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Between Thursday 18 and Friday 19 May 2023, the district of Catania experienced a few hours of intense turmoil. A red top alert level appeared in many media and on various sites and social networks announcing a “violent explosive eruption” of Mount Etna, with related absolute bans on climbing to high altitudes. The situation raised anxiety and tension almost everywhere, given that, among other things, a few hours earlier some seismic swarms had occurred on the volcano. The alert then decreased, then returned, in the meantime the declarations of the various piedmont municipalities that implemented or withdrew the access bans were also intertwined. But… what exactly happened?

Etna is rehearsing a new eruption

We contacted our expert friends at the INGV in Catania. It is no coincidence that our Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology is one of the best in Italy, and among the best in the world, because the scientists who work there are attentive and competent. And above all they are always ready to give exhaustive explanations for any doubts.

This is how they also explained the events of these two days of “top alert”.

In short, there have been various movements of the Etna area, including seismic swarms downstream and at the top, at the base of the large summit craters. These earthquakes were followed by deformation of the ground, always at the top, therefore very far from inhabited centres. The deformations of the ground were accompanied by a sudden increase in the internal tremor of the volcano.

These signals ARE NOT “weird” at all. They are the normal situation that occurs when Etna is about to start a spectacular eruption, with lava fountains and ash plumes. So nobody was really worried. The INGV was cautious with the declarations because the instruments noted a displacement of the internal magma and therefore it was not yet known whether the eruption would actually take place or not. Etna often does “general rehearsals” of the eruptions, but you are never sure if these will  really start.

Why the top alert

In all this expectation of developments, the Civil Protection volunteers which are always ready to act in the event of particularly dangerous events, have taken action. This is also an absolutely normal procedure, which also uses internal codes (such as “alert levels” and the like) only to give an indication to the men and women who work there on how to organize themselves.

Most likely these internal indications of civil protection have “escaped” and have reached the ears of some press organ that announced the mobilization. This announcement, given perhaps too early, has caused havoc on social media who have begun to go overboard with the sensationalist headlines… as usual! As a result, some mayors have deemed it appropriate to prohibit access to the volcano for safety – however, the bans have already been partially withdrawn.

In the end though, the eruption didn’t start… not yet! And the situation seems calmer, so all the alarm is back.

In conclusion …

In conclusion: it is nice to know that our Civil Protection is so ready in organization and efficiency that it mobilizes even if an event has not yet occurred. This must give us security and make us feel more and more proud of them. But it is also nice to know that there is an institute, the INGV, with highly competent people who know their stuff and who can explain things relating to our volcano better than anyone else.

If you read catastrophic or sensationalist news in the media, then, before panicking, go check it out. Check the INGV website, write them an email, find out who really knows what’s going on. And rely ONLY on official reports from volcanologists. For the rest, all we have to do is wait… for the next Etna “show”! (photo by Grazia Musumeci)

Autore: Grazia Musumeci

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