Forces Shaping the Earth

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Linus Torvalds
Linus Torvalds

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Chapter 2 – Section 1
Forces Shaping the Earth
Male Speaker: I am standing on the southern tip of Italy, on the Island of Sicily.
Famous for great wines, the Godfather, the best mountain behind me, it’s Mount
Etna. It has got a special place in my heart because it’s the first volcano I ever
visited. Mount Etna is the biggest and most active volcano in Europe, but there is
something else that makes it so special. This is where volcanology began. The
ancient Greeks who once lived in the shadow of Mount Etna created myths and
legends to explain the volcano’s violent behavior. Some believed that Etna roared
and shook because after a fierce battle Zeus had managed to trap the many
headed monster Typhus beneath it. Others thought these volcanic rocks along the
coast, were thrown here by Cyclops from his forge under the mountain. But then a
Sicilian born Greek philosopher developed a more rational approach to the world
around him. It was around 2500 years ago when a hero of mine Pericles, came up
with the idea of dividing matter into four main elements, earth, air, fire and water.
Now that may not seem like a big step but to me Pericles is like the father of
geology, because rather than relying on tales of battles between Gods and
monsters, he attempted to put some kind of order into our understanding of natural
phenomenon like volcanoes and he got his inspiration right here on Etna. Of course
we now know far more than the ancient Greeks, we know that volcanoes are
actually caused by the earth’s incredibly hot molten core. Sometimes the heat
causes hot viscous lava to bust through the earth’s thin crust as a volcanic eruption
and that’s just what has been happening here on Sicily for over hundreds of
thousands of years. Some explosions have been so enormous that ash has been
found near Rome, 500 miles away. In fact, the surface of our entire planet is made
up of a number of moving plates, and Etna sits right on top of a danger zone where
two plates collide. Here one plate is being pushed on to the other creating around
one-fifth of the earth’s active land volcanoes including Etna and its infamous
neighbor Mount Vesuvius. As every school kid knows when Vesuvius erupted in 79
A.D. it covered the Roman city of Pompeii with a thick could of deadly volcanic ash.
Its people were preserved by the ash where they fell, as if frozen in time,
unchanged for nearly 2000 years. And just as Etna was pondered over by the
philosopher Pericles, this Mountain Vesuvius, also had its own erudite observer.
Plenty of the younger witnessed and wrote about its most famous eruption. To this
day volcanologists still describe highly explosive eruptions on the scale of Vesuvius
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Chapter 2 – Section 1
Forces Shaping the Earth
as plenum, but for me Etna is the place to be. Not only is it almost three times taller
than Vesuvius, but it’s far more active, whereas Vesuvius has been dormant since
1944. The eruptions on Etna just keep on coming.
Television Reporter: Mount Etna, Europe’s highest and most active volcano…
Television Reporter: Europe’s highest volcano Mount Etna in Sicily is showing
signs of activity following a spate of tremors.
Male Speaker: Moulton lava pouring from Mount Etna in Sicily is continuing to
threaten the villagers lying in its path.
Male Speaker: Rivers of fire flow from Mount Etna’s 11,000 feet high summit,
swamping vineyards and olive groves. Yesterday the lava moved at an alarming
fifty feet and hour, but has since been slowed down. It must be the most
spectacular free show on earth. It won’t be easy to put things right.
Male Speaker: It’s Etna’s continuous activity that has made it endlessly fascinating
to ancient philosophers and modern geologists alike.
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