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Mount Etna Has Grown Even Taller This Year, And It's Probably Not Done Yet

author

Dr. Alfredo Carpineti

Senior Staff Writer & Space Correspondent

clockAug 11 2021, 16:57 UTC
The eruption of etna

A view of erupting Etna from the town of Riposto near Catania. Image Credit: lapissable/Shutterstock.com

Mount Etna is an incredible sight in the Sicilian landscape. The impressive and very active volcano is the scenic backdrop to cities including Catania and Taormina and as of this year, Europe's tallest active volcano will appear quite a bit taller. The increase in height is due to the intense volcanic activity that Etna has experienced this year, in particular from February onwards.

Latest measurements from the National Institute for Geophysics and Vulcanology (INGV) estimate that the south-eastern crater has reached an altitude of 3,357 meters (11,013 feet) above sea level. An increase of several tens of meters above the previous top altitude but only slightly taller than its record from the early 1980s.

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Between 1980 and 1981, the northeast crater, traditionally considered the big brother of the two, began an intensive erupting phase that culminated with the rims of the crater reaching an altitude of 3,350 meters (just shy of 11,000 feet). Over the decades since, the rim collapsed. In 2018, it was estimated that it had decreased to an altitude of 3,326 meters (10,912). Still, it remained the highest peak of the volcano.

Well, not anymore.

The volcanic activity this year began on February 16 and has consisted of about 50 eruptive episodes so far, spewing out ash and lava, which delivered a significant height boost to the south-eastern crater. The eruption is ongoing suggesting that it might get even taller. The continuous activity made the volcano taller but also made the actual measurement a lot harder to obtain.

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The INGV had to study two sets of three images from the Pléiades satellite from July 13 and July 25. These were taken as part of an international collaboration with the Geohazard Supersites and Natural Laboratories. To understand the changes to the volcano, the team used a digital reconstruction of the terrain from 2015, which is where things got more complex.

During the observations, the craters were releasing gas making the estimates difficult. By combining the two observations, the team was able to remove the gas and estimate that the highest peak of the volcano is located on the northern rim of the southeast crater.

Mount Etna is the largest of the three active volcanos in Italy, almost two and half times taller than the second, the notorious Mount Vesuvius that destroyed the Roman city of Pompeii, Herculaneum, Oplontis, and Stabiae in August 79 CE. Etna is also among the world's most active volcanoes.

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In Greek mythology, it was believed to be the prison of the monster Typhon and the location of the forges of Hephaestus.


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