The volcano Mount Etna has been demonstrating extreme activity since early this year, causing it to reach new, taller-than-ever heights.
Mount Etna has surpassed all of its own previous height measurements, replacing its previous peak after months of tumultuous volcanic outpourings. Its tallest ever point clocks in at 3,357 metres (give or take 3 metres) above sea level, according to the Italian research body the National Institute for Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV).
The southeast crater has been spewing lava and pyroclastic material since February of this year, “leading to a conspicuous transformation of the shape of the volcano” said the INGV. The volcano, which is often a contender for Europe’s tallest volcano depending on how you define the continent, has four craters but this crater is the youngest and most active of them.
The summit of Mount Etna had previously been considered its northeast crater, which achieved peak status in 1980. While it measured 3,350m at its greatest height, it was measured again in 2018 at 3,326m.
The height of volcanos change as more material is spewed from the Earth and the edges collapse, making it difficult to record a single height. As if that wasn’t challenging enough, the plumes of gas from the crater combined with cloud cover can make the imaging of the mountain difficult.
In this case, the scientists recorded two groups of satellite images of the crater, once on 13 July and once on 25 July. These were then aligned with each other and compared to a 2015 digital surface model that was used as a reference.
The INGV released regular press releases and videos of Etna when it first started spewing lava at the start of 2021. As there have since been more than 50 such paroxysmal (lava fountain) episodes affecting the crater, the research body stopped issuing press statements and instead provided updates through its social media.
Boris Behncke, an INGV volcanologist, recently described the “volcano’s activity in this period [as] particularly intense.” He also said that Etna is a very complex volcano and that “its shape is extremely asymmetrical because it has had a history where growth, collapse and landslides have alternated.”
The interview concluded with Behncke comparing the two Silician volcanos Stromboli and Etna and described Etna’s characteristics: “Etna, on the other hand, known as “a muntagna”, is a sort of great Sicilian mother, a little grumpy but who also gives so many good things, which is why she must be loved and respected.
“The tendency to personify the two volcanoes makes it very easy even when it comes to describing their characteristics. An example above all: the Sicilian mother who cooks a lot but never wants to say what she is preparing. A bit like Etna: it is not easy to understand what she is about to do.”