Italy's Stromboli is the most active volcano in the world today. Referred to as the "Lighthouse of the Mediterranean" by the Smithsonian's Global Volcanism Program, it has produced mildly explosive eruptions through much of recorded history. These constant eruptions have shaped the landscape and people of the island by a variety of volcanic means.
The Stromboli Volcano
Stromboli is a classic stratovolcano, formed by alternating layers of pyroclastic material and hardened lava. The volcano forms the northeastern-most island of the aeolian Islands in Italy. Covering slightly less than five square miles, the island is home to around 360 permanent residents. These island dwellers live in the island's two villages: Stromboli, on the northeast corner, and Ginostra, on the southwest corner.
Instruments of Change
The Stromboli Volcano affects its surroundings in a number of ways. The volcano produces central vent, radial fissure and submarine eruptions. These eruptions are mildly explosive in nature, the result of thick lava with a high concentration of trapped gasses. In addition to the explosive forces, these eruptions produce both pyroclastic and lava flows. Furthermore, the volcano is subject to debris avalanches that, when they reach the ocean, can produce tsunamis.
The eruptions of Stromboli have produced a symmetrical, conical structure that towers 3,000 feet above sea level. However, this only represents the tip of the proverbial "iceberg." Beneath the waves, Stromboli extends almost 10,000 feet to the seafloor. At the end of the Neostromboli eruptive period, around 5,000 years ago, a horseshoe-shaped scarp called Sciara del Fuoco was formed by a series of slope failures. This geological feature tends to funnel pyroclastic and lava flows to the northwest. This bisects the two villages, affording them some protection from the constant eruptions.
Originally, the island's inhabitants profited from fishing and agriculture. Agriculture, including fig and vine crops, thrived on the slopes of the volcano. Today, the effects of constant eruptions and lava flows have reduced agriculture on the island to almost zero. Instead, the economy now revolves around tourism. Thousands of visitors flock to Stromboli each year for the opportunity to observe an active volcano.
Effects on Safety
Tourists enjoy a perfect view from the rim of an older crater that lies approximately 500 feet away and above the active crater. However, these observation points are located well within the danger zone for molten lava that is ejected by the small eruptions. In 2001, a female was killed by these projectiles, called bombs, during a sudden explosion. The climb up to the volcano can be dangerous for tourists as well, due to frequent rockfalls. Tsunamis also pose a threat to the villages. In 2002, two tsunamis were caused by landslides, damaging both villages and causing several injuries.
Effects on Volcanology
The Stromboli volcano has also had an effect on the overall study of volcanoes. Volcanologists now refer to similar volcanoes, those with gas-rich lava that lobs molten lava bombs into the air when they explode, as Stromboli volcanoes. Like Kilauea in Hawaii, Stromboli's constant volcanic activity provides an around-the-clock, real-world laboratory for scientists.