Volcanoes and Earthquakes in Italy

FEBRUARY, 2021 – Italy is a seismically active country with a long history of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. In the days of the Grand Tourists the volcano of Vesuvius was active. Visitors would often watch a nightly show of glowing lava and plumes of gas and ash, pouring from the crater. The science of archaeology began in Italy with excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum starting in the 18th century. Probably the most famous volcanic eruption in Europe was the Vesuvius eruption of AD 79 when the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were engulfed with lava, ash and volcanic debris.

Today the volcano of Etna, on the island of Sicily is active, and flows of lava are making their way slowly down the flanks of the mountain. Volcanoes and Earthquakes are all part of the endless geological processes that keep our planet dynamic and ever-changing. A volcanic eruption is a massive explosion of molten rock and gases that pour into our atmosphere and then fall under gravity back to Earth. It’s all part of a giant recycling process. When a volcano erupts vast amounts of molten material, ash and tiny volcanic stones are launched into the atmosphere. This debris will gradually fall back to Earth and over time consolidate into new rock surfaces and eventually create mineral rich, fertile soils, perfect for farming. It is a huge, never-ending process of construction, erosion and destruction that repeats itself infinitely. Plate boundaries, where the tectonic plates meet and volcanoes are the most obvious points on the Earth’s surface where we can see these processes in action.

Whilst volcanoes can be intimidating they are also fascinating. Here’s a gallery of images from Southern Italy and Sicily – painted by early visitors and also more recent photos from when I have visited Vesuvius and Etna as a group leader over the least ten years.

Vesuvius dominates the Bay of Naples, a vast brooding active volcano that has shaped the landscape of this whole area
Vesuvius dominates the Bay of Naples, a vast brooding active volcano that has shaped the landscape of this whole area
The barren crater of Vesuvius today - with the suburbs of Naples in the background
The barren crater of Vesuvius today – with the suburbs of Naples in the background
A relief map from 1963 showing Naples, Vesuvius and Pompeii - Amalfi Peninsula and Sorrento to the south.
A relief map from 1963 showing Naples, Vesuvius and Pompeii – Amalfi Peninsula and Sorrento to the south.

The Vesuvius and Etna photos show very clearly the barren slopes surrounding these volcanoes. When a volcano is active there is a constant level of sulphuric gas emitted from the crater and surrounding fissures. From time to time there are lava flows and explosions associated with eruptions. This spewing of material from the crater down the mountainside creates huge fields of pumice (volcanic ash) and basalt (cooled lava) along with various mineral deposits. Over time these volcanic materials break down and eventually create fertile soil which is excellent for farming. On the lower slopes of Etna there are vineyards, fruit farms and even a honey-maker all benefitting from the mineral rich soils of a volcanic area.

This brilliant diagram shows different lava flows from the Etna crater over the centuries. It reveals a complicated history of volcanic activity especially along the south-east flank towards Catania (currently active – February, 2021). Source: www.researchgate.com

The final photo in the gallery was taken by a member of the US Navy, from the naval base at Sigonella, just to the south-east of Mount Etna. This brilliant photo shows very clearly the plume of debris being pumped into the atmosphere and the apparent proximity of the aeroplanes on the ground. It is worth noting that the distance from Sigonella to Mount Etna is about 40 kms. It’s a really great photo – thanks to MSC 2nd Class Austin Ingram.

Mount Etna Eruption - February, 2021
Official US Navy dispatch – SIGONELLA, Italy (Feb. 16, 2021) Mt. Etna lets off some steam in the background of P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft assigned to the “Grey Knights” of Patrol Squadron (VP) 46, Feb. 16, 2021. VP-46 is currently forward-deployed to the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations and is assigned to Commander, Task Force 67, responsible for tactical control of deployed maritime patrol and reconnaissance squadrons throughout Europe and Africa. U.S. 6th Fleet, headquartered in Naples, Italy, conducts a full spectrum of joint and naval operations, often in concert with allied and interagency partners, in order to advance U.S. national security interests and stability in Europe and Africa. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Austin Ingram) 210216-N-VH871-1048

Lastly a special thank you for another really great photo by Mark Wilson from the Department of Geology, College of Wooster, Ohio. This photo shows Etna from the south and clearly reveals the numerous lava streams and fields of volcanic material erupted from the volcano over the decades. The crater and peak of Etna is top left in the photo. An old lava flow can be seen left centre, snaking down the hillside. An older crater, in the foreground (right) shows the vegetation succession beginning to get to grips with the bare rock of the southern slopes. Finally, the mountain hut or refuge (lower right) has been beautifully built out of the basalt rocks of the local area and consequently blends perfectly with the locality.

Mount Etna - from the south, superb photo by: Mark Wilson - Dept of Geology, College of Wooster, Ohio - thank you Mark
Mount Etna – from the south, photo by: Mark Wilson – Dept of Geology, College of Wooster, Ohio – thank you Mark

Notes:

4 thoughts on “Volcanoes and Earthquakes in Italy

  1. Wow, how neat!! That picture of Mount Vesuvius!! I couldn’t imagine living right under it. But would hike that path in a heartbeat! I (Marlena) still haven’t been to Italy, Kurt (my signficant other) has, but you better bet we will be visiting as many volcanoes as we can when we finally go. We have hiked, overnight camped on a few volcanoes in our days. Janet, of you really love volcanoes feel free to check out our Guatemala post along with our Hiking Acatenango post. I’m sure you heard about the devastating eruption in 2018 of Volcan Fuego? We were there just months before that. Also, our Big Island, Hawaii post as we walked on the Kilauea volcano, again, months before the big eruption. We felt lucky to have seen it before everything, it seems like these huge events just followed us. Yikes.

    Liked by 1 person

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