Shooting volcanic ash 6 miles into the air, Mount Etna’s most recent eruption brought a volcanic storm with it.
On Feb. 11, Europe’s largest and most active volcano, Mount Etna, experienced a major eruption for the fourth time in less than a year, sending a column of ash and smoke nearly six miles into the sky. No injuries or damages have been reported from the most recent eruption, though the airway was reported to have closed briefly. Reportedly, over 25% of Sicily’s population calls the slopes of Mount Etna home. Mount Etna also happens to be the main source of income for the island due to both agriculture and tourism.
Contrasting other events, this most recent eruption also featured a light show caused by a rare volcanic storm that sent bolts of lightning racing across the nighttime Sicily sky. According to Italy’s National Institute for Geophysics and Volcanology, volcanic storms are rare but they do tend to occur at particularly violent eruptions as well as eruptions near the sea – both of which Mount Etna’s eruption satisfies. When volcanic ash particles collide, static electricity is generated and discharged, thus causing the fiery lightning storm around the eruption. The volcano also produced lava fountains with heights up to 600 meters tall.
This stratovolcano received its name from the Greek word “αἴθω,” meaning “I burn.” In Greek mythology, it is said that the god Zeus trapped the monster Typhon inside the mountain. In ancient times it was believed that the monster’s rage was what caused the volcanic events.
Located in Catania, Italy, Mount Etna has seen more than 200 major eruptions since 1500 B.C., although the majority of these eruptions have occurred within the last century. The year 2001 was particularly catastrophic as Mount Etna experienced 21 major eruptions in the space of a year.
The largest of Mount Etna’s latest major eruptions occurred in 2018, when the volcano spewed so much ash into the sky that the airspace was forced to close for nearly two days. As a result of the eruption, many towns surrounding Mount Etna experienced a magnitude 4.9 earthquake that caused structural damage and injuries to 28 individuals.
In August 2021, after a series of 50 minor eruptions, the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology announced that Mount Etna had grown 100 feet due to the accumulation of lava flows from previous eruptions, making it one of Europe’s largest active volcanoes. It appears that Mount Etna is following a pattern of summit eruptions, which have been occurring over the past 16 years. With this being Mount Etna’s first eruption of the year, time will only tell if the violent pattern of eruptions will continue.