Mt Etna and other Volcanos
Mount Etna during summer 2017 (Author’s photograph)
Mount Etna is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. You will find it on the Eastern coast of Sicily, standing 3320m above sea level. On a normal day, it constantly billows white smoke and gas, a grumble. Another day, it can quickly turn to grey ash, gases and molten lava when fully erupting. It must release the massive build-up of pressure within. https://www.volcanodiscovery.com/etna/current-activity.html
On the South Eastern side of the mountain, approximately 400m from the highest crater, is a small village. There, travelers have a choice, to take a gondola ride further up the mountain and continue up walking or catch a bus. It depends on the day how far you can go; tourists are not permitted to climb to the top. Some take their own stocks and gear, but they must always be accompanied with a park guide. (Please don’t wear high heels as I saw one woman do) When I walked up, I passed a previous flow of molten lava now solidified, a lahar, curiously with a roof and upper story in the midst. Our guide explained, it was the remains of a lodgings, that once stood higher up the mountain. An eerie reminder of Etna’s power and the vulnerability of all life caught in its path.
Further up, are short walks around smaller calderas exposing few rocks and mostly silt, that funnel down to the middle. No one dared to trek down or explore the centre. Soaring above was a closer view of Etna’s activity. Clear deposits of yellow sulphur were exposed, leftover from the Sulphur dioxide and Hydrogen sulphide or rotten egg fumes. To the side were crevices slowly emitting more gas, the fumaroles. The air was tolerable despite the gas and fumes. The peak was captivating, always watching throughout the day at how the billows of smoke change. The day I visited, it had increased in magnitude over the afternoon, but remained white. 3 days later, no tours were permitted on the mountain. The grumble turned to a growl as it belched grey ash.
Wildflowers found on Mount Etna taken on a hot summer’s day (author’s photographs)
I went during summer and the snow caps had melted. In what appeared to be the most desolate areas, I found an abundance of wildflowers, despite the earlier frozen conditions and now severe lack of water, in what seemed poor, heavily-drained soil. No worms could feed and enrich the ground, but small clumps of multi-coloured shrubs, wildflowers, appeared. Of course the soil was not so poor, as the ash and lava was rich in minerals. Produce farmed in the lower plains is recognized worldwide. Life struggles to survive in this most unfriendly environment. Microbes, called extremophiles, able to withstanding higher temperatures and anaerobic conditions break down the lahars, releasing the iron, magnesium and other nutrients. Nurturing more life.
and Human Responses
Ancient Fossils on display in Vesuvius (Author’s photographs)
What most intrigued me was the people. Also, I visited Pompeii, where Vesuvius erupted and within seconds began total destruction of the city. Ash choked the residents fleeing in the streets or huddled in their houses and the lava flowed across them down to the sea below. Their fossil remains remind us of the horror that struck. Yet, tourists flock to see Volcanoes. Small industries develop around them and the people return after each eruption. Listening to them, their voices tremble as they speak of the last eruption, their escape and its devastation. Still they return, both tourists and businesses. I once asked my son, aged 7, if he would like to go to North Island, New Zealand and visit White Island, New Zealand’s largest active volcano. He cringed and begged us not to go. As adults that childish fear is quashed by the amazing force of nature’s coughs and belches.
I must confess, I wanted to see the lava flow and look down into the depths of the crater, instead of watching the flows on video in the café over a hot drink. At White Island, I did just that, geared up with oxygen mask and protective coat. Explore for yourself just how magnificent volcanoes really are. http://edition.cnn.com/videos/travel/2017/03/01/white-island-volcano.cnn/video/playlists/in-24-hours/