Mount Etna Is Sliding Into The Sea

Posted: Oct 14 2018, 12:30am CDT | by , in Latest Science News


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Mount Etna is Sliding into the Sea
3D view of Mount Etna's eastern flank with the position of the GeoSEA transponder network. Credit: Morelia Urlaub/Felix Gross

New results indicate that Europe's most active volcano is sliding due to gravity, not due to the rise of magma.

Researchers have found new evidence indicating that southeastern flank of Mount Etna is sliding into the sea. The gradual shift could lead to the collapse of the entire slope, thereby increasing the risk of a major tsunami.

Mount Etna, Europe's largest and most active volcano, is situated on the eastern part of the island of Sicily. The volcano is showing persistent signs of unrest and has been a subject of study for years.

It has been known for some time that the southeastern flank of the volcano is slowly sliding toward the sea while the other slopes are largely stable. However, the exact process that triggers this descent is still unknown. Since satellite-based measurements are impossible below the ocean surface, researchers have used new GeoSEA seafloor geodetic monitoring network and detected the horizontal and vertical movement of a submerged volcanic flank for the first time.

Data from the system confirmed that Mount Etna has been moving, but the movement is likely caused by gravity not the rise of magma, as previously assumed. The catastrophic collapse of the entire flank or its large parts would trigger a major tsunami with potentially extreme consequences for the region.

“At Mount Etna, we used a sound-based underwater geodetic monitoring network, the so-called marine geodesy, on a volcano for the first time,” said lead author Dr. Morelia Urlaub from Kiel University. “Overall, our results indicate that the slope is sliding due to gravity and not due to the rise of magma.”

For the study, researchers from GEOMAR team deployed a total of five acoustic monitoring transponder stations across the fault line in April 2016 and received a signal from each transponder every 90 minutes till July 2017. Since the system is soundly based, the time it took the sound to travel revealed the distance between transponders, which in turn allowed researchers to detect any changes in the flank.

"We noticed that in May 2017, the distances between transponders on different sides of the fault clearly changed. The flank slipped by four centimeters seaward and subsided by one centimeter within a period of eight days.” Dr. Urlaub explained.

This movement is similar to a very slow earthquake, also known as "slow slip event." It was the first time that the horizontal movement of such a slow slip event was recorded underwater.

“The entire slope is in motion due to gravity,” said Professor Heidrun Kopp, coordinator of the GeoSEA array and co-author of the study. “It is therefore quite possible that it could collapse catastrophically, which could trigger a tsunami in the entire Mediterranean.”

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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