Italy's Volcanoes: The Cradle of Volcanology

Etna index

Geology Geological history Cones and craters
Eruptive characteristics Eruptions before 1971 Eruptions since 1971
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Frequently asked questions about Etna
Is Etna a stratovolcano or a shield volcano?


I have been asked this question or similar ones quite often by students who have to write papers on a selected volcano, and many have chosen Etna, only to find quite confusing information regarding the morphology of Etna. Among my answers were the following:

"It is difficult to classify Etna in terms of morphology. Etna has the morphological characteristics of both shield and strato volcano, and furthermore it has various calderas, the largest being Valle del Bove on the eastern flank. The lower part of the mountain in some areas is clearly a shield on top of which a stratovolcano has built, but I would best describe it as a complex volcano. To complicate the picture, Etna has some 250 cinder cones on its flanks some of which would rank as volcanoes for themself in other areas. On Etna they are merely lateral vents, products of Etna's flank eruptions. Maybe the most precise answer to the question is: "Etna is a mixture of overlapping shield and strato volcanoes partially destroyed by repeated caldera collapse and partially buried by younger volcanic edifices"."
"The cones and craters of Etna" has more information about the evolution of the four summit craters and portrays some of the flank eruptive centers.

"Etna unfortunately does not fit easily in these classification schemes. In part it is a shield, in part a strato volcano, and then it is also a caldera volcano because it actually consists of numerous volcanic edifices that grew on top of each other, and each suffered major collapse at least once during its lifetime. Etna is thus best described as a complex volcano...
Etna (...) assembles so many types of volcanic morphologies that you can't give it a simple type name such as shield or strato volcano (stratovolcano means, a volcano built by alternating layers of lava and fragmental - that is, pyroclastic - material; the most famous volcanoes are stratovolcanoes such as Fujiyama, Mayon and so on). Etna has suffered repeated edifice collapse, which resulted in the formation of calderas - large collapse depressions that are like craters, but much larger, often 5 or more kilometers across. "

Next Question: To what kind of tectonic environment is Etna related?

Copyright © Boris Behncke, "Italy's Volcanoes: The Cradle of Volcanology"

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