Etna’s February 19th paroxysm

Well, Mr. Lincoln’s birthday post will have to wait until later in the day and I probably won’t get to that Flight To Wonder post on earthquake hazards until tomorrow – Mount Etna, in Sicily, put on a dazzling show last night, and somebody got the video (a combination of live action and time lapse).

There are a lot of volcano videos set to music on You Tube, but volcanophiles (third video down, if you click this link) tend not to enthuse unless something a little special comes along.

Trust me – this is very special.

Right now, geoscientists and amateurs alike are looking at that in awe because of the size of the fountains and just, well, everything.

I don’t know whoever made this, but can understand that they might have added the music toward the end of the video, without having planned it, simply because this volcano is actually playing Fred Astaire to the night sky’s Ginger Rogers.

There are technical highlights, too. Volcanologist Boris Behncke commented on this video at the Eruptions blog about an hour ago, pointing out the pyroclastic flow that shows a glow in front of it as it descends the steep slopes of Etna’s summit (it’s also labeled in the video, in Italian).

A little about Etna

Towns and cities around Mount Etna.  The colored area is where they grow wines.  (Benanti Winery - click for larger image)

Benanti Winery (Click for larger image)

This volcano sits in a very complicated tectonic area, but the most remarkable thing you and I would notice on a visit there would be the heavily populated area all around and even on the volcano.

Nearby Catania is Sicility’s second biggest city and home to almost 300,000 people.

Smaller towns encircle Etna, and vinyards occupy much of the volcano’s lower flanks (these are the colored area in this image)!

Mount Etna has been in nearly continuous eruption for some 3500 years, making Kilauea’s ongoing 29-year-old eruption in Hawaii seem pretty insignificant (although Kilauea overall has erupted the most lava).

Why did people settle so close to Etna, when they could clearly see it was dangerous?

Well, partly because Sicily is an island and space is limited. It also helps that Etna’s lava tends to be basaltic, like Hawaii’s volcanoes, not the silica-rich type that comes from Mount St. Helens or Pinatubo and often leads to massively explosive eruptions. Too, eruptions at Etna often (but not always) just affect the summit areas.

Sometimes humanity comes out on the losing end.  (Daveness 98)

Sometimes humanity comes out on the losing end. (Daveness98)

However, here we see humanity’s love/hate relationship with volcanoes clearly.

Though at times Etna’s eruptions have forced people to move to the other side of the island, people have always come back, for the volcanic soil is very fertile.

The volcano also provides building materials. Natural forces have destroyed Catania a few times over its long history, but when a double-whammy of eruption and then big earthquake hit them in the 17th century, these tough people rebuilt their city using the cooled lava that had once buried it.

The natural beauty has also drawn tourists for many centuries. The ancient geographer Strabo indicates there were summit-climbing tours at Etna around the beginning of the Christian era.


Of course, scientists keep a very close eye on Mount Etna. The Etna Observatory (Italian language) is online and offers news updates and much more information, including webcams (visible and thermal sensing). There are also locally based Etna webcams.

Really, though, you don’t need to know anything about volcanoes or geology to appreciate the incredible beauty that someone captured in video last night at Mount Etna.

The volcano has been doing this sort of thing since long before there was either Internet or electricity, and it may well still be at it thousands of years in the future, when perhaps its name and history, such as we have gleaned anyway to date, will be long forgotten.

Sometimes ageless wonder is enough.

Categories: volcanoes

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1 reply


  1. Mount Etna’s Dramatic New Eruption: Includes Video «

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