Mount Etna slowly sliding towards Mediterranean Sea

Study shows volcano is sliding to the sea at rate of 14mm a year, or 1.4 metres a century

Mount Etna during an eruption
Mount Etna during an eruption

A scientific study has shown that the Mount Etna volcano, in nearby Sicily, is slowing sliding to the Mediterranean Sea at a rate of around 14mm a year, or 1.4 metres a century.

The study, published online yesterday in the Bulletin of Volcanology, concluded that the “entire edifice of Mount Etna is sliding downslope” East-southeast, in the direction of the sea, lubricated by the weak sediments beneath the volcano, and also affected by the slope of its basement rock.

“Though sliding of one sector of a volcano due to flank instability is widespread and well-known, this is the first time basement sliding of an entire active volcano has been directly observed,” the study noted.

“This is important because the geological record shows that such sliding volcanoes are prone to devastating sector collapse on the downslope side, and whole volcano migration should be taken into account when assessing future collapse hazard,” it said.

John Murray, one of the scientists who authored the study, told BBC News that while there was no current cause for alarm, “it is something we need to keep an eye on, especially to see if there is an acceleration in this motion.”

The scientists concluded that “it is possible that the observed downslope sliding may eventually lead to greater risk of large scale slope failure, though there is no sign of this happening at the present time.”

However, on a shorter-term level, the sliding could affect the daily assessments of Mount Etna’s eruptive activity. Scientists will have to take into account the motion of the volcano to gain accurate data.

The full study can be found here.