Mount Etna Blasts Lava, Ash Into The Sky

"(MSNBC)
Mount Etna, the famous Sicilian volcano, turned on the fireworks Wednesday as it shot lava hundreds of feet into the air.

Volcanic tremors at Mount Etna, on the Italian island, were detected around 4 p.m. EST on Tuesday. The tremors peaked the next morning and lava began erupting at the Southeast Crater, about 4,500 feet high. The crater pit overflowed with lava and ash plumes spewed into the air, which forced a local airport to halt service. The ash plumes had stopped after nearly 12 hours today, according to the Italian Institute of Vocanology, citing surveillance cameras observing Etna.

But more eruptions could be on the way. ""This eruption is very similar to more than 200 episodes of lava fountaining at the summit craters of Mount Etna — including 66 from the Southeast Crater in the year 2000,"" said Boris Behncke, a volcanologist and expert on Mount Etna. ""The same vent that erupted last night already produced nearly identical — though longer-lasting — episodes in September and November 2007 and most recently on May 10, 2008.""

Etna is the largest active volcano in Europe and one of the world's most well-known. While 2010 was an exceptionally calm year for Etna, it is nearly constantly active and there is rarely a full year that passes without some eruptive activity on Etna, Behncke told OurAmazingPlanet.

""We expected Etna to return to activity in this period,"" Behncke said. ""There had been lots of premonitory signals.""

Two episodes of much weaker activity at the same vent that erupted last night — one on Dec. 23 2010, and the next on Jan. 2 and 3 of 2011 — suggested that a larger eruption was on the way. "