Mount Etna Erupts Again, Scientists Baffled At Its Frequency

Mount Etna has erupted again, sending ash and smoke spewing across nearby mountain slopes and shutting down nearby traffic.

The volcano, the most active in all of Europe, has been regularly sending ash across the countryside lately.

The eruption on Saturday did not force evacuations, but did cause a highway to close for half an hour. Four air corridors serving nearby Catania airport were also closed briefly.

It was the second time this week that the volcano spewed ash and clouds into the atmosphere. Just four days before the volcano erupted, again halting air traffic.

Mount Etna is 10,925 feet (3,300 meters) tall, and is estimated to have been active for close to 500,000 years. Eruptions from the volcano have been recorded for centuries, including a documented evacuation of villages in 1500 BC, and again close to 150 BC.

The last time Mount Etna had a major eruption was 1992.

Mount Etna erupts enough lava each year to fill Chicago’s Willis Tower (the former Sears Tower). Scientists are not quite sure why it erupts so frequently.

“Even though Etna isn’t a massive volcano, it puts out massive amounts of carbon dioxide,” Putirka told LiveScience’s OurAmazingPlanet. “If you threw several more Mount Etnas onto the planet, you could really drive climate change in a serious way.”

Patirka added that Mount Etna has some slow periods mixed in with its bursts of activity.

“There must have been periods when the volcano shut down, because otherwise, it would be a lot taller,” Putirka said. “There has been a really detailed work to understand the stratigraphy, and careful age dating, to sort that out.”

Mount Etna is considered so important for scientific study that last year it was designated as a World Heritage Site. Purirka said even though humans have been studying the volcano for close to 2,000 years, there is still a lot to learn about its eruptions and unique position on the earth, which is different than typical volcano hotspot.

It affects more than just scientific study when Mount Etna erupts. Today the volcano is a major tourist attraction, drawing visitors to the island and serving as its major source of revenue.