On one trip, Schick was traveling near the town of Nicolósi, which has been repeatedly destroyed by streams of lava. Based on the volcanic pulse he had measured, the geophysicist recognized that a molten heart was beating underneath him. The magma was only 400 meters beneath the surface, and an outbreak seemed imminent.
But nothing happened.
Etna is currently behaving like a champagne bottle under pressure. The magma, a foam-like brew of gas and red-hot molten rock, has been flowing to the surface more quickly in recent years.
At the moment, the mountain is belching out about a million tons of water vapor and more than 50,000 tons of carbon dioxide each day. As they ascend, the gas bubbles expand with lighting speed, and if they cannot readily escape, they hurl clumps of magma into the air like oversized champagne corks.
"There have been violent eruptions like this once every few thousand years, as, for example, in the year 122 B.C.," says Behncke. The scientist also expects a destructive outbreak on the eastern flank in a few months or years. "This is relatively normal for Etna, but society has changed tremendously. It's become much more difficult today to carry out an evacuation."
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan