Friday, October 20, 2023

Geology Through the Radio - Pompeii

One day I was listening to the radio and it a appeared that a geologically themed song was playing. Little did I realize when I first heard it, that the song title, "Pompeii" by Bastille, was also geologically themed. After that I proceeded to listen to the lyrics a bit more closely, I realized that not only was the song named after a geological event, it actually was completely about that said event (not some fancy title that has nothing to do with the song what-so-ever).

Here are a snippet of the lyrics for instance:
And the walls kept tumbling down 

In the city that we love 

Gray clouds roll over the hills 

Bringing darkness from above
The Geology

I found this song a perfect example of geology on the radio because they decided to title the song simple "Pompeii", which is a reference I am assuming a lot of people would get.  

For those who don't know, the song talks about the eruption of Mount Vesuvius back in 79 CE (Common Era), which destroyed the town of Pompeii. Along with Pompeii, the lesser known town of Herculaneum was also destroyed in the same eruption. 

The towns were destroyed during the release of volcanic ash, gas, pyroclastic debris, and eventually in what is called a pyroclastic flow. 
A pyroclastic flow off the side of Mount St. Helens, May 18, 1980. Image courtesy of the the USGS

A pyroclastic flow is a super heated (>400 degrees C) ball of gas, ash, and rock that flows down the side of a volcano at tremendous speed (~100 km/hr). It is estimated that the ~2,000 victims of the eruptions found at Pompeii were killed within 15 minutes of the eruption (The Guardian).  

In an interview about the song, the band's frontrunner Dan Smith (RadioX) said that: 
"I was reading a book that had some picture of the people who got caught up in the volcanic eruption. And it's just such a kind of dark powerful image, and it got me thinking about how boring it must have been emotionally after the event. To be sort of stuck in that same position for hundreds and hundreds of years. So, the song is sort of an imaginary conversation between these two people who are stuck next to each other in their sort of tragic death pose".
Cast of some of the victim's bodies at Pompeii. Image courtesy of the Global Volcanism Program

The victims of the eruption likely died in a multiple of ways. The first wave of deaths took place from the raining cloud of rocks from the initial eruption that Mt. Vesuvius ejected into the air. These rocks have been shown to have caused head traumas to many of the victims (The Atlantic). More deaths occurred from the suffocating ash and toxic gasses, and then eventually the pyroclastic flow. The ash adhered to the bodies of the victims, essentially cocooning them in a hardened shell of rock. Over the centuries the bodies decayed, leaving behind voids in the rock. It is these voids that archaeologists eventually realized formed something, so they filled them with plaster, only to discover that they were the remains of the victims. Unlike most of the organic material which decayed away, many of the bones also remained within the voids left behind in the ash. 

You can see the rest of the Geology Through the Radio postings on my website.

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