Mount Etna awakens once again, forcing flights to be canceled

Mount Etna in Sicily is in the throws of yet another eruption event. The nearby Catania airport has canceled flights until further notice.
Christopher McFadden
Image of Mount Etna during an eruption in October 2022.

NASA/Wikimedia Commons 

Sicily's Mount Etna is currently in the grip of yet another eruption. Ash from the volcano has blanketed the surrounding area and temporarily grounded flights at the nearby Catania airport. Videos and images on social media show that the air is thick with a smog-like cloud, and cars, streets, and buildings are now caked in dark, gritty ash.

Flights in and out of the port city and tourist favorite Catania, on Sicily's east coast, are suspended until 9 am local time on Monday (today) or until they can guarantee safe conditions, the airport said on Twitter.

Etna is an active stratovolcano located in the Metropolitan City of Catania, between the cities of Messina and Catania, on the east coast of Sicily, Italy. It is above the plate boundary where the African and Eurasian plates converge. With a present height of 10,925 feet (3,330 meters), it is the highest peak in Italy south of the Alps; however, this height can change due to summit eruptions.

A stratovolcano, like Etna, also known as a composite volcano, is a conical-shaped volcano characterized by alternating layers of lava and ash. These volcanoes are explosive and can reach great heights. They often have steep sides and are formed by the eruption of viscous magma, which solidifies quickly and creates layers of hardened lava and pyroclastic deposits. Stratovolcanoes are associated with violent eruptions that can produce ash clouds, pyroclastic flows, and lava flows. Mount Fuji in Japan and Mount Vesuvius in Italy are examples of stratovolcanoes.

It is also Europe's most active volcano, making it prone to regular eruptions almost annually. However, these are usually low-key events, with major eruptions much rarer. The last such eruption occurred in 1922. The blasts often create a spectacle of flaming lava.

Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV) reported that the recent eruption of Mount Etna was obscured by cloud cover on a rainy day. As per their monitoring instruments installed on the slopes, ash has fallen on Catania, along with at least one town located at a lower altitude on the volcano.

The eruption follows a recent increase in tremor activity, according to the monitoring report by INGV. Residents in Adrano and Biancavilla reported hearing loud booms from the volcano on Sunday, as noted by the Italian news agency ANSA. In response to the heightened volcanic activity, Italy's national Civil Protection agency issued an alert on Thursday, warning that sudden variations in Etna's activity could occur.

At the beginning of 2021, the volcano experienced an eruption that lasted for multiple weeks, and it is unclear how long this current one will last.

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