What Is Up With Mount Etna?

Mount Etna, Europe’s largest volcano, has been very active recently, erupting several times in the last few weeks. Last Monday, the volcano shot out lava fountains that reached About one-and-a-half kilometres into the sky. The volcano is shooting out magma [melted rock] from deep inside the 2-mile (3.3 kilometer) high mountain.

The volcano is located on the Eastern coast of the island of Sicily, not far from the city of Catania. Though the eruptions are the largest in years, scientists say they aren’t unusual for Mount Etna, which is one of the most active volcanoes in the world.So far, the volcano isn’t a threat to people in the area, but the smoke, ash, and small rocks it has created have caused minor problems, including temporarily closing Catania’s airport.Mount Etna’s spectacular eruptions reached a peak on Monday when the volcano’s lava fountains soared to 1,500 metres – a display described by one expert as “one of the most striking in the last few decades”.

According to experts, the fireworks show is part of a Strombolian eruption that is among the normal activities of the more than 3,300-metre-high volcano.

“Etna is putting on a show these days,” said Marco Neri, an expert in volcanology and a member of INGV, the Italian national institute for geophysics and volcanology.“This is certainly the strongest explosion in the southern crater that was discovered in 1971. We have not seen such high explosions for years but at the moment there is no risk to the population, apart from the smoke that can create breathing problems for a few hours, and the ash that covers buildings and streets.”

On Monday, at about 11pm, the lava fountains, surrounded by gigantic clouds of smoke, exceeded 1,500 metres (4,900ft) in height, while thousands of rock fragments were thrown from the crater into the sky for several kilometres.

“It was certainly one of the most spectacular eruptions of recent decades,” Boris Behncke, volcanologist at the National Institute of Geophysics in Catania, said. “But this falls within the ordinary activity of this volcano. Etna is doing very normal things, even if each time everything seems bigger, stronger, more colourful and more threatening.”

Etna’s frequent eruptions have sometimes profoundly changed the landscape of south-east Sicily and, on many occasions, constituted a threat to the settlements on its slopes. The longest eruption on record occurred in July 1614, when the explosive activities lasted 10 years and the volcano emitted more than 1bn cubic metres of lava, covering 21 sq km.

The best known and most destructive eruption occurred in 1669, when lava, accompanied by earthquakes, buried dozens of towns and even reached the sea.

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