The roar of hydrogen in the bowels of Mount Etna: An update on the current eruption

The roar of hydrogen in the bowels of Mount Etna: An update on the current eruption


Mount Etna, located on the eastern coast of Sicily, is one of the world’s most active volcanoes. Its frequent eruptions provide a unique opportunity to study volcanic dynamics and the gases emitted during these events. Hydrogen is one of the many volcanic gases released during an eruption, and while not the most abundant, its presence holds significant implications.

Composition of Volcanic Gases

The composition of volcanic gases varies depending on the depth and composition of the magma. In the case of Etna, studies have shown that the gases emitted during eruptions contain a mixture of H2O, CO2, SO2, H2, HCl (hydrochloric acid), and other minor compounds. Hydrogen typically represents a small percentage of the total volcanic gases, but its presence is significant for several technical and scientific reasons.

Measuring Hydrogen at Etna

Scientists employ various techniques to measure volcanic gases, including mass spectrometry and gas chromatography. These methods allow for precise detection of hydrogen levels in volcanic emissions. Measuring hydrogen is crucial because this gas can be an indicator of magma temperature and pressure, as well as the chemical reactions occurring during the ascent of magma to the surface.

Implications of Hydrogen in Volcanic Dynamics

Hydrogen in volcanic gases can provide information about the source of the magma and the conditions it encounters before the eruption. For instance, high levels of hydrogen may indicate significant interaction between magma and groundwater. This process can generate steam, increasing pressure within the volcano and, ultimately, triggering an explosive eruption.

Furthermore, hydrogen is a highly flammable gas. While direct combustion of hydrogen is uncommon in the volcanic environment due to the lack of free oxygen, its presence in emissions can influence the formation of other chemical compounds and the dispersion of volcanic gases in the atmosphere.

Technology and Eruption Studies

The use of drones equipped with gas sensors has revolutionized the study of volcanic gases. These devices can fly near the crater and take samples directly from the plume of gases, providing real-time data on the concentration of hydrogen and other gases. This technology has been employed at Etna to enhance the understanding of its eruptions and predict future events.

Hydrogen and Volcanic Energy

Research on volcanic gases not only helps us better understand eruptions but also has implications for energy production. Hydrogen, as mentioned, is a clean and efficient fuel. The possibility of harnessing volcanic hydrogen as an energy source is an intriguing idea, although currently more of a scientific curiosity than a practical reality.

The Future of Volcanic Research

The study of hydrogen in the context of volcanic eruptions is just one part of the broader field of volcanology. As technology advances, scientists continue to develop new ways to measure and analyze volcanic gases. These investigations not only improve our understanding of volcanoes but may also have practical applications in the field of sustainable energy.


The current eruption of Etna serves as a reminder of the power and complexity of volcanoes. The presence of hydrogen in the volcano’s emissions is a fascinating scientific phenomenon that helps us better understand the interaction between Earth and its atmosphere. Ongoing research on this eruption will provide valuable insights to enhance our understanding of volcanoes and their impact on the planet.

The presence of hydrogen in Etna’s eruptions offers a captivating window into the processes occurring within one of the world’s most active volcanoes. From a volcanological perspective, hydrogen is a crucial indicator of magmatic conditions and the interaction between magma and groundwater. For those interested in sustainable energy, studying hydrogen in these natural settings may inspire new ways of thinking about how we can utilize this element in our ongoing quest for a cleaner and more efficient future.

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