Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

                                                                                                                                                                                    entry June 2010, updated August 2023


                Mt. Etna now on the UNESCO World Heritage List

Mt. Etna                      photo Pequod76     
As of June, 2013, Italy has another addition to the Natural Sites on the UNESCO World Heritage list. It is Italy's "other" volcano, Mt. Etna on Sicily. (And I'm sure that Sicilians think our Vesuvius is the "other" one—and we are all forgetting the other "other" ones down there in the Aeolian islands, Stromboli and Vulcano—they are active). The UNESCO text on Etna is this:

Mount Etna is an iconic site encompassing 19,237 uninhabited hectares on the highest part of Mount Etna, on the eastern coast of Sicily. Mount Etna is the highest Mediterranean island mountain and the most active stratovolcano in the world. The eruptive history of the volcano can be traced back 500,000 years and at least 2,700 years of this activity has been documented. The almost continuous eruptive activity of Mount Etna continues to influence volcanology, geophysics and other Earth science disciplines. The volcano also supports important terrestrial ecosystems including endemic flora and fauna and its activity makes it a natural laboratory for the study of ecological and biological processes. The diverse and accessible range of volcanic features such as summit craters, cinder cones, lava flows and the Valle de Bove depression have made the site a prime destination for research and education.

I wanted to put in more about geology, but then I ran across these lines in D.H. Lawrence's magnificent Sea and Sardinia and forgot all about geology:

...then Etna, that wicked witch, resting her thick white snow under heaven, and slowly, slowly rolling her orange-coloured smoke. They called her the Pillar of Heaven, the Greeks. It seems wrong at first, for she trails up in a long, magical, flexible line from the sea's edge to her blunt cone, and does not seem tall. She seems rather low, under heaven. But as one knows her better, oh, awe and wizardry! Remote under heaven, aloof, so near, yet never with us. The painters try to paint her, and the photographers to photograph her, in vain. Because why? Because the near ridges, with their olives and white houses, these are with us. Because the riverbed, and Naxos under the lemon groves, Greek Naxos deep under dark-leaved, many-fruited lemon groves, Etna's skirts and skirt-bottoms, these still are our world, our own world. Even the high villages among the oaks, on Etna. But Etna herself, Etna of the snow and secret changing winds, she is beyond a crystal wall. When I look at her, low, white, witch-like under heaven, slowly rolling her orange smoke and giving sometimes a breath of rose-red flame, then I must look away from earth, into the ether, into the low empyrean. And there, in that remote region, Etna is alone. If you would see her, you must slowly take off your eyes from the world and go a naked seer to the strange chamber of the empyrean. Pedestal of heaven! The Greeks had a sense of the magic truth of things. Thank goodness one still knows enough about them to find one's kinship at last. There are so many photographs, there are so infinitely many water-colour drawings and oil paintings which purport to render Etna. But pedestal of heaven! You must cross the invisible border. Between the foreground, which is our own, and Etna, pivot of winds in lower heaven, there is a dividing line. You must change your state of mind, A metempsychosis. It is no use thinking you can see and behold Etna and the foreground both at once. Never. One or the other. Foreground and a transcribed Etna. Or Etna, pedestal of heaven.

Why, then, must one go? Why not stay? Ah, what a mistress, this Etna! with her strange winds prowling round her like Circe's panthers, some black, some white. With her strange, remote communications and her terrible dynamic exhalations. She makes men mad. Such terrible vibrations of wicked and beautiful electricity she throws about her, like a deadly net! Nay, sometimes, verily, one can feel a new current of her demon magnetism seize one's living tissue and change the peaceful life of one's active cells. She makes a storm in the living plasm and a new adjustment. And sometimes it is like a madness...

There is also this striking passage by Bayard Taylor, from The Lands of the Saracen; or, Pictures of Palestine, Asia Minor, Sicily and Spain; it is from a longer and magnificent description of an eruption of Mt. Etna.

...At the same time, there was terrific peal of sound, which must have shaken the whole island. We looked up to Etna, which was fortunately in full view before us. An immense mass of snow-white smoke had burst up from the crater and was rising perpendicularly into the air, its rounded volumes rapidly whirling one over the other, yet urged with such impetus that they only rolled outwards after they had ascended to an immense height. It might have been one minute or five—for I was so entranced by this wonderful spectacle that I lost sense of time—but it seemed instantaneous (so rapid and violent were the effects of the explosion), when there stood in the air, based on the summit of the mountain, a mass of smoke four or five miles high, and shaped precisely like the Italian pine tree.

Words cannot paint the grandeur of this mighty tree. Its trunk of columned smoke, one side of which was silvered by the sun, while the other, in shadow, was lurid with red flame, rose for more than a mile before it sent out its cloudy boughs. Then parting into a thousand streams, each of which again threw out its branching tufts of smoke, rolling and waving in the air, it stood in intense relief against the dark blue of the sky. Its rounded masses of foliage were dazzlingly white on one side, while, in the shadowy depths of the branches, there was a constant play of brown, yellow, and crimson tints, revealing the central shaft of fire. It was like the tree celebrated in the Scandinavian sagas, as seen by the mother of Harold Hardrada—the tree whose roots pierced through the earth, whose trunk was of the color of blood, and whose branches filled the uttermost corners of the heavens...

