Italy’s Mount Etna could be collapsing into the sea

For decades, scientists have known that the southeastern slopes of Mount Etna, an active volcano on the eastern shore of Sicily in Italy, are shifting toward the sea about 2 or 3 centimeters each year. Now, they have a better idea of why this is happening, and it’s making them worried.

In a new study, scientists gathered data from seafloor instruments that allowed them to track the movement of the volcano’s submarine slopes over time. For most of the 15-month period they studied, nothing happened. But during an 8-day period in May 2017, Mount Etna’s southeastern flank moved 4 centimeters to the east, the researchers report online today in Science Advances.

That’s a much larger movement than has been recorded on land, suggesting the southeastern flank of the volcano is collapsing under its own weight. There’s no telling whether, or when, this slow-motion landslide will really let loose, but the researchers note that sudden slumps of undersea material have created locally devastating tsunamis in other parts of the world.

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