnetic secular variation from historical records, Philos. Trans. R. Soc. London, Ser. A., 358, 957–990, 2000.

  23. Kirschvink, J. L., The least-squares line and plane and the analysis of palaeomagnetic data, Geophys. J. R. Astr. Soc., 62, 699–718, 1980.

  24. Lanza, R., A. Meloni, and E. Tema, Historical measurements of the Earth’s magnetic field compared with remanence directions from lava flows in Italy over the last four centuries, Phys. Earth Planet. Int., 148, 97–107, 2005.

  25. Le Hon, H., Histoire complete de la grande eruption du Vesuve de 1631 (With a topographic map of Vesuvius lavas from 1631 till 1861), Bull. R. Acad. Sci. Lett. Beaux Arts, Belg., 20, 483–538, 1865.

  26. Le Goff, M., Y. Gallet, A. Genevey, and N. Warmé, On archeomagnetic secular variation curves and archeomagnetic dating, Physics of the Earth and Planetary Interiors, 134, 203–211, 2002.

  27. Nagata, T., R. A. Fisher, and K. Momose, Secular variation of the geomagnetic total force during the last 5000 years, J. Geophys. Res., 68, 5277–5281, 1963.

  28. Prévot, M., R. S. Mankinen, S. Gromme, and A. Leccaille, High paleointensity of the geomagnetic field from thermomagnetic studies on rift valley pillow basalts from the middle Atlantic ridge, J. Geophys. Res., 88, 2316–2326, 1983.

  29. Principe, C., M. Rosi, R. Santacroce, and A. Sbrana, Explanatory Notes to the Geological Map of Vesuvius. Quaderni de “La Ricerca Scientifica”, CNR, Roma, 114, 8, 11–51, 1987.

  30. Rolandi, G. and F. Russo, Contributo alla conoscenza dell’attività storica del Vesuvio. La stratigrafia di Villa Inglese (Torre del Greco), Rend. Acad. Sci. Fis. Mat. Napoli, 54, 123–127, 1987.

  31. Rolandi, G. and F. Russo, Contributo alla conoscenza dell’attività storica del Vesuvio: dati stratigrafici e vulcanologici nel settore meridionale tra Torre del Greco, località Villa Inglese, e Torre Annunziata, Boll. Soc. Geol. Ital., 108, 521–536, 1989.

  32. Rolandi, G. and F. Russo, L’eruzione del Vesuvio del 1631, Boll. Soc. Geol. Ital., 112, 315–332, 1993.

  33. Rolandi, G., A. Barrella, A. Borrelli, and G. D’Alessio, The 1631 Vesuvian eruption, Int. Conf. On Active Volcanoes and Risk Mitigation. Abstr., 91, 1991.

  34. Rosi, M. and R. Santacroce, The famous AD 1631 eruption of Vesuvius: a revised interpretation in light of historical and volcanological data, Workshop on Volcanic Blast, Mount St. Helens, abstr., 1984.

  35. Rosi, M., C. Principe, and R. Vecchi, The 1631 eruption of Vesuvius reconstructed from the review of chronicles and study of deposits, J. Volcanol. Geotherm. Res., 58, 151–182, 1993.

  36. Santacroce, R., Somma-Vesuvius. Quaderni de “La Ricerca Scientifica”, CNR, Roma 114, 8, 243 pp., 1987.

  37. Tanguy, J. C. and M. Le Goff, Distortion of the geomagnetic field in volcanic terrains: an experimental study of the Mount Etna stratovolcano, Phys. Earth Planet. Int., 141, 59–70, 2004.

  38. Tanguy, J. C., M. Le Goff, V. Chillemi, A. Paiotti, C. Principe, S. La Delfa, and G. Patanè, Variation séculaire de la direction du champ géomagnétique enregistrée par les laves de l’Etna et du Vésuve pendant les deux derniers millénaires, C. R. Acad. Sc. Paris Sci. Terre Planet., 329, 557–564, 1999.

  39. Tanguy, J. C., M. Le Goff, V. Chillemi, A. Paiotti, C. Principe, S. La Delfa, and G. Patanè, Archeomagnetic dating of Mediterranean volcanics of the last 2100 years: validity and limits, Earth Planet. Sci. Lett., 211, 111–124, 2003.

  40. Tauxe, L., T. A. T. Mullender, and T. Pick, Pot-bellies, wasp-waists and su-perparamagnetism in magnetic hysteresis, J. Geophys. Res., 95, 12337–12350, 1996.

  41. Thellier, E. and O. Thellier, Sur l’intensite de champ magnetique terrestre dans le passe historique et geologique, Ann. Geophys., 15, 285–376, 1959.

  42. Urrutia-Fucugauchi, J., L. Alva-Valdivia, A. Goguitchaichvili, M. L. Rivas, and J. Morales, Palaeomagnetic, rock-magnetic and microscopy studies of historic lava flows from Paricutin volcano, Mexico: Implications for the deflection of palaeomagnetic measurements, Geophys. J. Int., 156, 431–442, 2004.

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Gennaro Conte-Fasano.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Conte-Fasano, G., Urrutia-Fucugauchi, J., Goguitchaichvili, A. et al. Lava identification by paleomagnetism: a case study and some problems surrounding the 1631 eruption of Mount Vesuvius, Italy. Earth Planet Sp 58, 1061–1069 (2006).

Download citation

Key words

  • Paleosecular variation
  • Vesuvius volcano
  • 1631 eruption
  • paleointensity
  • Italy