NASA Animation Shows Mount Etna "Breathing"


Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

clockMay 15 2016, 19:35 UTC
375 NASA Animation Shows Mount Etna "Breathing"
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory

A “breathing” volcano sounds like something out of an ancient myth, but this animation of Mount Etna is very much the real deal.

The incredible visualization from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory shows how the ground surrounding the volcano pulses and morphs as a result of changes in the volume of a shallow chamber about 5 kilometers (3 miles) below sea level.


The data from the animation was picked up by radar interferometry on the European Space Agency's ERS-1 and ERS-2 satellites. This technique is so sensitive, it can detect ground deformation within 2.8 centimeters (1.1 inches).   

Mount Etna, located on the island of Sicily, is one of Europe’s tallest active volcanoes at over 3,350 meters (10,990 feet). While on the whole its activity is fairly contained, it’s not without its temper tantrums. For example, in 1928 a particularly heavy flow of lava led to the near-total destruction of a town called Mascali.

The colored bar in the upper left corner of the video details how much the ground is falling in centimeters. Keep your eyes peeled for the red and yellow notches in the bottom right bar too. Each of these signify a volcanic eruption, with moderate eruption activity shown in yellow and strong ones shown in red.

  • tag
  • volcano,

  • volcanic eruption,

  • animation,

  • Sicily,

  • mount etna,

  • satellite data