Italy's Volcanoes: The Cradle of Volcanology


Boris Behncke on Mount Etna, July 2003 (taken by Catherine Lemercier)BORIS BEHNCKE

You have seen this site grow, stagnate, revive, change servers, stagnate once more, and then revive again. You have seen a few photos of myself on the site (here's a fairly new one to the right), looked at the photos taken by me and the graphics created by me, read the words written by me. You have shared my experiences over the years and hopefully received some impressions of what has happened, especially at Mount Etna, in these times. You might have noted that recently, some scientific publications have appeared with me as an author, generally with others, and thus recognized that I have entered into a more serious phase of my scientific career. But so far, you have found very little comprehensive information about my activities, education, and skills, which many of my colleagues have posted on their web sites as "Curriculum Vitae". This page is aimed at bringing a long-overdue change to all this.

Geological science is, like any other scientific discipline, very much like business. You have to produce something (geological data, information, interpretations, and concepts) and sell it (publications, public outreach). Otherwise you don't move ahead. A web site like this is not considered a valuable tool in this framework, it rather exposes you to the risk to step on other people's feet and thus create irritation rather than interest. I have taken this risk and payed the price, and learned a lot about diplomacy and politics in science. A web site may serve to make your name well-known to the public, but it provides little help in progessing as a scientist. Furthermore it consumes a lot of time, which you could well spend doing research and write publications, which is one fundamental criticism voiced in my direction by some colleagues.

For this reason it is necessary to show that I have not passed all those years wasting time with this web site, but also used enormous amounts of time and effort to collect and analyze data, acquire experience and skills, and eventually condense them into scientific publications. This has not always been a smooth process, because at the same time I had somehow to survive physically, which means that there was (and always will be) need for money. Over certain periods it was necessary to gain income from sources other than geological work, which threatened at least once to divert me away from this field forever, and logically progress slowed dramatically. It was only "with a little help from my friends" that it was possible to return to making science, and to do this more seriously than ever before. I am glad to see that the results are becoming more and more encouraging.

So this is the première of my Curriculum Vitae on this site. It's different from those of many of my colleagues in that it reflects a somewhat contorted road across many sectors of educational and working experiences, before it finally comes to the current phase of intense scientific publishing.


Dr. Boris Behncke
Born on 2 March 1962 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Living in Catania, Italy, since early 1997
Language skills: German, English, Italian, French (spoken and written); Dutch, Spanish (sufficient for reading); Latin (theoretical)

School education
1968: Elementary school, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
1969-1972: Elementary school, Horrem (near Cologne), Germany
1972-1982: Lyceum, Kerpen (near Cologne), Germany

First major interruption
1983-1985: Civil service

Academic education
1985-1989: Studies in Geological Sciences, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany
1989: Bachelor's Degree in Geological Sciences
1989: two months off to the Global Volcanism Program of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., for bibliographic research and translation work (one of the most pleasant experiences of my life)
1990-1994: Continuation of studies in Geological Sciences, Christian-Albrechts Universität Kiel, Germany
1994-1996: Development of Master's Thesis in Geological Sciences, with repeated periods of field work in the Monti Iblei area, Sicily (Italy), frequently interrupted by work outside the academic environment to obtain funding for the trips to Sicily
1996: Master's Degree in Geological Sciences, Christian-Albrechts Universität Kiel, Germany; presentation of thesis entitled: Neogene to Quaternary volcanism in the area between Palagonia and Militello (SE Sicily): Stratigraphy, petrology, and reconstruction of the palaeoenvironment (in German)
1997: Admitted to the Ph.D. course in Geological Sciences at the Università degli Studi Catania, Italy. Due to bureaucratic reasons, funding for the Ph.D. begins one year after the originally scheduled date. Major publication containing some of the Master's Thesis' material in the "Geologische Rundschau" (now International Journal of Earth Sciences) (see "Publications")

Second major interruption
1997-1998: Various temporary employments outside the academic environment to gain for my living

