Mount Etna Just Exploded Into Life


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

A recent lava flow emerging from one of Etna's five known vents. Giovanni Isolino/AFP/Getty Images

Not keen to let Hawaii’s collapsing lava delta and fire hoses steal the show, Sicily’s Mount Etna has just burst into life, sending iridescent lava tumbling and flowing down its steep slopes. The latest eruptive phase began on February 27, and at the time of writing, the so-called “Roof of the Mediterranean” is putting on quite the firework display.

At present, no one is in danger and there is no need for an evacuation. The spectacle can be clearly seen from the major city of Catania, where it’s lighting up the night quite gloriously.


Mount Etna had a few outbursts back in 2015 and 2016, on occasion producing some volcanic lightning within its ashy eruption columns. This time, however, it seems happy to just gush out some incredibly hot lava that historically has caused Sicilians quite a lot of bother.

The tallest active volcano in Europe, and one of the most dangerous in the world, this beast of a mountain is around half a million years in age. It currently sits above a hotspot, an upwelling plume of superheated mantle material providing a powerful source of molten crust to the volcano.

Mount Etna erupts. RT via YouTube

Its unusual position along the convergence of the decidedly wonky African and Eurasian plates, along with the presence of a hotspot, means that it is often fueled by a range of magma types – which also means it erupts quite unpredictably using an impressive repertoire of devastating styles.


Its eruptions during human history have been varyingly destructive, and its lava-filled exploits have made it into several ancient texts, including Virgil’s Aeneid. More recently, in 1669, lava flows effusing from the summit consumed 10 villages before reaching Catania, where its walls luckily diverted most of it towards the harbor and away from the city.

Although powerful pyroclastic flows – generated as the result of particularly gassy and gloopy magma – have taken place, it’s normally the prolonged lava flows that cause the most trouble.

Several times in the 20th century, Etna’s lava has required authorities to rush to divert it away from human populations. At one point, the Italian military actually blew up part of the volcano in order to channel the lava elsewhere.


There’s no reason to think that these new flows are particularly dangerous, but it’s good to keep an eye on them. They’re indubitably impressive – so much so that they were used as an actual backdrop for Mustafar, the Star Wars planet where Darth Vader first fell into that pesky lava, and where he seems to be hanging out by the time Rogue One rolls around.


If you want to follow the action, you can tune in live here.


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