Dirty Thunderstorms

Last Thursday, all of Southern Italy woke to the sight of a anshen sky. The Mount Etna eruption shot lava up to 1 kilometer into the sky and an ash plume up to 3 kilometers (.6 to 1.8 miles, respectively). Volcanic lightning surrounded the plume. These “dirty thunderstorms” are created when volcanic ash builds up and the various particles in the cloud rub together. This friction creates electric charge, resulting to volcanic lightning strikes in areas around the ash plume.

Scientists have been observing low-level Strombolian eruptions over the past few weeks, which were a strong indication of the volcano’s increasing activity. These Strombolian eruptions were what led to last week’s major eruption, which was its first significant eruption in two years.

Sitting on Three Plates

Europe’s highest of most active volcano, Mount Etna is located on the east coast of Sicily, Italy, where it sits at the junction of three plates, the Eurasian, Adriatic and African Plates. Experts believe that the volcano sits atop a Hot Spot like the one found underneath the Hawaiian Islands. The complex geologic location under the volcano may explain the magma is able to easily reach the surface.

See More images below:

Streaks of lightning above Mount Etna. Image credit: EPA/Davide Caudullo
Mount Etna erupts on Thursday morning. (“Nico di Messina” via Twitter)
Smoke rises over the city of Taormina. Image credit: Giovanni Isolino

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