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Mount Etna Reawakens With a Fiery Display in the Sicilian Sky

Mount Etna Reawakens With a Fiery Display in the Sicilian Sky
PHOTOGRAPH: Ben Aveling | Mt Etna, with Catania in the foreground.

The February 2017 eruption of Mount Etna, an active volcano on the east coast of Sicily, held many people spellbound. The lava brought an orange hue to the night sky, and the spectacle was caught on video and shared on social media.

The fiery show caused varying reactions from netizens. One social media user wrote, “The earth is furious with human shenanigans.”

A woman from Pennsylvania also wrote, “It was erupting in Aug of 2008 when we were having a late evening dinner on the opposite side of the mountain. It was an awesome site.” Another person commented on Facebook that Mt. Etna spewed out all kinds of carbon emissions.

The lava spewing to the sky could be witnessed from the city of Catania and resort town of Taormina. The towns situated on the mountain’s slopes reportedly did not face any danger arising from the volcanic eruption.

A Long Record of Eruptions

Throughout history, the volcano has exhibited short, violent bursts. The most recent one last February 27 eventually quelled.

Mini eruptions took place in 2016 and 2015. Back in 2014, the volcano burst into an eye-catching nighttime display.

The year 1992 marked a major eruption. The U.S. Marines even helped stop the flow of lava. Using helicopters for “Operation Volcano Buster,” they dropped huge concrete blocks at the edge of the lava tunnel.

One would have to go back to 1669 to find Catania was also the site of destruction caused by spurting lava. Farther back in 122 B.C., it took 10 years for locals to rebuild what was left by nature’s wrath. In another instance, 1,500 people were killed in the town of Nicoli by an earthquake that originated underneath Etna.

Why the Volcano Remains Active

Mount Etna is a series of stratovolcanoes. Larger than cinder cones, they can rise up to 8,000 feet and are made of layers (strata) of unmelted stone, ash and lava flow.

Mount Etna has four summit craters, with the two central ones called Bocca Nuova and Voragine. On its eastern slope is the largest feature: a caldera called Valle del Bove (“Valley of the Ox”).

There are many fissures on the sides of the volcano, but the reason for its outbursts may be from below. It lies on an active fault between the African tectonic plate and the Ionan microplate.

With the Ionan plate tilting, as shown by the evidence, magma from the earth’s mantle layer is moving into the space the plate is vacating. Other possibilities have been looked into, but magma can cause the volcano to emit lava.

Whether it will keep ejecting lava, tephra (airborne lava) and volcanic ash in the years to come is anybody’s guess. What is more certain is that Mt. Etna has ingrained itself in people’s memories – even appearing in the Star Wars movie, Revenge of the Sith.  Some dwellers near the east coast of Sicily, Italy are known to value their shared history with the volcano.

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