The highest active volcano in Europe, Mount Etna, is sliding into the Mediterranean, scientists have revealed.
A British led team of scientists found Sicily’s giant volcano is sliding into the sea by 14mm per year which could lead to a devastating collapse in the future.
More than 500,000 people live around the base of Mount Etna which has history of violent eruptions and is one of the most active volcanoes on earth.
Open University geologist Dr John Murray has studied the volcano for nearly 50 years and believes this is first time sliding of this magnitude has been recorded.
The study, which used data from GPS measurements over 11 years between 2001 and 2012, was published in the Bulletin of Volcanology.
The study found: ‘This is the first time basement sliding of an entire active volcano has been directly observed.
‘This is important because the geological record shows that such sliding volcanoes are prone to devastating sector collapse on the downslope side, and whole volcano migration should be taken into account when assessing future collapse hazard.’
The volcano is moving in a south-east direction towards the coastal town of Giarre.
However, Dr Murray told the BBC if a catastrophic collapse of Mount Etna does happen it will be thousands of years before it does.
He said: ‘I would say there is currently no cause for alarm, but it is something we need to keep an eye on, especially to see if there is an acceleration in this motion.
‘The 14mm/yr is an average; it varies from year to year.’
He added: ‘The thing to watch I guess is if in 10 years’ time the rate of movement has doubled – that would be a warning. If it’s halved, I’d say there really is nothing to worry about.’
The first recorded eruption of Mount Etna was in 475 BC, and it has killed thousands of people, with 15,000 estimated to have died in 1169, some eruptions can last hours but others can be years.