Italy's Volcanoes: The Cradle of Volcanology

Etna Decade Volcano, Italy
Eruption update:
25 May - 12 June 2001
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Do you plan to visit Etna in the near future?
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weather forecasts for the Etnean area!

NEW: Excursions to the Etna area,
read more here!

The Etna telecamera is maintained by the "Sistema Poseidon" (now part of the newly constituted Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia) and there is no relationship of any kind with this site and its author. The Poseidon web site is in Italian, and the link to the telecamera is changed frequently, so that it is not indicated here (click on "Etna live cam" on the Poseidon home page). Please note also that all information provided on the present page (and the archived Etna news pages) is informal, based on personal observations, and is not intended to substitute, or compete with, the news bulletins now issued regularly at the Poseidon web site.

WARNING: Access to the summit area is VERY DANGEROUS and ACCESS TO THE SUMMIT CRATERS IS FORBIDDEN. The regime of eruptive activity at the Southeast Crater has changed once more, and episodes of vigorous explosive and effusive activity might occur with relatively little warning. Guided excursions on the south flank that end at the Torre del Filosofo, at about 2900 m elevation, have resumed in mid-March, and on the north flank excursions arrive at 3100 m elevation, on the E side of the main summit cone. Tourists should make excursions only with the mountain guides and NEVER GO ALONE, even though this will not satisfy the wish to see what's going on at close range. Besides this, weather conditions are often unstable: strong wind, snow or rain and clouds are occuring frequently in the summit area, even during the summer, and one can get easily lost. The mountain guides can be contacted at the cable car (near the Rifugio Sapienza) on the southern side of Etna (phone: 095-914141), or (during the summer) at the hotel "Le Betulle" at Piano Provenzana, on the northern side (phone: 095-643430). There is now a new web site giving more information about guided excursions on Etna.

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The latest update is near the bottom of this page