One last thing about geology. Etna is also one of the 16 so-called Decade Volcanoes, those identified by the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth's Interior as worthy of special study in light of their history of large, destructive eruptions and proximity to populated areas. (Mt. Vesuvius is also on that list.) They are named Decade Volcanoes because the project was initiated as part of the United Nations-sponsored International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (proclaimed in 1989).

====================added August 2023========================
Another Volcano
Another Geological Observatory


The National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (Italian: Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia, INGV) (logo shown) is a research institute for geophysics and volcanology in Italy. INGV is funded by the Italian Ministry of Education, Universities and Research. Its main responsibilities within the Italian civil protection system are the maintenance and monitoring of the national networks for seismic and volcanic phenomena, together with outreach and educational activities for the Italian population. The institute employs around 2000 people distributed between the headquarters in Rome and the other sections in Milan, Bologna, Pisa, Naples, Catania and Palermo. INGV is among the top 20 research institutions in terms of scientific publications. It participates and coordinates several EU research projects and organizes international scientific meetings in collaboration with other institutions. Most of the places in Italy that
are of interest in geophysics and volcanology are in the south; thus, the University of Naples is a good place to study those subjects.

So is the University of Catania on the island of Sicily, in the shadow of Mt. Etna (top image). There used to be a Volcanology Observatory right on the slopes of Etna at almost 3,000 meters a.s.l. (about 12,000 feet). That may have been a bit optimistic since Etna is always erupting. The first attempt to build an observatory was in 1804 by renowned geologist Mario Gemmellaro. There were attempts throughout the 1800's. They had to survive political upheavals, foremost of which was the unification of Italy. In 1890 the observatory fell administratively to pieces. World Wars I & II didn't help. Geologists did what at least some scientists do in such case --pretend that politics in not happening. Even early on, those who watched Etna saw that their duties were also to keep an eye on other, smaller volcanoes to the north, among the Aeolian islands of Stromboli and Vulcano, as well as possible sea-mounts, submerged but maybe creeping to the surface. The original Observatory from 1804 with additional out-buildings survived until April 1971 when Etna punched a new hole in the roof of the world behind the observatory.

The Offices of the Etna Observatory are at Piazza Roma 2, Catania; tel. +39 0957 165800.


--------------------------------
added Aug 21, 2023----------------------------------------

                                    Just watch the vortex rings rise in the air
                                    You'll find your share of memories there
                                        -apologies to Johnny Mercer, "Dream" (1944)

Europe's most active volcano, Mount Etna, is blowing scores of ethereal "vortex rings" every day from a single vent located in one of its most active craters. On July 23, Boris Behncke, a volcanologist with Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology who is based in Sicily alongside Mount Etna, wrote that the volcano had been "releasing dozens of gas rings" from a single vent in the  Bocca Nuova crater for around a week and shows no signs of stopping.

Vortex rings are made from a mix of smoke, steam and other gases released from volcanic vents at high speeds. They
can remain airborne for several minutes before eventually disappearing. "Such gas rings are produced by the explosion of gas bubbles within a narrow conduit [above a magma chamber], which shoots the gas at high speed toward the surface,"

Behncke wrote further:  "Attrition along the conduit walls slows movement of the gas jet, relative to the center of the
conduit," which is what forms the ring shape," he added. "Mount Etna produces more vortex rings than any other volcano in the world"  [...]   "the Sicilian volcano spits out the gaseous loops most years, but the number of the rings varies every year. In 2000, the volcano released around 5,000 — the most on record — and the current rate is similar to that period,"  he added. Vortex rings have also been observed at other volcanoes, such as Mount Stromboli, which sits on an island just north of Sicily. But they are rare elsewhere.                                          (photo credit: Luca Carmi)

These vortex rings are more than vaguely reminiscent of a well-known ad campaign for Camel cigarettes. In 1941 Camels
installed a 30-by-100-foot (9.1 by 30.5 m) billboard on the east side of Times Square, New York. Designed by Douglas Leigh. It showed a man smoking, with steam coming from his mouth every few seconds to represent cigarette smoke. The man was replaced periodically (during World War 2, the billboard showed servicemen in uniform). The billboard became a famous landmark and remained in place until 1966. I don't claim that the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company is behind these Etna smoke rings to convince us that Vulcan, the Greek God of fire and the forge, smokes Camels. Really. I didn't say that.


[Also this related item on Etnaand [Etna and Ice-Caves]

        to science portal    "Through the eyes of..."    Geology of the Bay of Naples        to top of this page

© 2002 - 2023