Europe’s largest active volcano, Mount Etna, looms large over the island of Sicily but new research indicates that it may pose a threat to the entire coastal population of the Mediterranean.
While many might fear the prospect of a fiery, ash-covered death, akin to the historic tragedies caused by eruptions at Mount Vesuvius, where heads exploded and blood boiled, a tsunami may prove to be the biggest danger wrought by Etna.
“The entire slope is in motion due to gravity,”explains geophysicist Heidrun Kopp from the Geomar Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Germany, who recently published research results in the journal Science Advances.
“It is therefore quite possible that it could collapse catastrophically, which could trigger a tsunami in the entire Mediterranean.”
In April 2016, Kopp’s team strategically positioned five underwater transponders to measure seafloor displacement along the southern edge of Mount Etna. Nothing happened for 12 months but then, in May 2017, the flank moved by 4 centimeters in just eight days.
After careful analysis, the team determined that the slow slip and slide is evidence that gravity, not seismic activity, is to blame for the mountain’s gradual collapse into the Mediterranean.
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Analysis of the seafloor indicates that the sliding movements, which average 14 millimeters or 0.55 inches per year, actually impact a far greater land mass than previously believed, increasing the risk of a “catastrophic collapse” leading to an eventual tsunami, as opposed to a confined eruption on the island of Sicily alone.
“We have been monitoring Etna on shore for around 30 years now, but 30 years is nothing compared to the age of Etna, which is 500,000 years old,” Dr Morelia Urlaub from Geomar Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research told The Independent.
“It could happen in 10 or 100 or 100,000 years – we can’t tell.”
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