25 May 2001 update. The Southeast Crater has remained active through 25 May, with lava effusion from a small cone (named "lava cone" hereafter) on its NNE flank, and mild Strombolian activity at its summit vent. This activity has been remarkably regular since the stronger eruptive episode of 9 May (see the previous updates) and possibly will continue in a similar manner for some time to come, marking the return at Etna to the characteristic persistent summit activity.
Observations were made frequently by Boris Behncke (Dipartimento di Scienze Geologiche, University of Catania) and geologists of the Open University Geological Society (Mainland Europe) during the reporting interval (19-24 May), including a brief summit visit on 21 May which had to be cancelled due to an extremely strong southerly wind, and a very successful visit to the site of the current activity on 23 May. Further observations were made by geologists of the Dipartimento di Scienze della Terra, University of Perugia, Italy, and have been kindly been made available by Vittorio Zanon.
On the eve
ning of 19 May, the Perugia University geologists observed that the active lava flow from the lava cone on the NNE flank of the SE Crater cone extended about 1.2 km toward the Valle del Bove, and a fluctuating glow at the source vent indicated that there might have been mild spattering at the vent. No explosive activity was seen at the summit vent of the SE Crater that evening.
On the afternoon of the next day (20 May) the geologists from Perugia reached the Torre del Filosofo mountain hut (about 1 km south of the SE Crater) in spite of the strong wind and noted that Strombolian activity had resumed at the SE Crater summit vent, and bombs rose up to 120 m above the vent, with some falling onto the S flank of the cone. The geologists then visited the active eastward-directed lava flow, approaching around the E side of the SE Crater cone, and found it quite vigorous, while a smaller lobe of lava was advancing slowly in a southerly direction. At about the same time Behncke observed the flow from the "Mareneve" road near the village of Fornazzo (on the E side of Etna; about 7 km from the SE Crater), which was well visible thanks to the plume of gas it was emitting along its entire length; the front was estimated at a distance of about 2 km from the vent. At about 2045 h (local time=GMT+2), the geologists from Perugia observed a sudden increase in the effusion rate, which were accompanied by stronger and more frequent Strombolian explosions at the summit vent of the SE Crater. This was immediately followed by a surge of fresh lava which cascaded down on top of the earlier, still-active eastern flow. Shortly afterwards, Behncke and the Open University Geological Society (OUGS) geologists were back on the "Mareneve" road near Fornazzo and saw the fresh lava tongue advance rapidly on top of the cooling earlier flow lobe, apparently following an established flow channel. Meanwhile the Perugia geologists had retreated somewhat toward the Torre del Filosofo hut and observed the effusive vent "bulging and then cracking open" on its southern side, generating a rock avalanche, followed by several rivulets of lava that spilled down that side of the lava cone. The new lava lobe advanced eastward at an estimated speed of 250-400 m/h.
Behncke and the OUGS geologists observed that a second major lava flow ran from the lava cone toward NE, in the direction of the Pizzi Deneri, reaching a length of slightly less than 1 km. This flow appeared less vigorous than the eastern flow and was partly hidden behind the ridge of the lava field formed on the NNE side of the SE Crater cone since late January.
Strombolian bursts occurred frequently at the summit vent of the SE Crater, with bombs rising as much as 270 m above the vent (observations made by the Perugia geologists). Observation by Behncke and the OUGS scientists ended at about 2130 h, but the geologists from Perugia stayed on the upper S flank of Etna and noted a decrease in the intensity of the Strombolian activity at about 2300. No explosive activity was observed for the rest of the night, but a bright glow was visible in the area of the effusive activity.
On 21 May, Behncke and the OUGS geologists made a first attempt to reach the site of the eruptive activity but had to resign due to the ferocious "Scirocco" wind that made any stay in the summit area highly uncomfortable. However, that evening observations were made from Linguaglossa, a town on the NE flank of Etna. Both main flows (the eastern and NNE flows) remained active, and after nightfall Strombolian explosions were again seen at the summit vent of the SE Crater. Later that night the Perugia geologists observed (from Acireale, SE of Etna) that the explosive activity had again subsided, while the eastern lava flow was still active and incandescent for a length of about 1.5 km.
On 22 May the activity continued in much the same manner, with sporadic Strombolian bursts from the SE Crater summit vent and continued lava outflow, feeding both the eastern and NNE flows, but local mountain guides reported that the latter was slowing.
Weather conditions improved markedly on 23 May, permitting a visit to the SE Crater and the effusive vent and the associated lava flow-field. During this visit, which lasted from about 1500 to 2200 h, the NNE flow had diminished considerably, with several sluggish lobes of lava moving across the upper part of the lava flow-field; these lobes did not advance further than about 500 m, and all were fed by ephemeral vents lying 150-200 m from the main effusive vent.
In contrast, a vigorous lava flow originated at the summit of the very steep lava cone (which was about 50-70 m high), located about half way down the NNE flank of the SE Crater cone. This flow ran down the E side of the cone, forming a spectacular cascade about 10 m high. The speed of the flowin lava was estimated at 5-7 m per second, and the effusion rate was several cubic meters per second (the 20 May update of the Poseidon monitoring network gives 2.5-4.5 cubic meters per second for 18 May, a value that corresponds well with the 23 May observations). This flow split into several branches at the base of the lava cone, all of which were directed toward the Valle del Bove. The lava issued from the vent quietly, without any spattering, although a loud hissing noise was produced by high-pressure degassing at the vent. On several occasions a sudden increase in the intensity of the degassing noise was immediately followed by a brief surge of higher lava output. Every few minutes huge blisters or submerged boulders travelled on top of the flowing lava, rushing down the lava cascade on the E side of the lava cone.
The summit of the vent nearly continuously produced mild Strombolian explosions during the 7 hours visit. Most of the bombs ejected by these explosions rose only a few tens of meters above the vent, but every now and then bombs reached heights of 100 m or more. The Strombolian explosions did not occur regularly, but were clustered, as had been already observed repeatedly during the preceding days. For 5-10 minutes, explosions would occur every 3-10 seconds, then there would be a relatively quiet interval of several minutes during which there were no or only few and weak explosions, which was in turn followed by a new series of more vigorous explosions. None of the explosions produced any ash. After nightfall, from an observation point located about 600 m north of the summit of the SE Crater, all explosions were seen to start with a rapidly intensifying glow before bombs began to appear above the crater rim. This indicates that the explosions occurred at a certain depth within the conduit, possibly at the same elevation of (or slightly higher than) the effusive vent on the lava cone (about 150 m below the hightst point of the SE Crater rim).
No eruptive activity was observed at the other summit craters on that day. During the previous weeks the activity at these craters had shown very low levels.
On the evening of 24 May, lava emission and irregular Strombolian explosions at the SE Crater continued in much the same manner as during the preceding days. The active eastern lava flow was continuing to flow as of early 25 May, but bad weather rendered visual observations difficult and brought a light dusting of snow to Etna's summit area.
The observations described in the previous paragraphs indicate that the eruptive activity at the summit of Etna is presently quite stable for the first time since about 2 years. This activity resembles much that of the 1950s and 1960s when persistent Strombolian and effusive activity occurred nearly continuously at the Northeast Crater. However, this activity is not easy to observe for the normal Etna visitors. The best way to see some of the ongoing activity is to take the sunset tours offered on the southern and northern sides of Etna (near the Rifugio Sapienza on the S side and at Piano Provenzana on the N side) or to drive from the village of Fornazzo on the "Mareneve" road in the direction of Piano Provenzana after nightfall. It must be once more emphasized that non-authorized persons are not allowed to go to the summit craters, and controls have been intensified after last week's fatal accident at the Bocca Nuova when a Spanish tourist disappeared in one of the active pits of that crater.

