February 26, 2021 10:51:13 AM
Mount Etna, the volcano that dominates eastern Sicily, evokes superlatives. It is the most active volcano in Europe and also the largest on the continent. And the fiery, loud power indicator it generates for days, weeks or even years is always super spectacular. Fortunately, the last Etna eruption that caught the world’s attention did not cause injuries or evacuations. But every time he returns in dramatic action, he wows viewers and amazes geologists who spend their careers paying attention to every thrill, growl, and belch.
What is happening now?
On February 16, Mount Etna erupted, sending high fountains of lava that tumbled down the east side of the mountain into the uninhabited Bove Valley, which is five kilometers wide and eight kilometers long. The volcano erupted from ash and lava stones that flooded the south side.
The activity has since continued in more or less intense gusts. Flaming lava illuminates the night sky in shocking shades of orange and red. It is unknown how long this series of exciting activities will last, say volcanologists who work at the Etna Observatory, which is administered by the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology.
While the audience’s fascination with the first dramatic footage began that month, the explosive activity began in September 2019 and got much stronger two months ago. Current activity mainly affects the southeast crater, which was formed in 1971 from a series of fractures.
Hard to miss
Mount Etna rises to 3350 meters above sea level and is 35 kilometers in diameter, although volcanic activity has changed the height of the mountain over time.
Sometimes the airport in Catania, the largest city in eastern Sicily, has to close for hours or days when ash in the air makes the flight to the region dangerous. At the beginning of this latest phase of eruptive activity, the airport was temporarily closed.
But for pilots and passengers flying to and from Catania at night when the volcano is quieter, a glimpse of a fiery red in the dark sky makes for an exciting sight.
Live with a volcano
Since Etna’s lava flows are largely contained in the uninhabited slopes, life in towns and villages takes place elsewhere on the mountain. Sometimes, like in the last few days, lava stones rain through the streets, bounce off cars and shake roofs.
But many residents generally find this a minor inconvenience compared to the volcano’s benefits. The lava flows left fertile farmland. Apple trees and citrus fruits are in bloom. Etna red and white wines are among the most popular wines in Sicily and are made from grapes grown on the volcanic slopes.
Tourism generates income. Hikers and backpackers enjoy the view of the often puffy mountain and the glittering Ionian Sea. For skiers who want uncrowded slopes, Mount Etna is a favorite.
It can be fatal
Mount Etna inspired ancient Greek legends and witnessed dozens of known eruptions throughout its history. An outbreak in 396 BC was recognized for keeping the army of Carthage in check.
In 1669, in what was considered to be the worst known volcanic eruption, lava buried a part of Catania about 23 kilometers away and devastated dozen of villages. An eruption in 1928 cut a railway line that encircled the base of the mountain.
More recently, in 1983, dynamite has been used to deflect lava that threatens inhabited areas. In 1992 the military built an earth wall to contain the lava that flowed from Mount Etna for months after it hit Zafferana Etnea, a village of a few thousand people. At one point the steaming lava stopped two kilometers (just over a mile) from the outskirts.
Over the past century, geological timing issues, low-energy blast eruptions, and lava flows fed from both the summit and side slits have characterized Mount Etna.
Read also: Sicilians “don’t worry” about the eruption of Mount Etna because they “have seen worse”
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