Italy's Volcanoes: The Cradle of Volcanology

Etna Decade Volcano, Italy
Eruption update:
1-6 February 2000

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For those of you who missed the Etna telecamera (please note that I am not the right person to ask about technical details of the telecamera), visit this site: "Sistema Poseidon" (in Italian) and go to "Etna live-cam". The site has also weekly reports (in Italian) on the activity of Etna and other Sicilian volcanoes.

WARNING: Access to the summit area is DANGEROUS. Eruptive activity at the summit craters is again increasing, and sudden explosions that may drop pyroclastics (blocks and bombs) are possible, especially at the SE Crater which has resumed its episodic eruptive behavior. Besides this, weather conditions are often unstable. The winter brings frequent snow storms and clouds, and one gets easily lost due to the lack of points of reference once there is a thick snow cover. One man was killed in December 1999 when he fell into a chasm and dozens of people have since then been reported lost and searched for, fortunately without further tragic accidents. Excursions should be made only with the mountain guides who can be contacted at the cable car (near the Rifugio Sapienza) on the southern side of Etna, or at the hotel "Le Betulle" at Piano Provenzana, on the northern side.

6 February 2000 update. Once more the SE Crater has been the source of a paroxysmal eruptive episode. This latest event occurred early on 6 February, sometime after 0430 h (local time=GMT+1) and was similar to its predecessors, for its short duration and the fracturing of the SE Crater cone during the climax of the activity. A broad lava flow was emplaced on the southeastern (?) side of the crater.
Besides these frequent paroxysms at the SE Crater, there is continuous lava emission from a fracture on the northeastern slope of the SE Crater cone, from which lava flows in surges, forming a lava field composed of numerous overlapping and adjacent lobes. The flowing lava has been visible from all over eastern Sicily at night during the past few days and attracted many spectators. Eruptive activity is also continuous in both vents of the Bocca Nuova, and reports in newspapers and news agencies reflect the great confusion caused by this activity in many locations on Etna's summit.
How interpret this new surge of activity at the summit craters, which are in eruption since little less than 5 years? On the one hand, this appears to be but the latest of many phases of increased activity at one or more of these craters. Only four months ago the Bocca Nuova produced spectacular and voluminous overflows of lava onto the western flank of the volcano, which had not received any lava flow from the summit craters since 35 years. One year ago, the SE Crater concluded a series of 22 paroxysmal eruptive episodes with the opening of a fracture on its southeastern flank. So there does not appear to be much new in the current series of paroxysms. Yet there is: the tempo of the SE Crater paroxysms is much faster than last winter, and there is continuous slow lava effusion between the paroxysms, a phenomenon not observed during the 1998-1999 series of paroxysms. And last but least, when the SE Crater cone fractured on 4 February 1999, the magma level in the Bocca Nuova dropped immediately, whereas the activity in that crater does not appear to be affected appreciably by the current activity at the SE Crater.
It should also be remembered that in September 1989, violent eruptive episodes occurred twice a day at the SE Crater, and the latest of those episodes were accompanied by the opening of eruptive fractures on the southeastern and northeastern flanks of the SE Crater cone. This activity eventually culminated in the formation of two large fracture systems propagating southeastwards and northeastwards from the SE Crater. The earlier fortunately did not produce any eruptive activity, but the latter did, and only due to the short duration of the flank activity no towns or cultivated areas were threatened by the lava. The possibility that the increased SE Crater activity of the last two weeks will be followed by more extensive fracturing at lower elevation cannot be entirely excluded. It is, however, more likely that Etna will continue to produce summit eruptions for some time

