Mount Etna

Mount Etna is the tallest mountain in Europe. It casts a shadow over the city of Catania, standing over three thousand meters high on the east coast of Sicily. It covers an area of 600 square miles, and also happens to be one of the most active strato volcanoes on Earth.

Mount Etna is composed of layers of hardened lava, solidified ash, and rocks ejected from past eruptions. This volcano has the oldest record of historical eruptions, dating back its first eruption to about half a million years ago.

Mount Etna Eruptions

Mount Etna’s eruptions differ in intensity and characteristics. Most of the eruptions take place in the summit, where as of 2008 there are four distinct craters. The others occur on the flanks where there are more than three hundred vents of all sizes. The most common type of eruptive activity from Mount Etna during the past century has been Strombolian activity from the summit craters. This is when small explosions eject fragments of lava up to a few hundred meters in the air. There are paroxysmal summit eruptions constituted by tephra which encompasses volcanic rock and can cause property damage or hurt people.

Mount Etna also experiences phreatic eruptions, where ejected material is composed only of old rock and no new magma fragments. Subterminal eruptions come from the vents on the flanks. This activity usually consists of lava emission with small amounts of Strombolian activity or spattering of fluid lava. The worst eruption documented was in 1669 when the lava flowed into Catania.

Mount Etna is also one of the only two volcanoes, of the three incidences reported to blow smoke rings. The other volcano was Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland.

Mount Etna Charactaristics

For the most part Mount Etna is a benign volcano and doesn’t cause much damage due to its conical shape and height. It does occasionally produce large flowing amounts of lava that pose a threat to nearby structures, but in the last two thousand years less than one hundred people have been killed by this volcano’s eruptions. Records show that most of the deaths were people visiting the summit or nearby during an unexpected eruption. Tourism is quite popular on Mount Etna despite the risk involved. One surreal feature to Mount Etna is being able to ski down the slope with a fantastic view of the Mediterranean Sea. In 1987, Mount Etna was made into a national park and is a protected area.


Mount Etna
Photo by Asa Rodger on Unsplash

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