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Concept: Sicily


Improving lava flow hazard assessment is one of the most important and challenging fields of volcanology, and has an immediate and practical impact on society. Here, we present a methodology for the quantitative assessment of lava flow hazards based on a combination of field data, numerical simulations and probability analyses. With the extensive data available on historic eruptions of Mt. Etna, going back over 2000 years, it has been possible to construct two hazard maps, one for flank and the other for summit eruptions, allowing a quantitative analysis of the most likely future courses of lava flows. The effective use of hazard maps of Etna may help in minimizing the damage from volcanic eruptions through correct land use in densely urbanized area with a population of almost one million people. Although this study was conducted on Mt. Etna, the approach used is designed to be applicable to other volcanic areas.

Concepts: Pumice, Volcanic gas, Magma, Sicily, Volcanology, Lava, Mount Vesuvius, Volcano


The geological, biological and geochemical features of a particular field of hydrothermal vents, discovered in the Panarea Volcanic Complex during a research survey carried out in 2015, are described for the first time. The site, located at 70-80 m depth off the South-western coast of the islet of Basiluzzo, was named Smoking Land for the presence of a large number of wide and high active chimneys and was characterized in terms of dissolved benthic fluxes, associated macrofauna and megafauna communities and preliminary mineralogy and geochemistry of chimney structures. On the whole field, a total of 39 chimneys, different in size and shape, were closely observed and described; 14 of them showed emission of low temperature hydrothermal fluids of marine origin characterized by acidified chemical conditions. The CTD and benthic chamber measurements highlighted that the Smoking Land is able to form a sea water bottom layer characterized by variable acidity and high DIC and trace elements concentrations; these characteristics weaken moving away from the chimney mouths. The SEM-EDS analysis of the collected solid samples revealed a chimney structure principally composed by amorphous and low crystalline Fe-oxyhydroxides of hydrothermal origins. The ROV explorations revealed a wide coverage of red algae (Peyssonnelia spp.) colonized by the green algae Flabiella petiolata and by suspension feeders, mainly sponges, but also bryozoans, and tubicolous polychaetes. Although novent-exclusive species were identified, the benthic communities found in association to the chimneys included more taxa than those observed in the surrounding no-vent rocky areas. These first findings evidence a submarine dynamic habitat where geological, chemical and biological processes are intimately connected, making the Smoking Land an important site in terms of marine heritage that should be safeguarded and protected.

Concepts: Oxygen, Sicily, Chimney fire, Algae, Chimney, Hydrothermal vent, Chemistry, Aeolian Islands


Volcano observatories provide near real-time information and, ultimately, forecasts about volcano activity. For this reason, multiple physical and chemical parameters are continuously monitored. Here, we present a new method to efficiently estimate the location and evolution of magmatic sources based on a stream of real-time surface deformation data, such as High-Rate GPS, and a free-geometry magmatic source model. The tool allows tracking inflation and deflation sources in time, providing estimates of where a volcano might erupt, which is important in understanding an on-going crisis. We show a successful simulated application to the pre-eruptive period of May 2008, at Mount Etna (Italy). The proposed methodology is able to track the fast dynamics of the magma migration by inverting the real-time data within seconds. This general method is suitable for integration in any volcano observatory. The method provides first order unsupervised and realistic estimates of the locations of magmatic sources and of potential eruption sites, information that is especially important for civil protection purposes.

Concepts: Lava, Volcano observatory, Basalt, Sicily, Real-time computing, Volcanology, Magma, Volcano


The Mediterranean Sea is a mid-latitude marginal sea, particularly responsive to climate change as reported by recent studies. The Sicily Channel is a choke point separating the sea in two main basins, the Eastern Mediterranean Sea and the Western Mediterranean Sea. Here, we report and analyse a long-term record (1993-2016) of the thermohaline properties of the Intermediate Water that crosses the Sicily Channel, showing increasing temperature and salinity trends much stronger than those observed at intermediate depths in the global ocean. We investigate the causes of the observed trends and in particular determine the role of a changing climate over the Eastern Mediterranean, where the Intermediate Water is formed. The long-term Sicily record reveals how fast the response to climate change can be in a marginal sea like the Mediterranean Sea compared to the global ocean, and demonstrates the essential role of long time series in the ocean.

Concepts: Italy, Sea, Sicily, Mediterranean climate, Climate, Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, Ocean


Located in the center of the Mediterranean landscape and with an extensive coastal line, the territory of what is today Italy has played an important role in the history of human settlements and movements of Southern Europe and the Mediterranean Basin. Populated since Paleolithic times, the complexity of human movements during the Neolithic, the Metal Ages and the most recent history of the two last millennia (involving the overlapping of different cultural and demic strata) has shaped the pattern of the modern Italian genetic structure. With the aim of disentangling this pattern and understanding which processes more importantly shaped the distribution of diversity, we have analyzed the uniparentally-inherited markers in ∼900 individuals from an extensive sampling across the Italian peninsula, Sardinia and Sicily. Spatial PCAs and DAPCs revealed a sex-biased pattern indicating different demographic histories for males and females. Besides the genetic outlier position of Sardinians, a North West-South East Y-chromosome structure is found in continental Italy. Such structure is in agreement with recent archeological syntheses indicating two independent and parallel processes of Neolithisation. In addition, date estimates pinpoint the importance of the cultural and demographic events during the late Neolithic and Metal Ages. On the other hand, mitochondrial diversity is distributed more homogeneously in agreement with older population events that might be related to the presence of an Italian Refugium during the last glacial period in Europe.

