Europe’s largest active volcano erupts, leaving millions of people in awe of its deafening and bright explosions
— 2 minute read — By Safia Bartley
On 16th February, Mount Etna erupted, shooting out masses of ash and huge fountains of lava into the uninhabited valleys below.
Mount Etna is Europe’s most active volcano, and at 3,350m high and 22km wide, it is also the largest on the continent. Located in Italy, the volcano stands over eastern Sicily and has been illuminating the sky with its loud and fiery eruptions.
Etna last erupted in December last year, and like this time, had no casualties. The volcano’s most catastrophic eruption occurred in 1669 which resulted in approximately 15,000 deaths. This eruption produced lava flow that destroyed over 10 villages before being held off by the walls of the Sicilian town Catania and diverted towards the sea. The most recent casualties caused by Etna were in 1987, when two tourists were killed by an unpredicted explosion close to the summit.
Thankfully, this eruption did not cause any significant damage or injuries, and because the volcano’s eruptions had no immediate threat to those living on the island of Sicily, no one had to be evacuated. Fear-free, the people of Sicily took to social media sites like Twitter and Facebook to document the eruptions, calling them ‘spectacular’ and ‘breath-taking’.
Although Etna is dangerous, it follows the typical style of effusive and strombolian eruptions. This means that when it erupts, it releases small amounts lava flow and is only mildly explosive. Similarly, Etna is an intermittent volcano, erupting in frequent and predictable timeframes, allowing for it to be monitored. Capitalising on Etna’s predictability, the government have been able to keep local areas safe and control the lava flow; like in 1983 where dynamite was used to divert lava flow away from populated areas and into uninhabited valleys.
Living near a volcano as large and active as Mount Etna has many challenges and can be extremely dangerous, but it also comes with advantages. For example, the lava flow from eruptions creates extremely fertile farmland, allowing for fruit trees and grape vines to flourish. Notably, wine made from the grapes grown on the volcanic slopes of Etna are some of the most popular and highly rated in Sicily. Also, Mount Etna makes for an excellent tourism attraction. Backpackers, hikers and volcano enthusiasts can travel up parts of the mountain, taking in the views of Sicily and the Ionian Sea below it.
Even though Mount Etna can cause catastrophic damage, these eruptions have been safe for those on the island of Sicily, with people being able to appreciate the beauty of our natural world. It is indisputable that we will see Etna erupt again, and hopefully the volcano will bring the same safe and captivating views.