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Roger Weller, geology instructor

Mt. Etna
by Detric Miles
Physical Geology
Fall 2009

Eruptions of Mt. Etna

Mt. Etna is the second largest active volcano in Europe. It is currently standing 10,922 ft high. Because of the occurring eruptions the growth of the mountain is constantly interrupted; the mountain is 69 ft lower now than it was in 1981. It is the highest mountain in Italy south of the Alps. Etna covers an area of 460 sq miles with a circumference of 140 km. This makes it by far the largest of the three active volcanoes in Italy.

Thousands of years ago, the eastern side of the mountain experienced a disastrous collapse, generating an enormous landslide like the incident that was seen in the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. The landslide left a large hole in the side of the volcano, known as 'Valle del Bove'. The steep walls of the Valley have suffered subsequent collapse on many occasions. Strata exposed in the valley walls provide an important and easily accessible record of Etna's eruptive history. In 2006 research suggested that this occurred around 6000 BC, and caused a huge tsunami which left its mark in several places in the eastern Mediterranean. This may have also been the reason that the settlement of Atlit Yam in Israel is now below sea level. The most recent collapse of Etna is thought to have occurred about 2,000 years ago, forming what is known as the Piano Caldera. This caldera has been almost entirely filled by lava eruptions, but is still visible as a distinct break in the slope of the mountain near the base

Valle Del Bove’

Mt. Etna

From about 35,000 to 15,000 years ago, Etna experienced some highly explosive eruptions, generating large lava which left extensive ignimbrite deposits. Ash from these eruptions has been found as far away as Rome, 800 km to the north. Eruptions of Etna are not all the same. Some occur at the summit, where there are currently (as of 2008) four distinct craters, the Northeast Crater, the Voragine, the Bocca Nuova, and the Southeast Crater. Other eruptions occur on the flanks; where there are more than 300 vents, range in size from small holes in the ground to large craters hundreds of meters across. Summit eruptions can be highly explosive and are tremendously stunning, but rarely threatens the inhabited areas around the volcano. On the other hand, flank eruptions can occur down to a few hundred meters altitude, close to or even well within the populated areas. Since the year 1600 A.D., there have been at least Sixty flank eruptions. Nearly half of these have occurred since the start of the 20th century, and the 3rd millennium has seen five flank eruptions of Etna so far, in 2001, 2002-2003, 2004-2005,2007 and 2008.

Mt. Etna Erupting

The most violent eruption in the history of Mt. Etna occurred in March of 1669. On the first day of the eruption, lava flows cut a smoldering gash out of two mountain villages. The volcano did not stop there, however. It continued to send out forth-molten rock for days. By the end of April, the city walls of Catania had given a superior force and the western side of the city was demolished before the lava came to a stop.

Despite the daily threat of Mt. Etna erupting, tours to the volcano are readily available for the intrepid hiker. The south side of Mt. Etna side is free for all to cross, but a guide is needed if visitors want look directly into the eye of the great volcano. The hike is a great experience for all, it allows visitors to see, smell and touch the turbulent history of Mt. Etna. Before any climb, it is crucial to check into the tourist office in Catania to learn the present status of the volcano, hiking instructions and to get a map of Mount Etna, detailing all the viewpoints of Sicily’s most explosive natural attraction.     



Seach, John. "Mt. Etna Volcano eruptions." Volcano Live. Web. 11 Nov. 2009.


Lendering, Jonna. "Etna." Livius. Web. 17 Nov. 2009.
           < "Mt etna volcano." Destination360. Web. 19 Nov. 2009.
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