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Is the Polar Grotto the new Frost Grotto? On Mount Etna there is the most southern perennial glacier in Europe. It has been known for a very long time and it is also known that it is a place to be protected. Despite that,  mass tourism has managed to violate this corner of paradise as well. Mount Etna’s perennial glacier is called the Grotta del Gelo (Frost Grotto). It is located on the north-western side of the volcano, in an inaccessible area that requires a lot of effort to reach.

Perhaps also for this reason, until today, it had remained a virgin land, almost unknown to the touch of humans. However, ever since the excursions ventured into this cave that preserves snow and ice for months, scientists and environmentalists were on the alert. What effect would tourism have on the Grotta del Gelo and its precious contents? While everyone was asking these questions, someone went on an exploration in search of a new “Promised Land”. And they found it. It is called the Polar Grotto.

The Polar Grotto, a precious discovery


polar grotto02
a view of Frost Grotto the former southernmost glacier

The discovery was made, as casually as it often happens, by two passionate hiking brothers. Dario and Paolo Teri had not left with the intention of looking for a new Grotta del Gelo, even if perhaps they were hoping for it a little. They were just enjoying their favorite sport, exploring caves. Plunging into the most twisted lava holes, crawling into the belly of the earth, has always been their passion.

Descending into one of these rocky ravines and going lower than usual, they discovered something wonderful that they immediately told the Catania newspaper La Sicilia. “From yesterday” they announced “perhaps the history of Etna speleology will have to be rewritten. In fact, we believe we had the pleasure and honor of exploring an impressive glacial mass reminiscent of the Grotta del Gelo at least 30 years ago!”

They have renamed it Polar Cave because it is even colder and richer than the Frost one. But they are also aware that this may not be the only grotto of this type. It has long been suspected that Etna has more deep cavities in which the ice remains for months. We understand this from the fact that the aquifers of the volcano are very rich in every season, and supply water to the whole Catania coast without stopping!

What is inside the Polar Grotto?

The Polar Grotto and the Frost Grotto therefore could be just some of the many Etna glaciers still to be discovered. Indeed, hopefully they will never be discovered. May these precious water reserves never be polluted by humans’ boots! Returning to the discovery of the Teri brothers, which took place in June 2021, here is what they found themselves in front of.

“Inside there is a really significant amount of ice, which in some places is over 3 meters thick!”  the two explorer brothers write again. “Not only that, the cavity is both at a more southern latitude and also  20 meters lower than the more famous Grotta del Gelo. These coordinates make it the ‘southernmost glacier in Europe’ (at least until another will be discovered) “

So the Polar Grotto, although colder, is even further south and certainly beats an incredible record. This once again makes Etna an extraordinary volcano. The surprises on this mountain never end and, as mentioned, in terms of caves we are perhaps only at the beginning of a series of breathtaking discoveries.

How to protect the new Grotto

Now that a considerable reserve of ice has been discovered, Polar Grotto must be protected from the tourist crowds that made its twin Grotta del Gelo poorer. Excursions to discover these special caves should be avoided on a daily basis. Environments like these must be protected, because they are useful for the very survival of man.

Organizing excursions to glacier caves is fine, it is right to do them. But with many limits, less frequently and above all always with a guide. The guide must not only show the way but also make sure that no damage is caused to the precious treasure that is inside them. After all, our planet is more beautiful when humans do not put hands on it.

Autore: Grazia Musumeci

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