Mount Etna has again erupted spewing ash plumes into the sky and forcing the closure of nearby Catania airport in Italy. According to Sec, the company that manages the airport, the current wind intensity and direction coupled with the volume of volcanic ash in the sky will make air travel very dangerous. The emergency shutdown of Catania airport took effect last Sunday and officials say that it will remain closed until Monday evening when hopefully conditions improve. Catania airport, also called as the Vincenzo Bellini Airport, is an international airport located southwest of Catania, the second largest city in the island of Sicily.
The closure of the Catania airport effectively cancelled 21 scheduled departures from the said airport as well as re-routed 26 scheduled arrivals into other destinations. It was reported that two flights were diverted to an airport in Palermo which is located at the western part of Sicily. The smaller Comiso airport located in the Sicilian city of Comiso was also closed due to the eruption.
However, the recent eruption of Mount Etna has not forced the evacuation of villages on the mountain’s slopes. The volcano erupts frequently and its latest activity began last Saturday, which many observed was the most intense in several months. It was in 1992 when the volcano’s last major eruption occurred.
Currently measuring 3,329 meters (10,922 feet,) Mount Etna is the highest active volcano in Europe and is also the highest mountain in Italy south of the Alps. The volcano is one of the three active volcanoes in Italy which also include Mount Vesuvius near Naples which last erupted in 1944; and Stromboli, part of the Aeolian Islands, with continuous volcanic activity.
The constant activity of Mount Etna has made the fertile volcanic soils suitable for agriculture. This allowed extensive orchards and vineyards to populate the slopes of the mountain. With its history of constant volcanic activity, Mount Etna was part of the United Nations (UN) ”International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction” campaign. The volcanoes project is meant to reduce eruption deaths and damage to properties.
The volcanoes project has been continued by the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior (IAVCEI) and they have identified 16 volcanoes to be included in their monitoring. These volcanoes were selected for their destructive eruptions, proximity to populated areas; and political and physical accessibility to research and active local government support and cooperation.
The 16 volcanoes are: Avachinsky-Koyaksky in Kamchatka eastern Russia, Colima Volcano in Mexico, Mount Etna in Italy, Merapi Volcano in Indonesia, Mauna Loa in Hawaii, Galeras Volcano in Colombia, Mount Rainier in the U.S., Vesuvius Volcano in Italy, Santorini Volcano in Greece, Taal Volcano in the Philippines, Teide Volcano in Canary Islands, Spain, Ulawun Volcano in Papua New Guinea, Unzen Volcano and Sakura-jima Volcano both in Japan, Niragongo Volcano in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Santa Maria/Santiaguito Volcano in Guatemala.
With Mount Etna in the limelight again due to its most recent eruption and forcing the closure of several Italian airports, the need to be more vigilant and aware of the dangers of volcanic eruption not only for the people of Italy but also elsewhere becomes really necessary. The UN and the IAVCEI are right to warn people that these volcanoes are indeed forces of nature with which to reckon.
By Roberto I. Belda