Willis ranks 10 of Europes most dangerous volcanoes, Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull not on list

A major eruption of Italy's Mount Vesuvius could result in 8,000 fatalities, 13,000 serious injuries and total economic losses of more than $24bn, according to a new study.

The research supported by the Willis Research Network (WRN) puts Vesuvius at the top of the list of Europe’s 10 most dangerous volcanoes.

The WRN volcano risk ranking identified the 10 most dangerous European volcanoes based on the size of a potential eruption, the number of people potentially at risk, and the value of property in the area surrounding each volcano.

The study found that, together, the 10 volcanoes could affect almost 2.1m people with an aggregated exposed residential property value of US $85bn.

The Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland that spewed forth the ash cloud which has disrupted so much of Europe’s transport was not on the list. But the Hekla volcano, Iceland’s most active, was ranked as the ninth most dangerous volcano in Europe.

Vesuvius poses the greatest risk to life and property, the study found, because it has the highest exposed population (1.7m people), the highest exposed residential property value (US $66.1bn), and the greatest potential for a seriously damaging eruption among the top 10 volcanoes. The study noted that more than 87% of the aggregated exposed property value for the 10 volcanoes is concentrated in the Neapolitan region near Vesuvius and Campi Flegrei.

Dr. Rashmin Gunasekera, a Catastrophe Risk Analyst at Willis Re and one of the authors of the paper, said: “There are significant numbers of highly active volcanoes in the wider European region, taking into account those in Iceland, the Spanish Canary Islands, the Portuguese Azores and the French islands of the Lesser Antilles. These are all major tourist destinations, and while property values drive our loss estimates, it should be noted that aviation, agriculture, motor and business interruption policies also will be affected.”

WRN member Prof. Robin Spence, CURBE, University of Cambridge & CAR Ltd., and an author of the study, said, “Large explosive volcanic eruptions are rare events, but when they do occur, they have the potential to cause huge economic and human losses. In 2002, for example, rain combined with ash fall alone caused economic losses of around US $960 million after the eruption of Mount Etna in Sicily. In principle, however volcanic eruption is an insurable risk and our study concludes that the time has come for the development of an insurance risk model for European volcanoes to identify the scale of potential future impacts.”

The WRN European volcano risk ranking below shows the number of people living in the area that could be affected by 25 cm of ash fall in the assumed greatest eruption. It also shows the total residential property value exposed to severe damage or destruction in that eruption, taking into account the total number of dwellings within possible reach of lava flows or 25 cm ash fall and their full current reconstruction cost. While the Caribbean volcano of Soufrière Saint Vincent is not on European soil, it has been included in the top 10 due to the significant impact that an eruption would have on European territory.

Volcanic risk affects major metropolitan areas worldwide, including Tokyo (Mt. Fuji), Mexico City (Popocatépetl) and Auckland (Auckland Field). WRN officials said they expect their volcano risk methodology will prove to be valuable in assessing risk in these other areas beyond Europe and its territories.

The WRN European volcano risk ranking

Volcano/Country/Affected population/Values of residences at risk
2.Campi Flegrei/Italy/144,144/$7.8bn
3.La Soufrière Guadeloupe/Guadeloupe,France/94,037 /$3.8bn
5.Agua de Pau/Azores,Portugal/34,307/$1.4bn
6.Soufrière Saint Vincent/Saint Vincent,Caribbean/24,493/$1bn
8.Sete Cidades/Azores,Portugal/17,889/$0.7bn
10.Mt Pelée/Martinique,France/10,002/$0.4bn