Figuring Out What is Inside a Volcano to Predict Mount Etna’s Eruptions
News story originally written on February 14, 2003
To understand when a volcano will erupt, scientists must know what the volcano is like on the inside. Under the dark and rocky basalt surface of an active volcano are pools of molten rock, called magma. Knowing where the pools are located and how much pressure they are under helps volcanologists (scientists who study volcanoes) to predict eruptions. Recently, volcanologists in Italy have figured out where the magma pools are located beneath the largest volcano in Europe, Mount Etna, which, in the past, has been very difficult to predict.
Mount Etna is located on the island of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea. It is the tallest active volcano in Europe with the summit standing at an elevation of 3350 meters above sea level. The volcano was quiet since a 1992 eruption, but over the last several months it has been erupting very actively, and has just calmed down a bit this week.
To figure out what was going on beneath Mount Etna, a team of Italian volcanologists, led by Domenico Patanč, studied the pattern of earthquakes in the area since 1994. They looked at the way the rocks of the Earth’s crust were fractured during 647 earthquakes under and near the mountain. The fractures in the rock allowed magma to move upward through the cracks to form pools beneath the volcano. The magma in the underground pools is under pressure and eventually makes its way to the surface during an eruption. The scientists say that the magma moving through fractures could create more volcanic eruptions, and stronger ones, in the future.