In July 2021, Mount Etna, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, erupted once again. The eruption took place on June 17, 1923, and was a significant event in the volcano’s history. The eruption caused the peak of Mount Etna to convulse, emitting a thunderous roar that resembled the discharge of a thousand guns. Lava flowed from a deep fissure on the volcano’s northeast side, flooding nearby vineyards and pine forests. The eruption also set fields ablaze with searing hot stones, reaching a small hamlet on the outskirts of Linguaglossa, Sicily.
The people of Linguaglossa took immediate action by gathering at the church to retrieve the statue of their patron saint, Sant’Egidio (Saint Giles in English). They carried the statue in a procession through the streets and towards the edge of the lava flow. Miraculously, the lava stopped just before reaching the village, sparing it from destruction. While this eruption did not cause many deaths, Mount Etna is capable of causing significant damage. The most destructive eruption occurred in 1669 when lava flowed for months, engulfing villages and fields in its path.
Today, Mount Etna continues to erupt frequently and unpredictably. With approximately one million people living on its slopes, the volcano is closely monitored and has become a testing ground for advanced technology used to study volcanoes. Scientists are drawn to Mount Etna’s unique behavior and have been studying it for decades. However, the formation of the volcano remains a mystery. Unlike most volcanoes that form above subduction zones, Mount Etna sits to the side of the African plate’s subduction beneath the Eurasian plate. This unusual position has puzzled scientists regarding the source of Mount Etna’s magma.
One theory suggests that tectonic shifts in the region may be triggering the formation of magma in the upper mantle. Another possibility is that the nearby subduction of the African plate plays a role in supplying magma to Mount Etna. Despite these theories, the exact source of the volcano’s volcanic activity remains uncertain.
In addition to tectonic activity, the shifting of Mount Etna towards the Ionian Sea contributes to its frequent eruptions. The volcano slowly slides towards the sea, creating deep cracks that act as conduits for magma flow to the surface. The movement of magma towards the surface further pushes the volcano’s flank towards the sea.
The recent increase in activity at Mount Etna has highlighted the importance of studying and monitoring volcanoes worldwide. Scientists have been developing innovative methods to better understand volcanic behavior and communicate risks to communities at risk. For example, fiber optic technology has been used to monitor even the smallest tremors and detect underground fluid and gas movement. This technology has provided valuable insights into the volcano’s behavior during periods of quiescence.
Furthermore, the extensive research and data accumulated over many years provide valuable information about Mount Etna’s past and present behavior. By continuing to monitor the volcano’s changing shape and surface height, scientists can gain further understanding of its dynamics and anticipate future eruptions.
Mount Etna’s continuous activity serves as a reminder of the dangers posed by volcanoes, but it also presents opportunities for scientific advancements and the development of improved monitoring techniques. As researchers delve deeper into the volcano’s mysteries, they hope to gain insights that will contribute to our understanding of volcanoes worldwide.
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Shambhu Kumar is a science communicator, making complex scientific topics accessible to all. His articles explore breakthroughs in various scientific disciplines, from space exploration to cutting-edge research.