Research ArticleGEOPHYSICS

Gravitational collapse of Mount Etna’s southeastern flank

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Science Advances  10 Oct 2018:
Vol. 4, no. 10, eaat9700
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aat9700


The southeastern flank of Etna volcano slides into the Ionian Sea at rates of centimeters per year. The prevailing understanding is that pressurization of the magmatic system, and not gravitational forces, controls flank movement, although this has also been proposed. So far, it has not been possible to separate between these processes, because no data on offshore deformation were available until we conducted the first long-term seafloor displacement monitoring campaign from April 2016 until July 2017. Unprecedented seafloor geodetic data reveal a >4-cm slip along the offshore extension of a fault related to flank kinematics during one 8-day-long event in May 2017, while displacement on land peaked at ~4 cm at the coast. As deformation increases away from the magmatic system, the bulk of Mount Etna’s present continuous deformation must be driven by gravity while being further destabilized by magma dynamics. We cannot exclude flank movement to evolve into catastrophic collapse, implying that Etna’s flank movement poses a much greater hazard than previously thought. The hazard of flank collapse might be underestimated at other coastal and ocean island volcanoes, where the dynamics of submerged flanks are unknown.

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