What mud bubbles tell us about volcanos

These mud bubbles are located several miles from Mount Etna in Italy But scientists think they might hold the key to predicting what Europe's tallest active volcano might do next.

The Salinelle mud pools, located in the town of Paterno, are created when magmatic gas, mostly carbon dioxide, mixes with methane from underground hyrdrocarbon reservoirs, bringing water and mud to the surface.

Volcanologists like Salvatore Giammanco see the mud pools as a window into Etna's activity.

"Those are real mud volcanoes where highly salty water, more concentrated than sea water is omitted together with gas which is bubbling right in the center of the vents."

Fountains of lava from Mount Etna have been regularly lighting up the Sicilian night sky since December and the current cycle of eruptions have, so far, posed no risk to the human settlements that surround it, just like the other 200 or so that the mountain has produced since 1998.

But Giammanco wants to leave as little to chance as possible, should that change.

He says the very first hints of an eruption could be in the mud pools.

"We can predict what Mount Etna is going to do just by looking at the amount of gas which is emitted and the proportions between magmatic gas and hydrocarbons. When magmatic gas increases it's clear that something new is about to happen on Mount Etna and more important the fluids emitted here become warmer, the temperature that we normally measure is actually the ambient temperature but during stronger eruptions of mud the temperature rises up to almost 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit)."

Giammanco is expecting Mount Etna to rumble on for several more months before returning to a more dormant state.

Meanwhile, he'll be keeping a close eye on the mud.

Video Transcript

- These mud bubbles are located several miles from Mount Etna in Italy, but scientists think they might hold the key to predicting what Europe's tallest active volcano might do next. The Salinelle mud pools, located in the town of Paterno, are created when magmatic gas-- mostly carbon dioxide-- mixes with methane from underground hydrocarbon reservoirs, bringing water and mud to the surface. Volcanologists, like Salvatore Giammanco, see the mud pools as a window into Etna's activity.

SALVATORE GIAMMANCO: Those are real mud volcanoes, where highly salty water-- more concentrated than seawater-- is emitted together with gas, which is bubbling right in the center of the vent.

- Fountains of lava from Mount Etna have been regularly lighting up the Sicilian night sky since December, and the current cycle of eruptions has so far posed no risk to the human settlements that surround it-- just like the other 200 or so that the mountain has produced since 1998. But Giammanco wants to leave as little to a chance as possible, should that change. He says the very first hints of an eruption could be in the mud pools.

SALVATORE GIAMMANCO: We can predict what Mount Etna now wants to do just by looking at the amount of gas which is emitted and the proportions between magmatic gas and hydrocarbons. When magmatic gas increases, it's clear that something new is about to happen on Mount Etna. And more important, the fluids emitted here become warmer. The temperature that we normally measure is actually the ambient temperature, but during stronger eruptions of mud, the temperature rises up to almost 50 degrees Celsius.

- Giammanco is expecting Mount Etna to rumble on for several more months before returning to a more dormant state. Meanwhile, he'll be keeping a close eye on the mud.