Europe’s most active volcano is sliding towards the sea

Mount Etna
Mount Etna
Image: Reuters/Antonio Parrinello
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Europe’s most active volcano—Mount Etna—is on the move.

The mountain, which is a popular tourist attraction in Italy, is slowly sliding towards the Mediterranean Sea at an average rate of 14 millimeters per year. While researchers don’t believe the situation is currently hazardous, they are monitoring the volcano closely.

Geologist John Murray from The Open University has been analyzing Etna for almost half a century. During that time, Murray placed a network of high-precision GPS stations around Etna to monitor its behavior. The GPS stations are able to track millimetric changes in the shape of the volcanic cone. The data are crystal clear; the mountain is moving in an east-south-east direction. Simply put, the mountain is sliding down a slope of 1-3 degrees. Murray published the findings from the 11 years of data in the Bulletin of Volcanology.

Murray led a team of researchers to conduct lab experiments to demonstrate the basement sliding of an entire active volcano. While the mountain’s sliding at an incredibly slow pace, researchers are keeping an eye on the rate of movement. For now, there’s no need to worry, but if the rate of movement rapidly picked up pace in the next decade, then there’s every reason to be concerned.

Mount Etna erupted in February 2017, sending bright lava into the sky. Etna’s last major eruption was in 1992.