Volcanic wines in peril as scientists say, ‘Mount Etna is sliding into the sea’

Chris Losh

Chris Losh

11 October 2018

German scientists have discovered that Mount Etna – the largest active volcano in Europe – is sliding into the sea under the weight of its own lava.

It’s news that will be greeted with dismay by lovers of volcanic wines, the one million inhabitants of Catania and, indeed, anyone who thinks that a tsunami in the Ionian Sea might be a Bad Thing.

Mapping Mount Etna's eruptions
Mapping Mount Etna's eruptions

Etna lies on the fault line between two tectonic plates and is famously unstable. Eruptions occur on an annual basis, and in 1992, 6m high earthworks were used to divert a lava flow from the town of Zafferano.

Using a new ‘sound-based geodetic monitoring network’, researchers from the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Germany tracked Etna’s movements over a period of 15 months.

They discovered that over an eight-day period in 2017 the volcano’s south-eastern flank slipped down 1cm and shifted 4cm towards the sea.

‘It can be compared to a very slow earthquake,’ said Dr Morelia Urlaub, lead author of the study.

The remaining slopes of Mount Etna are stable, but the boffins fear that the fact that the mountain is unstable could lead to something even worse than a difficult vintage for growers of Nerello Mascalese.

‘The entire slope is in motion due to gravity,’ said Dr Urlaub. ‘It is therefore quite possible that it could collapse catastrophically, which could trigger a tsunami in the entire Mediterranean.’

The German report doesn’t make any predictions as to when any such collapse might occur.

To read about Chris Losh's article on how Nero d'Avola is shaping Sicily's wine future (assuming it isn't engulfed by ash, lava or a tidal wave) click here 

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