Mount Etna, Europe’s largest and most active volcano, is slowly sliding towards the Mediterranean Sea, scientists have observed.
The entire 3,350m (11,000ft) stratovolcano, located on the east coast of the Italian island of Sicily, is currently moving downslope at an average rate of 14 mm per year – or 1.4 metres over 100 years.
Experts have warned the sliding could eventually lead to greater risk of large scale slope failure, which could trigger landslides, however researchers at The Open University emphasised there is currently no sign of that happening.
Dr John Murray, lead author of the paper published in the Bulletin of Volcanology, stressed the minute movement currently posed no danger to life, but warned that monitoring the volcano for more significant changes was crucial.
“At the moment there is no cause for concern from the sliding of the volcano towards the sea, the movement is just too small,” Dr Murray told The Telegraph. “However, the possibility of things changing in the future needs to be taken seriously, so it is important to keep monitoring the movement.”
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The UK-led team, who monitored the changes using GPS technology placed around the mountain, found the sliding is lubricated by the weak sediments beneath Etna and the slope of the basement.
Dr Murray, who has been working for 49 years studying the active volcanoes of Mount Etna, said if a sector collapse were to occur, the results could be “catastrophic”.
“Around one million people live on Etna and its immediate surroundings, so the destruction of property and loss of life could be catastrophic; but I cannot emphasise enough that there is no sign of this happening at the present time,” he explained.
“Clearly even the mention of such a dangerous event would be very unnerving for the people who live on Etna, so I am anxious that they don’t get the wrong impression.”
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It is the first time basement sliding of an entire active volcano has been directly observed, with the team suggesting that similar edging may be taking place at other active volcanoes such as Mexico’s Volcán de Colima and Mount Teide in Tenerife.
Dr Murray said he did not expect the rate of movement to increase, but added: “I regard it as essential to keep measuring our stations, and will be on the lookout for any kind of change in rate of downslope sliding.”
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