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Etna eruption (1978). Etna, Sicily, Italy. Location: 37.7N, 15.0E. Elevation: 10,990 feet (3,350 m)

Etna is one of the largest continental volcanoes. The base of the volcano is about 36 by 24 miles (60 x 40 km). Below an elevation of about 9,500 feet (2,900 m) Etna is a shield. The upper 1,200 feet (400 m) is a stratovolcano made of several coalesced vents. Much of the surface of the volcano is covered by historic lava flows. Most eruptive products are made of andesite. Volcanic activity at Etna began about half a million years ago, with eruptions occurring beneath the sea off the then coastline of Sicily. 300,000 years ago, volcanism began occurring to the southwest of the present-day summit, before activity moved towards the present centre 170,000 years ago. Eruptions at this time built up the first major volcanic edifice, forming a stratovolcano in alternating explosive and effusive eruptions. The growth of the mountain was occasionally interrupted by major eruptions leading to the collapse of the summit to form calderas.

From about 35,000 to 15,000 years ago, Etna experienced some highly explosive eruptions, generating large pyroclastic flows which left extensive ignimbrite deposits. Ash from these eruptions has been found as far away as Rome, 800 km to the north.

Etna was known in Roman times as Aetna, a name thought to have derived either from the Greek word aitho ("to burn") or the Phoenician word attano. The Arabs called the mountain Gibel Utlamat ("the mountain of fire"); this name was later corrupted into Mons Gibel (translating from its Roman and Arab parts as 'Mountain Mountain', since such repetition in Sicilian denotes largeness or greatness) and subsequently Etna's current local name Mongibeddu.

The mountain's regular and often dramatic eruptions made it a major subject of interest for Classical mythologists and their later successors, who sought to explain its behaviour in terms of the various gods and giants of Roman and Greek legend. Aeolus, the king of the winds, was said to have imprisoned the winds in caves below Etna. The giant Typhon was confined under Etna, according to the poet Aeschylus, and was the cause of the mountain's eruptions. Another giant, Enceladus, rebelled against the gods, was killed and was buried under Etna. Vulcan, the god of fire and the forge, was said to have had his forge under Etna and drove the fire-demon Adranus out from the mountain, while the Cyclopes maintained a smithy there where they fashioned lightning bolts for Zeus to use as a weapon. The Greek underworld, Tartarus, was supposed to be situated beneath Etna.

Empedocles, a major pre-Socratic philosopher and Greek statesman of the 5th century BC, was said to have met his death in the volcano's crater. Etna supposedly erupted in sympathy with the martyrdom of Saint Agatha in 251 CE, prompting Christians thereafter to invoke her name against fire and lightning.

4 picture (slide Kodachrome 64) scanned for TE.

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Additional Photos by Michel Detay (mdetay) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 487 W: 1 N: 1045] (4929)
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