5 February 2000 update. The SE Crater produced two further eruptive episodes on 5 February. The first of these occurred shortly after midnight; like its predecessors, it was preceded by a slow buildup of eruptive activity and its culminating phase lasted only about 20 minutes. The event could be well observed from Catania and other towns in the southern to eastern sectors of the volcano.
At nightfall on 4 February
, lava was flowing from a vent located about two-thirds down the northeastern flank of the SE Crater cone. The flow was only a few hundred meters long and formed three branches. This effusive activity was observed after dusk by Giuseppe Scarpinati (Italian correspondent of "L'Association Volcanologique Européenne", L.A.V.E.), who lives in Acireale and enjoys a panoramic view of the southeastern-eastern sector of the volcano. Furthermore there was a persistent glow over the Bocca Nuova, indicating Strombolian activity in one of its two vents (see photos of these vents below, taken on 2 February).
The lava flow was well visible from Catania by 2000 h
(local time=GMT+1) on 4 February, and the lava output increased gradually over the next four hours. Mild Strombolian activity began sometime before 2330 from a vent high on the SSW flank, probably the same that had erupted the small lava flow on the morning of 2 February. By this time lava apparently spilled over the eastern rim of the crater. The volume of lava running down the eastern flank increased, and explosive activity at the summit vent (and possibly at the SSW flank vent) became more and more vigorous. Shortly after 0010 h on 5 February the activity culminated with lava fountains and voluminous lava emission. After only ten minutes the paroxysmal activity began to diminish, although lava still moved down the eastern and SSW flanks. The SSW flow appeared to be the more vigorous of the two lava flows.
Explosive activity was essentially over by 0030 h, but lava continued to flow at a diminishing rate down the SSW flank. By 0100 h this flow still had a few incandescent spots but apparently was no longer moving, and the eruptive vents in the summit area of the SE Crater cone were silent, but the Bocca Nuova continued with its relatively mild Strombolian activity.
The second episode occurred shortly before noon, and its evolution was probably similar to that of the previous episode. Lava was seen flowing from a vent at the northeastern flank of the SE Crater cone during the forenoon by Scarpinati, who observed rhythmic gas emissions from the vent, possibly indicating minor explosive activity (spattering).
The ash produced by these latest eruptive episodes was blown by the wind to the WSW, thus sparing again the skiing areas on the northern and southern flanks of the volcano, which receive an intense flux of skiers in these days characterized by marvellous weather conditions.

3 February 2000 update. The SE Crater appears to go on erupting at increased pace. New eruptive episodes - the fourth and the fifth in one week - have apparently occurred during the morning of 2 February and again on the morning of 3 February. The earlier event was reported in local newspapers and probably occurred sometime between 0800 and 0830 h (local time=GMT+1). Residents of Nicolosi reported to have heard loud explosions and said that a light ash fall occurred in their village. A new eruptive episode occurred this morning (3 February) sometime around 0830 h and was observed by Giorgio De Guidi (Dipartimento di Scienze Geologiche, University of Catania) from his home in Pedara, on the lower SE flank of Etna. De Guidi reports that the crater emitted lava fountains and a large eruption column, and then a fracture opened on its flank, probably in the same location of the fracture that had been active in the earlier eruptive episodes. The eruption from the fracture began with an explosion in its upper part, and then a streak of white gas appeared to run down along the fracture, forming an impressive plume. This activity lasted only a few minutes, and then "everything calmed, both the activity at the fracture and the explosions at the summit" of the SE Crater cone.

2 February 2000 photos
2 February 2000 2 February 2000
Southeast Crater cone seen from south. The fissure which first opened on 26 January 2000 is visible in the central part of the cone, and a narrow lava flow erupted on the morning of 2 February is at left. The rounded knob at right is the vent area where effusive activity occurred from early February to late-August 1999
A closer look at the SE Crater cone from the southern margin of the new lava field emplaced during the eruptive episodes since 26 January. The new eruptive fracture is visible slightly to the left of the image center; the 4 February 1999 fracture is to the right
2 February 2000 2 February 2000
Looking up the SSW flank of the SE Crater cone. Lava flow erupted on the morning of 2 February is in the center. Snow melt caused by the lava flow generated a very small lahar whose deposit is visible in the foreground; another lahar is visible at left
Impact crater created when a block penetrated the snow at the base of the SE Crater cone, about 400 m south of the crater. Blocks were mainly ejected during the first eruptive episode on 26 January when explosions shattered the uppermost part of the cone
2 February 2000 2 February 2000
The northwestern vent of the Bocca Nuova is seen here from the southern rim of the crater. The cone that had been built in that place during the October-November 1999 activity has largely collapsed into the widening vent
Eastern vent of the Bocca Nuova seen from the same location. This vent produced frequent Strombolian explosions and ash emissions on 2 February, but is seen here in a quiet moment. All that is left of a large cone formed in 1964 is visible at right