Concepts: Holocene, Paleolithic, Neolithic, Mediterranean Sea, Sicily, Europe, Turkey, Italy


Mediterranean fin whales comprise a genetically distinct population, listed as Vulnerable (VU) in the IUCN Red List. Collisions with vessels are believed to represent the main cause of human-induced mortality. The identification of critical habitats (including migration routes) incorporating satellite telemetry data is therefore crucial to develop focussed conservation efforts. Between 2012 and 2015 thirteen fin whales were equipped with satellite transmitters, 8 in the Pelagos Sanctuary (although two ceased within two days) and 5 in the Strait of Sicily, to evaluate movements and habitat use. A hierarchical switching state-space model was used to identify transiting and area-restricted search (ARS) behaviours, believed to indicate foraging activities. All whales undertook mid- to long-distance migrations, crossing some of the world’s busiest maritime routes. Areas where the animals predominantly engaged in ARS behaviour were identified in both study areas. The telemetry data were compared with results from ecosystem niche modelling, and showed that 80% of tagged whale positions was near (<7 km) the closest suitable habitat. The results contribute to the view that precautionary management should include establishment of a coordinated and dynamic basin-wide management scheme; if appropriate, this may include the establishment of protected areas by specific regional Conventions.

Concepts: Identification, Whale, Habitat, The Establishment, Sicily, Humpback whale, Mediterranean Sea, IUCN Red List


In 2015, Italy was the second most common point of entry for asylum seekers into Europe after Greece. The vast majority embarked from war-torn Libya; 80,000 people claimed asylum that year. Their medical conditions were assessed on arrival but their mental health needs were not addressed in any way, despite the likelihood of serious trauma before and during migration. Médecins sans Frontières (MSF), in agreement with the Italian Ministry of Health, provided mental health (MH) assessment and care for recently-landed asylum seekers in Sicily. This study documents mental health conditions, potentially traumatic events and post-migratory living difficulties experienced by asylum seekers in the MSF programme in 2014-15.

Concepts: Europe, Italian language, World War II, Sicily, Medicine, Mediterranean Sea, Palazzo della Farnesina, Italy


In recent years Europe has received an increasing influx of migrants, many of whom risked their lives crossing the Mediterranean Sea. In October 2013, Italy launched a search and rescue operation at sea in response to migrant deaths during the sea crossing. In August 2014, Médecins sans Frontières and the local Ministry of Health established an outpatient clinic at Augusta harbor, in Sicily, which received 26 % of total sea migrants arrived in Italy in 2014, to provide immediate medical assessment and care.

Concepts: Search and rescue, France, Europe, Rescue, Italy, Sicily, Spain, Mediterranean Sea


In spite of the common belief of Europe as reasonably homogeneous at genetic level, advances in high-throughput genotyping technology have resolved several gradients which define different geographical areas with good precision. When Northern and Southern European groups were considered separately, there were clear genetic distinctions. Intra-country genetic differences were also evident, especially in Finland and, to a lesser extent, within other European populations. Here, we present the first analysis using the 125,799 genome-wide Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs) data of 1,014 Italians with wide geographical coverage. We showed by using Principal Component analysis and model-based individual ancestry analysis, that the current population of Sardinia can be clearly differentiated genetically from mainland Italy and Sicily, and that a certain degree of genetic differentiation is detectable within the current Italian peninsula population. Pair-wise F(ST) statistics Northern and Southern Italy amounts approximately to 0.001 between, and around 0.002 between Northern Italy and Utah residents with Northern and Western European ancestry (CEU). The Italian population also revealed a fine genetic substructure underscoring by the genomic inflation (Sardinia vs. Northern Italy = 3.040 and Northern Italy vs. CEU = 1.427), warning against confounding effects of hidden relatedness and population substructure in association studies.

Concepts: Genotyping, Single-nucleotide polymorphism, DNA, Italian language, Bioinformatics, Southern Italy, Sicily, Italy


We present elastic wave velocity and strength data from a suite of three volcanic rocks taken from the volcanic edifices of El Hierro and Tenerife (Canary Islands, Spain), and Stromboli (Aeolian Islands, Italy). These rocks span a range of porosity and are taken from volcanoes that suffer from edifice instability. We measure elastic wave velocities at known incident angles to the generated through-going fault as a function of imposed strain, and examine the effect of the damage zone on P-wave velocity. Such data are important as field measurements of elastic wave tomography are key tools for understanding volcanic regions, yet hidden fractures are likely to have a significant effect on elastic wave velocity. We then use elastic wave velocity evolution to calculate concomitant crack density evolution which ranges from 0 to 0.17: highest values were correlated to the damage zone in rocks with the highest initial porosity.

Concepts: Aeolian Islands, Valverde, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Volcano, Group velocity, El Hierro, Teide, Sicily, Canary Islands