The first is Europe's tallest and angriest peak, Mount Etna. The 2-mile-tall Sicilian fire belcher has been retching out gobs of lava since late July, sending iridescent melted rock flying as high as 1,150 feet in the air. Etna has a record of frenetic activity going back as far as 1,500 B.C., and has already erupted eight times this year.
The ash from Etna is falling like soft, gray rain over towns in Sicily, forcing the temporary closure of the Fontanarossa airport. But widespread flight disruptions of the kind caused by this year's Grimsvötn explosion are not expected. Rather, Etna is just sort of pretty to look at. This footage was taken by Boris Behncke, who has been following every splurt and eructation that Etna has issued this year on his Flickr stream:
Now, spin the globe a half turn and you'll find another active crater magnetizing the eyes of geologists in Hawaii.
This is Kilauea Crater on Big Island, an intensely busy fire chute with thermal vents descending at least 37 miles into earth's overheated dermis. Kilauea blasted its top off in 1983 and has erupted continuously ever since in a burbling, fiery wreck at the "cinder-and-spatter cone" called Pu`u `O`o (apologies for omitting the accent marks; my browser is not technically sophisticated enough to handle them). The volcano has been visibly leaking lava since late July, filling a lake inside the crater with minestrone soup fresh from Vulcan's kitchen.
On Aug. 3, the structure of the fire lake abruptly disintegrated. The lava levels plummeted precipitously, a weird huge-scale event that was recorded by the U.S. Geological Survey in the below time-lapse webcam video. (For more government webcams in Hawaii's volcano belt, visit this site.)
The location is on Pu'u's north rim, the time around 2 p.m. According to the USGS, via the great blog Pacific Island Parks: "Just after 2 p.m., breakouts start on the flank of the perched lava lake and the lake begins to drop. Remarkably, while the lake drops the circulation is maintained, until the lake finally disintegrates. By the end of the sequence, the lava lake is gone and floor has dropped about 80 meters (260 ft). Around 3:15pm, you can see a portion of the rim, at the very right end of the image, collapse into the crater."
(Another spectacular collapse was caught on video this March. Watch it here.)