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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Blackett

Three volcanoes active at once!

At any one time, there are up to 100 #volcanoes active on the planet. The vast majority of these are in regions that are relatively remote or, indeed, are hidden away under the oceans. Currently, however, we have a situation where several volcanoes are actively emitting significant ash-clouds in the vicinity of significant population centres, thereby posing a potential and significant hazard. These volcanoes are #Etna (Italy), #Popocatepetl (Mexico), and #Nyiragongo (Democratic Republic of Congo).

Mount Etna

This Sicilian volcano is world famous for its periodic displays of activity. Whilst its activity has often been spectacular, it has also been a source of destruction for the communities inhabiting its slopes. In 1992 for example, lava flows from the mountain threatened the town of Zafferana (population: 7000) and stopped just several 100m from its outskirts, although not before inundating many properties on the way (see below). More significantly, in 1669, lava flows from the volcano made their way toward the city of Catania (today’s population: 310,000), destroying many towns and villages on the way.

Lava-inundated building on the flows to the outskirts of Zafferana, Sicily.

Etna’s current activity commenced on 21 May 2023 and is centred on the volcano’s SE Crater. There is currently a lava flow confined to the crater area and there are regular fire-fountaining episodes producing ash plumes of up to 10 km altitude that have then been scattered over the region and have caused Catania’s airport to close several times. Fortunately, the activity (at the time of writing) has subsided and the volcano has returned to its re-eruption state.


This Mexican volcano overshadows the “mega” Mexico City (population: 22,000,000) and as such, often poses a threat to the inhabitants of the region. This is based on its track record with its 1994 eruption, for example, resulting in the evacuation of over 30,000 people from the surrounding area and causing significant damage to infrastructure. The mountain has been emitting ash clouds for a number of days now and has erupted to eject ballistics of distances over 1000 m. Given this fact, the country’s Centro Nacional de Prevención de Desastres is urging people to avoid visiting the volcano and has placed the volcano at the Yellow Alert-level, meaning that some 3 million people in nearby towns are to stay alert and prepared for evacuation.


Activity at this volcano in the past has had devastating consequences. Back in 2002, lava flows from the mountain arrived at Goma, a city of refugees displaced by the Rwandan genocide. This event made 100,000 homeless and destroyed much of the city’s infrastructure, thereby making it difficult to get aid in and to evacuate as necessary. Over the last few days, the volcano has been showing signs of increased activity, with lava flows noted and ash plumes having been emitted, each of which has led to a Yellow-level alert.

As with all volcanic events, the future cannot be predicted with any certainty, but it will be worth watching the activity at these volcanoes over the coming days. Fortunately, we are in a better position today than we were a couple of decades ago, with monitoring systems in place and warning practices well versed. Let’s hope these steps can help avoid any future calamities in the heavily populated regions surrounding these volcanoes.

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