Ph.D. studies
1998-2000: field work in the Monti Iblei, Sicily, and writing of Ph.D. thesis at the Università degli Studi Catania. Thesis finished and delivered in December 2000. A few minor publications, mostly "gray literature" (see "Publications")
2001: Ph.D. degree in Geological Sciences, Università degli Studi Catania; presentation of dissertation entitled: Tectonic, sedimentary and volcanic evolution of the northern margin of the Hyblean Plateau (Sicily) from the Upper Miocene to the Quaternary

Third major interruption
2001-2002: Temporary employment at the Università degli Studi Catania, mostly for translation work; frequent collaboration with travel agencies and tour operators (Aventure et Volcans, Terres d'Aventures, Biosport Management) and guidance of excursions to Mount Etna, the Aeolian Islands, and the Nebrodi and Peloritani Mountains in Sicily. Work on a series of publications concerning the recent eruptive activity at Mount Etna (see "Publications")

Return to science
2003: Temporary employment with the Roma section of the Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia (FASA Project). First serious publications appear in international scientific journals and continued work on new publications with colleagues mostly from the Catania section of the Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia (see "Publications"). Since January 2004, Behncke participates frequently in measuring campaigns along the active Pernicana fault system on Etna's northeast flank, and at other active faults on the east flank of the volcano.

Identification of stratigraphic relationships between various rock units and facies characteristics (Monti Iblei, Sicily). Observation and interpretation of live volcanic processes at Mount Etna (Sicily); ample knowledge of Mount Etna as a volcano and as an environment from extensive literature research and more than two hundred excursions on and around the volcano.

In 1994, Behncke was among the first scientists in Europe to discover the vast informative and communicative potential of internet. As early as in spring 1995 he created the web site "Italy's Volcanoes: The Cradle of Volcanology" (that's the site you are currently visiting), the first volcanologically oriented site in Germany, and the second in Europe, which provides information about all volcanoes in Italy and particularly about Mount Etna. The server is now at, based in Catania. The scope of the site is now fundamentally to provide background information about the Italian volcanoes rather than news about their activity.

Didactic capabilities were initially developed in numerous seminars at the universities where Behncke followed his studies, and during oral presentations at (national and international) meetings and conferences. Frequent encounters with reporters from international and national mass media have facilitated the application of an easy-to-understand language while maintaining factual accuracy, especially during the eruptions of Mount Etna in 2001 and 2002-2003. Presently, Behncke is holding lectures in volcanology at the Liceo Classico Pennisi of Acireale, and since January 2003, Behncke regularly holds lectures in "Volcanology" before travellers from the U.S. (employment with Grand Circle Travels). Starting in summer 2004, Behncke will hold lectures in "Volcanology" for foreign students at the Mediterranean Center for Arts and Sciences (MCAS) in Siracusa, Sicily. These are regular university courses and include at least three field trips to Etna and the Monti Iblei.


1) Schmincke HU, Behncke B, Grasso M, Raffi S (1997) Evolution of the northwestern Iblean Mountains, Sicily: uplift, Pliocene-Pleistocene sea-level changes, paleoenvironment, and volcanism. Geologische Rundschau (now International Journal of Earth Sciences) 86: 637-669 (download pdf)

2) Behncke B (1998) Il vulcanesimo del Plateau Ibleo (Sicilia sud-orientale) negli ultimi 230 Ma. Bollettino dell'Accademia Gioenia Catania 31 (N. 355): 39-50 (view abstract)

3) Grasso M, Behncke B (1998) Vulcanesimo, sedimentazione e tettoncia neogenico-quaternaria del Plateau Ibleo. Guida alle escursioni, 79° Congresso Nazionale della Società Geologica Italiana (Palermo 24-25 Settembre 1998): 81-101

4) Behncke B (2000) Palaeocoastlines captured in volcanic facies: an approach to dating of karst phenomena of the Hyblean Plateau, SE Sicily. Speleologia Iblea 8: 37-42 (view abstract)

