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Italian Volcano Develops New, Actively Spewing Craters

Sep 03, 2016 03:59 AM EDT
Mount Etna erupting 2002
Sicily (Oct. 28, 2002) — On the evening after the initial eruption of Mt. Etna on the Italian island of Sicily, U.S. Navy photographer Richard W. Williams captures this image of a river of lava flowing down the side of the volcano. Dark clouds of pyroclastic ash from the eruption stretched as far as Africa this week and were visible from space during continued volcanic activity. Experts indicate the earthquakes felt subsequent to the initial eruption were not necessarily related to Etna's rumblings and were optimistic that the lava flows would soon be brought under control.
(Photo : Photo: Richard W. Williams / U.S. Navy, PD-USGov)

It is highly unusual for mature volcanoes to change the location where their eruptions take place, but Mount Etna completely defies convention by forming new active summits.

A team of Italian scientists published a paper in the journal Frontiers in Earth Science documenting and explaining Mount Etna's bizarre behavior. Frequent volcanic activity has provided a veritable trove of information for scientists. Mount Etna is located in Sicily, Italy. The youngest crater formed in 1971. Lava fountaining episodes happen every handful of years.

"The fact that Etna is continuously active allows us to capture many evolutionary processes, within a decade or less, which, at any other volcano would (only) be seen over much larger spans of decades or centuries." professor at Roma Tre University Valerio Acocella said in a release. "Etna is probably one of the best monitored and studied volcanoes in the world."

The study utilized data spanning the last ten years that was gathered from thermal imaging satellites, ground measurements and monitoring the volcano directly. A few decades ago, Mount Etna did have a more traditional configuration of a central crater. fter the original central crater, Mount Etna formed a southern crater and then a southeastern one. When a new crater is formed it becomes the dominant crater.

The changing location of craters and eruptions is thought to be caused by instability in the volcano's structure. Stresses and pressures resulting from the instability guide the new formation of a crater.

A practical application of the study is to predict when and where the next eruption will happen. Residents nearby the volcano are at risk from volcanic activity and landslides. It's very hard to predict exactly when a volcano will erupt, as geological timelines happen much more slowly than human activity timelines. Predicting where an eruption will happen is a more exact science.

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