The summit area of Etna was visited on 2 February by Boris Behncke (Dipartimento di Scienze Geologiche, University of Catania) and Giuseppe Scarpinati (Italian correspondent of "L'Association Volcanologique Européenne", L.A.V.E.). During the six hours of their visit, eruptive activity occurred only at the Bocca Nuova whose southeastern vent produced frequent Strombolian explosions and occasional sustained ash emissions. The vent has actually shifted from its former location in the southeastern part of the crater to the eastern portion of the crater. Many explosions ejected incandescent bombs above the vent rim, but all fell back into the vent. There was no visible activity at the northwestern vent which had a broad cone around it. The Bocca Nuova, which had last been visited by Behncke on 1 October 1999 (before the overflows of lava and the vigorous eruptive activity of mid-October to early November 1999) has changed beyond recognition. In its southwestern part the floor, which is covered by October-November 1999 lava, stands at the elevation of the western crater rim, and about 10 m below the southern crater rim. The two vents in the eastern and northwestern parts of the crater are large, with diameters of 100 m or more, respectively. A possible collapse feature could be made out to the northwest of the northwestern vent, but it could not be approached.
The SE Crater was silent. Its cone had undergone notable morphological changes during the eruptive episodes of the past week, the most important being the formation of the new fracture on its southern flank, which lies aside the fracture of 4 February 1999. This fracture had emitted most of the lava that had flowed southeastwards to the Valle del Bove. High on the SSW flank of the SE Crater cone there was a small vent which emitted bluish gas, and from which a narrow tongue of lava had spilled to the base of the cone, cutting deeply into the snow and causing very minor lahars. This flow, when sampled, was still hot, and it may be that this flow was emplaced during the presumed eruptive episode earlier that morning. The summit of the SE Crater cone appeared to be a few meters higher than before the recent eruptive episodes, its highest point lying on the western side of the crater. When seen from the southeastern part of the former Central Crater, the summit of the SE Crater cone stood only a few meters below the rim of the former Central Crater (at about 3260 m elevation).
There is quite some mystery about glowing lava seen by Scarpinati on the evening of 1 February, on the early morning of 2 February, and on the evening of the same day. This lava apparently originated from a spot somewhere below the SE Crater cone. During the 2 February visit no flowing lava was seen near the cone, but the area located to the north of the 1999 lava field was not visited, and there might actually be a vent in that area which emitted lava also between eruptive episodes. This mystery will be hopefully solved during another visit to the area in the near future.

29 January 2000 29 January 2000
Eruptive episode of 29 January 2000, seen from Acireale. These photos were made by Giuseppe Scarpinati from his terrace.

1 February 2000 update. This morning (1 February), a rain of small-sized lapilli fell on Catania and surroundings, evidence of another eruptive episode at the SE Crater. The lapilli are highly porous and the largest fragments found in the central area of Catania were 0.4 cm in diameter and 0.7 cm in length. The eruptive episode occurred sometime after 0900 h (local time=GMT+1) and was extremely brief, like its predecessor exactly three days earlier (29 January). It is not known at present whether there was any outflow of lava.
This new eruptive episode is not surprising, and it appears that there is a high regularity in the intervals between the episodes, like during the series of 22 paroxysmal eruptions from the same crater between September 1998 and February 1999
. If this regularity is maintained, then the next eruptive episode may be expected sometime on Friday 4 February, to celebrate the anniversary of the spectacular paroxysm which initiated the long-lived effusive activity from vents at the SE base of the SE Crater cone.

A series of other web pages covering the October-November eruptions of the Bocca Nuova have recently posted; these contain photos and movie clips of some of the most spectacular moments of that period.

A photo gallery covering the period September-November 1999 (with photos by Boris Behncke and Giuseppe Scarpinati)

Photos of the eruptive activity, 26-31 October 1999, by Tom Pfeiffer (University of Arhus, Denmark)

Photos by Marco Fulle, 17-23 October 1999, at Stromboli On-line - Marco at his best

Very impressive video clips, taken by Roberto Carniel on 17-23 October 1999, at Stromboli On-line

Photos by Juerg Alean, of 1 November 1999, at Stromboli On-line

Video clips, taken by Juerg Alean on 1 November 1999, at Stromboli On-line

A page by Charles Rivière, France, with many photos of the summer and autumn of 1999 (in French)

visitors counted since 12 February 1999
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Page set up on 27 May 1997, last modified on 6 February 2000

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