5) Pedley M, Grasso M, Maniscalco R, Behncke B, Di Stefano A, Giuffrida S, Sturiale G (2001) The sedimentology and palaeoenvironment of Quaternary temperate carbonates and their distribution around the northern Hyblean Mountains (SE Sicily). Bollettino della Società Geologica Italiana 121: 233-255 (view abstract)

6) Grasso M, Behncke B, Giuffrida S, Maniscalco R, Sturiale G (2001) Carta geologica del bordo settentrionale dell'Altopiano ibleo (scala 1:25.000). Accordo di Programma DSTN-Servizio Geologico-CNR "Realizzazione dell'Atlante di cartografia prototipale" (Scheda n° 21, Prof. M. Grasso)

7) Behncke B (2001) Volcanism in the Southern Apennines and Sicily. In: Vai, G.B. & Martini, I.P. (eds) Anatomy of an Orogen: the Apennines and Adjacent Mediterranean Basins: 105-120

8) Schmincke H-U, Behncke B, Grasso M, Strano D, La Manna F, Maniscalco R, Raffi, S. (2003) Geological map of the area between Ramacca, Militello and Mineo (northern margin of the Hyblean Plateau) (scale 1:25.000). S.EL.CA. Firenze (in press)

9) Neri M, Nagay A, Acocella V, Behncke B (2003) Flank instability at Mount Etna (Italy) during the 2002-2003 eruption. Abstract presented at "Cities On Volcanoes 3" Meeting, Hawaii, S24 Science Poster (view abstract)

10) Neri M, Acocella V, Behncke B (2003) Large-scale spreading of the eastern flank of Mt. Etna (Italy) during the 2002-2003 eruption. Abstract presented at the EGS-AGU-EUG Joint Assembly, Nice, France, Geophysical Research Abstracts, Vol. 5, 03636 (view abstract)

11) Behncke B, Neri M (2003) The July-August 2001 eruption of Mt. Etna (Sicily). Bulletin of Volcanology 65: 461-476 (download pdf)

12) Behncke B, Neri M, Carniel R (2003) An exceptional case of endogenous lava dome growth spawning pyroclastic avalanches: the 1999 Bocca Nuova eruption of Mt. Etna (Italy). Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 124: 115-128 (download pdf)

13) Behncke B, Neri M (2003) Cycles and trends in the recent eruptive behaviour of Mount Etna (Italy). Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 40: 1405-1411 (view abstract)

14) Neri M, Acocella V, Behncke B (2003) The role of the Pernicana Fault System in the spreading of Mt. Etna (Italy) during the 2002-2003 eruption. Bulletin of Volcanology (in press) - published on-line on 5 November 2003 (download full preliminary pdf)

15) Acocella V, Behncke B, D'Amico S, Maiolino V, Neri M, Ursino A, Velardita R (2003) The 2001 and 2002-2003 eruptions of Mount Etna (Italy): Evidence for different triggering mechanisms. Abstract presented at the Annual Workshop 2003, Pantelleria, Sicily (23-28 September 2003) on: Seismic Phenomena Associated With Volcanic Activity (view abstract)

16) Behncke B, Berrino G, Velardita R (2003) Ground deformation and gravity changes on the island of Pantelleria in the geodynamic framework of the Sicily channel (invited paper). Abstract presented at the Annual Workshop 2003, Pantelleria, Sicily (23-28 September 2003) on: Seismic Phenomena Associated With Volcanic Activity (view abstract)

17) Acocella V, Behncke B, Neri M, D'Amico S (2003) Link between large-scale flank slip and 2002-2003 eruption of Mount Etna (Italy). Geophysical Research Letters 30, DOI: 10.1029/2003GL018642 (view abstract)

18) Behncke B (submitted December 2003) Late Pliocene volcanic island growth and flood basalt-like lava emplacement in the Hyblean Mountains (SE Sicily). Journal of Geophysical Research, under review

19) Behncke B, Neri M, Sturiale G (submitted December 2003) Rapid morphological changes at the summit of an active volcano: reappraisal of the poorly documented 1964 eruption of Mount Etna (Italy). Geomorphology, under review


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

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