Friday 17 March 2017

Eight injured following phraetic eruption on Mount Etna.

Eight people, including members of a BBC film crew, three vulcanologists from the Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia and several tourists and their guide have been injured following a phraetic eruption (explosion caused by water coming into contact with hot lava and vapourising) on Mount Etna on Thursday 16 March 2017. The BBC team, lead by science journalist Rebecca Morelle, were making a program about advances in volcano monitoring, featuring the work of the Italian scientists, when a lavs flow encountered a snowfield, triggering an explosion of steam that showered them with lava and chunks of rock. Most of the party escaped with cuts and burns, though several had to be taken off the mountain by mountain rescue teams.

A member of the BBC team with a jacket burned through by hot rock. Rebecca Morelle/BBC.

Etna first erupted about half a million years ago, beneath the sea off the east coast of Sicily, and has been going strong ever since. It now stands 3330 m above sea level, and covers 1200 km³. It is responsible for fertile soils across eastern Sicily. Records of eruptions on Etna go back to 1500 BC. It is Europe's second largest volcano, after Teide in the Canary Islands, and is one of the most active volcanoes in the world.

 Members of the BBC team fleeing the explosion. Rebecca Morelle/BBC.

Despite all this Etna has only ever caused 77 recorded deaths (the most recent being two tourists caught in a summit explosion in 1987) and relatively little destruction. In 1928 it destroyed the village of Mascali on its northeastern flank, though there were no reported casualties, the village being slowly overrun by a lava flow. In 1669 a much larger lava flow destroyed at least 10 villages, reaching the walls of the city of Catania, 40 km to the south, but again without loss of life. In 122 BC a heavy ash fall covered much of the region, causing several buildings to collapse in Catania. The destruction was deemed so severe by the Roman authorities that they granted the city a 10 year tax holiday. In about 6000 BC a landslide on the eastern flank of the volcano is thought to have caused a tsunami that caused destruction around much of the eastern Mediterranean.  

  The location of Mount Etna. Google Maps.

Etna is located on the border of the African and European Plates, specifically where Africa is being subducted beneath the European Plate. As it is drawn into the Earth's interior material from the African Plate melts, and the lighter portions rise up through the overlying European Plate, causing a number of volcanoes including Etna and Vesuvius. 

Map showing the tectonic plates underlying Italy and southern Europe, and the location of the l'Aquila Earthquake. Napoli Unplugged.

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