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Mount Etna is a volcano that may work in “cycles”, that is, it often passes through phases already experienced in the past. In 2018, after the earthquake that shook the east side of the mountain, volcanologists began to talk about the “cycle of side eruptions”. They were expecting one of those long restless periods that can result in a large side eruption. Or in a large eruption, which can last for months and emit huge quantities of lava. But these much feared signals never seemed to arrive, indeed.  On the contrary, in the course of 2019 Etna put itself  “on pause”.

Great eruption, the signs of awakening

Towards the end of 2020, as if the volcano had also respected the covid lockdown, Mount Etna begins to give very precise signals of awakening. Lava fountains begin, small Strombolian emissions, but sufficient to create show and curiosity. Meanwhile, the volcano starts to swell more and more. And volcanologists resume talking about “a great eruption” that was preparing in the depths. But they need to understand how it will manifest itself: a major summit event or a low-altitude rift that puts the towns at risk?

In February 2021 Etna begins the series of violent, spectacular but basically contained paroxysms that are characterizing this year. It does this in an absolutely unpredictable way. Despite the sophisticated devices that the INGV of Catania has always used to monitor the volcano, some events

etna great eruption (2)
paroxysms making the great eruption

manage to surprise even scientists.

Are paroxysms the expected “great eruption”?

People’s curiosity becomes worry and strong discomfort. Because now Etna is constantly erupting. One eruption every 72 hours, one every 48 hours, one per day. Sometimes the paroxysmal events are even two, or three, per day as it happened on 19 and 23 June 2021. There are thousands of questions: what will all this lead to? Is something big going to happen? Is a big side rash coming?

Although the continuous ash rain is both a damage and a nuisance for many towns, for volcanologists these phenomena are positive and even “blessed”. Daily eruptions are “deflating” the body of the volcano. If it continues at this rate, the emergency linked to possible side eruptions will stop. And, as Dr. Boris Behncke says: “Maybe the paroxysms we see all the time ARE ALREADY the great eruption we all expected”. A surprising and new way of erupting, as only Etna can do, to amaze even more.

The new cycle of the volcano

This “great eruption in pills” will therefore allow the populations to breathe a sigh of relief. For this time, most likely, there will be no danger. But if Etna has entered a new “cycle” of its volcanic era, it is not certain that in the near future (within the next 20 years) recharging episodes and new eruptions will not be repeated.

And in that case volcanologists will go back to monitoring, to be sure that the side eruption is not an imminent danger. In the meantime, it is only necessary to rely on Mother Earth, to whom volcanoes obey. She is the only one – beyond all our predictions and science – to know how and when to manifest her power. For the moment it all is just a grandiose, safe and beautiful show that must be admired and photographed with absolute respect, aware that we are all just guests on the body of the “giant” that allows us to experience these magical moments. (photos by Grazia Musumeci)

Autore: Grazia Musumeci

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