Mount Etna is Europe’s largest and most active volcano. It is characterised by frequent emissions of lava, gas and ash that, in general, pose little danger to the population surrounding its slopes.
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Mount Etna has the longest recorded history of eruptions, dating to 1500 B.C. Its most explosive eruptions occurred in 1669, 1879 and from October 2002 to January 2003. The eruptions in 1669 caused more devastation than any other volcanic event in Mount Etna's history.
The base of Mount Etna is a 500,000 year-old shield volcano. Alternating layers of lava and a mixture of ash, gas and rocks form a stratovolcano on top of the base. The stratovolcano portion of Mount Etna is about 35,000 years old and continues to grow.
As of 2009, the elevation at Mount Etna’s summit is 10,925 feet. The elevation changes with the continual emissions of rock, ash and lava.
Mount Etna has three prominent summit craters in addition to flank vents on its slopes that emit lava, ash and gases. Lava flows down all sides of the mountain and extends to the sea on the southeast flank.
Twenty-five per cent of Sicily’s population lives on the slopes of Mount Etna. The mountain is Sicily’s main source of income thanks to tourism and the produce that grows in the rich volcanic soil. Lava flows are common and destroy property on or near the slopes. However, human life is rarely endangered. The slow flow of lava allows sufficient time for evacuation.
An eruption in 122 B.C. caused so much damage to the nearby city of Catania that the inhabitants were exempted from paying taxes to Rome for 10 years.
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