A cloud of ash from the 1992 eruption of Mount Etna
R. Maugeri

Figuring Out What is Inside a Volcano
News story originally written on February 14, 2003

To understand when a volcano will erupt, scientists must know what the volcano is like on the inside. Under the dark, rocky surface of an active volcano are underground pools of hot molten rock, called magma. Knowing where the underground pools are, and how much pressure they are under, helps scientists to predict eruptions. Recently, scientists in Italy have discovered where the magma pools are beneath the largest volcano in Europe, Mount Etna, which, in the past, has been very difficult to predict.

Mount Etna is located on the island of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea. It is the tallest active volcano in Europe. The volcano was quiet since a 1992 eruption, but over the last several months it has been erupting very actively, with hot lava spewing all over. It just calmed down a bit this week.

To figure out what was going on beneath Mount Etna, a team of scientists studied the pattern of earthquakes in the area since 1994. They tracked the locations of hundreds of earthquakes under and near the mountain that cracked rocks deep within the Earth’s crust. The cracks in the rock allowed space for magma to move upward to form pools many kilometers beneath the volcano. The magma in the pools is under pressure and eventually makes its way to the surface during an eruption. The scientists say that the magma moving through cracks could create more volcanic eruptions, and stronger ones, in the future.

Last modified February 24, 2003 by Lisa Gardiner.

You might also be interested in:

Cool It! Game

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

1999--A Year in Review...

It was another exciting and frustrating year for the space science program. It seemed that every step forward led to one backwards. Either way, NASA led the way to a great century of discovery. Unfortunately,...more

STS-95 Launch: "Let the wings of Discovery lift us on to the future."

The Space Shuttle Discovery lifted off from Kennedy Space Center on October 29th at 2:19 p.m. EST. The weather was great as Discovery took 8 1/2 minutes to reach orbit. This was the United States' 123rd...more

Moon Found Orbiting Asteroid

A moon was discovered orbiting the asteroid, Eugenia. This is only the second time in history that a satellite has been seen circling an asteroid. A special mirror allowed scientists to find the moon...more

U.S. is Fed Up with Russia

Will Russia ever put the service module for the International Space Station in space? NASA officials want an answer from the Russian government. The necessary service module is currently waiting to be...more

More on Recent Coronal Mass Ejection

A coronal mass ejection (CME) happened on the Sun early last month. The material that was thrown out from this explosion passed the ACE spacecraft. The SWICS instrument on ACE has produced a new and very...more

Mother Nature's Air Conditioning

J.S. Maini of the Canadian Forest Service called forests the "heart and lungs of the world." This is because forests filter air and water pollution, absorb carbon dioxide, release oxygen, and maintain...more

Planetary Alignment 2002

In late April through mid-May 2002, all five naked-eye planets are visible at the same time in the night sky! This is includes Mercury which is generally very hard to see. You won't want to miss this!...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA