Italy's Volcanoes: The Cradle of Volcanology

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Vulcano from north

Vulcano seen from the Quattrocchi lookout on Lipari in April 1995

Vulcano Volcano, Italy

volcano number: 0101-05= (according to Volcanoes of the World, 1994 edition)

summit elevation: 500 m

location: 38.404N, 14.962E



"A volcanic hazard exists where there is the potential for loss of life or property as the direct result of volcanic activity. The major effects of all activity at Fossa are confined to within 2 km of the vent. The village of Porto with a population of about 250 inhabitants lies within this zone to the north of the main cone. During the summer the population of this town swells to more than 10,000. It is quite dangerous for a village to be located so close to an active volcano."

Quoted from Frazzetta et al. (1984). Emphasis (in green color) set by Boris Behncke.

Fossa cone
The Fossa cone on the island of Vulcano, the most recently active eruptive center, whose last eruption occurred in 1888-1890. Note the proximity of the village of Vulcano Porto to the cone. The village, which is visited by tens of thousands of tourists each summier, has grown since the 1960s and lies closer to an active volcano than any other settlement in the world. A lava tongue, named "Pietre Cotte", extends from the lip of the crater to the left base of the cone. View from the caldera rim at Lentia towards SE, 6 October 1996.

Sulfur deposits
Sulfur deposits in the central part of the main fumarolic area on the N rim of the Fossa crater, photographed on 22 September 1996. The fumarolic activity here was much more intense during the late 1980s and early 1990s. The islands of Lipari and Salina (the twin peaks at left) are visible in the background. View is towards north.

Located on the southernmost of the Aeolian Islands, the active cone of Vulcano has impressed the Ancient Greek and Romans that much that they considered it the home of their underworld divinity, Hephaistos or Vulcanus. Even though as a mountain it is neither very conspicuous nor aesthetically appealing, it is one of Italy's most significant active volcanic centers, mostly due to its high hazard potential.

Vulcano has three population centers, the smallest of which is Gelso on the S tip of the island. The village of Piano lies on the marvellous plateau of the same name that constitutes the south-central portion of the island. A complex settlement named Vulcano Porto extends from the immediate N base of the Fossa cone to the isthmus connecting Vulcano with Vulcanello and covers large parts of the Vulcanello peninsula.

During the historical period, the Fossa cone and Vulcanello have been the site of frequent and vigorous eruptions, the most recent of which occurred in 1888-1890 at the Fossa. More recently, crater of the Fossa, known as the Gran Cratere, has been the site of volcanic unrest (most notably, an increase of the fumarolic activity) which began around 1985 and ended in 1995 without culminating in an eruption. This episode of unrest has triggered increased public awareness about the volcanic risk at Vulcano, and intense studies of the volcano and its behavior of which the references cited below are only a small fraction. It is the aim of these pages to present a comprehensive image of the volcano, its behavior, and hazards.

Vulcano at a glance

Area: 21.2 km2
Location: 1 km S of Lipari
Highest elevation: 500 m
Age of volcanism:
South Vulcano: ca. 120-98 ka
Piano Caldera: ca. 98-97 ka
Post-Piano caldera cycle: ca. 97-50 ka
Lentia Complex: 15.5 ka
Fossa Caldera: 16->13 ka
Fossa cone: 6-5 ka-recent
Vulcanello: 2.5 ka-recent

Notable morphologic features:
Piano Caldera with M. Aria (500 m)
Monte Saraceno (481 m)
Fossa cone or Fossa Grande (391 m)
Vulcanello (123 m)

Residents: about 500 (permanent, but during the summer season up to 10,000 people stay on Vulcano each day)

Geological map
Geological sketch map of the island of Vulcano, showing eruptive centers and stratigraphic units.
From Ventura (1994)


De Astis G, Dellino P, De Rosa R and La Volpe L (1997) Eruptive and emplacement mechanisms of widespread fine-grained pyroclastic deposits on Vulcano Island (Italy). Bulletin of Volcanology 59: 87-102.

De Astis G, La Volpe L, Peccerillo A and Civetta L (1997) Volcanological and petrological evolution of Vulcano island (Aeolian Arc, southern Tyrrhenian Sea). Journal of Geophysical Research 102: 8021-8050.

Barberi F., Bertagnini A and Landi P (1994) Italian volcanic activity during 1991-1994. Bollettino di Geofisica Teorica ed Applicata 36: 639-736 (Vulcano: pp 658-678).

Dellino P, Frazzetta G & La Volpe L (1990) Wet surge deposits at La Fossa di Vulcano: depositional and eruptive mechanisms. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 43: 215-233.

Frazzetta G, Gillot PY, La Volpe L & Sheridan MF (1984) Volcanic hazards at Fossa of Vulcano: data from the last 6000 years. Bulletin of Volcanology 47: 105-124.

Frazzetta G & La Volpe L (1991) Volcanic history and maximum expected eruption at "La Fossa di Vulcano" (Aeolian Islands, Italy). Acta Vulcanologicy 1: 107-113.

Frazzetta G, La Volpe L & Sheridan MF (1983) Evolution of the Fossa cone, Vulcano. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 17: 329-360.

Keller J (1980) The island of Vulcano. Rendiconti della Società Italiana di Mineralogia e Petrologia 36: 369-414.

Mercalli G & Silvestri O (1891) Le eruzioni dell'isola di Vulcano, incominciate il 3 Agosto 1888 e terminate il 22 Marzo 1890. Relazione Scientifica. Annali dell'Ufficio Centrale di Meteorologia e Geodinamica 10 (4): 1-213.

Montalto A (1996) Signs of potential renewal of eruptive at La Fossa (Vulcano, Aeolian Islands). Bulletin of Volcanology 57: 483-492.

Sheridan MF, Frazzeta G & La Volpe L (1987) Eruptive histories of Lipari and Vulcano, Italy, during the past 22,000 years. In: Fink JH (ed) The emplacement of silicic domes and lava flows. Geological Society of America Special Paper 272: 29-33.

Valentine GA, Palladino DM, Agosta E, Taddeuci J, Trigila R (1998) Volcaniclastic aggradation in a semiarid environment, northwestern Vulcano Island, Italy. Bulletin of the Geological Society of America 110: 630-643.

Ventura G (1994) Tectonics, structural evolution and caldera formation on Vulcano Island (Aeolian Archipelago, southern Tyrrhenian Sea). Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 60: 207-224.


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

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