Island of Vulcano in Sicily on alert for increased volcanic activity

Italy's Civil Protection issued an "amber alert" for the island of Vulcano in Sicily's Aeolian archipelago on Saturday, on the back of significant changes in several volcanic parameters.

A tourist walks in the fumaroles of a crater on the volcanic island of Vulcano in Italy.
A tourist walks in the fumaroles of a crater on the volcanic island of Vulcano, one of the Aeolian Islands, in the Tyrrhenian Sea, Italy, on September 19th, 2019. VALERY HACHE / AFP

“The values are outside the norm in the top part only in the Vulcano crater,” said Lipari mayor Marco Giogianni in a live broadcast on Facebook, following a meeting with experts from the National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology (INGV) and Civil Protection, Italy’s emergency body.

Marco Pistolesi, a vulcanology professor at the University of Pisa, also tweeted about the change in the alert level, referring to “increased degassing, temperatures, seismicity and deformation”.

“For those who know the island, this has never been observed before,” he wrote.

The last eruption on Vulcano was over 130 years ago and lasted from August 2nd, 1888 to March 22nd, 1890.

It has been still since then, but this “sleep” is sometimes disturbed by seismic activity crises and increases in steaming volcanic gas emissions from vents (fumaroles) – the most recent was in 1985, Italian daily Corriere Della Sierra reported late Saturday.

The mayor was expected to issue an order to prevent people from climbing to the top of the crater at around 500 metres, a 40-minute walk, the paper said.

The population of the island is always at risk due to gas-rich, high-temperature fumaroles, but with increased activity, there is a danger that the fumaroles could  intensify and extend over larger areas.

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Sicily braces for rare Mediterranean cyclone as storms continue

Sicily's residents are bracing for the arrival of a cyclone later on Thursday, the second this week after a deadly storm hammered the Italian island, killing three people.

Sicily braces for rare Mediterranean cyclone as storms continue
Cars and market stalls submerged in Catania, Sicily, after heavy rain hit the city and province on october 26th. Photo: STRINGER/ANSA/AFP

A rare tropical-style cyclone known as a “medicane” is set to reach Sicily’s eastern coast and the tip of mainland Calabria between Thursday evening and Friday morning, according to Italian public research institute ISPRA.

“Heavy rainfall and strong sea storms are expected on the coast, with waves of significant height over 4.5 metres (15 feet),” ISPRA said.

The Italian Department for Civil Protection placed eastern Sicily under a new amber alert for Thursday and the highest-level red lert for Friday in anticipation of the storm’s arrival, after almost a week of extreme weather in the area.

A total of three people have been reported killed in flooding on the island this week amid storms that left city streets and squares submerged.

On Tuesday, parts of eastern Sicily were ravaged by a cyclone following days of heavy rains that had sparked flooding and mudslides, killing three people.

Television images from Tuesday showed flooding in the emergency room of Catania’s Garibaldi-Nesima hospital, while rain was seen pouring from the roof inside offices at the city courtroom.

Thursday’s storm was set to hit the same area around Catania, Sicily’s second-largest city, even as residents were still mucking out their streets and homes.

Schools were closed in Syracuse and Catania, where the local government ordered public offices and courts closed through Friday.

The mayor of Catania on Tuesday shut down all businesses and urged residents to stay home.

Antonio Navarra, president of the Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change, told Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper this week that Sicily was at the centre of extreme weather events, including heatwaves and cyclones.

“We’re trying to understand if, with climate change, these phenomena will become even more intense, if they will change their character as their frequency intensifies,” he said.

READ ALSO: Climate crisis: The Italian cities worst affected by flooding and heatwaves

Cars submerged in Catania, Sicily, after storms hit the city and province on October 26th. Photo: STRINGER/ANSA/AFP

Other forecasters have said the “medicane” is the latest evidence that the climate crisis is irreversibly tropicalising the Mediterranean, after the island’s south-eastern city of Syracuse this August recorded a temperature of 48.8C, the hottest ever seen in Europe.

“Sicily is tropicalising and the upcoming medicane is perhaps the first of this entity, but it certainly won’t be the last,” Christian Mulder, a professor of ecology and climate emergency at the University of Catania, told The Guardian on Wednesday.

“We are used to thinking that this type of hurricane and cyclone begins in the oceans and not in a closed basin like the Mediterranean. But this is not the case,” he said.

“This medicane is forming due to the torrid climate of north Africa and the warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea. The Aegean Sea has a temperature of 3C higher than the average, while the Ionian Sea has a temperature of almost 2C higher than the average. The result is a pressure cooker.”

The storm is expected to leave the area between Saturday and Sunday.