29 May 2001 update. Eruptive activity has continued at the Southeast Crater without significant variations during the past four days, although bad weather at times has made visual observations difficult. With the return of good visibility, nighttime observations on 28-29 May have revealed continued lava effusion from the vent on the NNE flank of the SE Crater cone and mild Strombolian activity at the summit vent of that crater. The effusive vent may have shifted about 50 m further upslope on the flank of the cone, as observed by Giuseppe Scarpinati on the evening of 28 May. An active lava flow directed eastward, toward the Valle del Bove, was seen to be partially flowing through tubes for 800 m; below that lava issued from several ephemeral vents feeding about three active lobes that extended about 1 km further. No incandescence was observed at any of the three other summit craters.
During daylight on 28 and 29 May a dense gas plume was seen issuing from the SE Crater's summit vent, while lesser gas was produced by the Bocca Nuova. During the January-August 2000 eruptive period of the SE Crater degassing was virtually absent between eruptive episodes, and only weak fumarolic activity was observed during the months between September 2000 and January 2001. Since the resumption of effusive activity from the vent on the NNE flank of the SE Crater cone in late January, a persistent gas plume has been present at the summit vent, but it has grown much denser since the eruptive episode on 9 May.

1 June 2001 update. There has been no significant change in the style and magnitude of eruptive activity at the SE Crater in the past few days, and lava continues to flow from the "lava cone" on the NNE flank of the SE Crater cone, accompanied by discontinuous Strombolian activity at the SE Crater summit vent. The activity was observed by Roberto Carniel and Marco Fulle (Stromboli On-line), Tom Pfeiffer and numerous other local and international scientists (including Andy Harris and Jon Dehn) on several occasions over the past 4 days or so. The overall effusion rate was estimated at an astonishing 5-10 cubic meters per second, which is very high for Etna's persistent summit activity. Occasionally pressure waves were generated by explosions at the summit vent of the SE Crater, and on 31 May mountain guides reported that such explosions occurred on a rate of one every 10 minutes, throwing bombs about 100 m above the crater rim.
There is also some fresh activity occurring in the Bocca Nuova (probably weak Strombolian explosions in one or both of its active pits), and degassing has increased at the NE Crater, which displayed mild Strombolian activity in April-May 2000 and produced ash emissions in August 2000. This and the fairly high rate of lava emission from the SE Crater's "lava cone" might indicate that more magma is currently rising up through the central conduit system of Etna than during the past months. In the six years since the beginning of the current summit eruptions (no flank eruption has occurred since the major 1991-1993 eruption), voluminous batches of fresh magma have risen repeatedly to the summit craters, generating episodes of spectacular eruptive activity at all four summit craters. If it is true that a new magma batch is nearing the surface, we soon might see yet another act in the incredibly multifaceted volcanic show that began in July 1995.

6 June 2001 update. Eruptive activity has continued at the SE Crater without significant changes except for the direction of active lava flows. On the evening of 5 June, an active flow lobe extended NE, in the direction of the Valle del Leone (which is actually the northern part of the Valle del Bove). Observation by Giuseppe Scarpinati from Acireale (SE of Etna) revealed that this flow is well-fed, incandescent for most of its length, and seems to be among the longest lobes that have developed so far during the current episode of effusive activity at the SE Crater. There was only very weak Strombolian activity at the summit vent of that crater during Scarpinati's observations, but such activity has been irregular throughout the past 4 weeks, with periods of vigorous Strombolian activity alternating with such periods with little or no explosions.
There has also been some Strombolian activity within the Bocca Nuova lately, although the floors of its two active pits seem still to be at much greater depths than in late March (the most recent visit to that crater by Behncke and Scarpinati). It has also been reported that a small pyroclastic cone has grown recently (possibly in late May) on the floor of the active pit of the NE Crater, but there have been no reports about ongoing eruptive activity at that crater.

7 June 2001 update. Eruptive activity at the Southeast Crater stopped sometime during 6 June but resumed spectacularly during the following night.
During the early morning hours of 6 June, Giuseppe Scarpinati (Italian delegate of the Paris-based Association Volcanologique Européenne, or "L.A.V.E.") observed the volcano from his home in the town of Acireale, lying about 18 km SE of Etna's summit. At that time an active lava flow from the effusive vent on the NNE flank of the SE Crater cone had reached a length of about 2.3-2.5 km and was advancing toward the Valle del Leone. Scarpinati observed large blocks detaching from the flow front and rolling down the steep slope. There was only very weak explosive activity at the summit vent of the SE Crater, but a faint glow could be seen at the Bocca Nuova.
At nightfall on the same day, Scarpinati saw what he described as a "dead volcano". There was no incandescence in any place where before there had been the spectacular and very active lava flow, indicating that effusive activity had stopped already many hours before. Neither was there any sign of explosive activity except a very faint glow at the Bocca Nuova, but Scarpinati was not even sure about this. It seemed that all activity had completely stopped at the SE Crater, which seemed quite strange after the vigorous activity observed during the past few weeks and on that same morning.
The pause was not to last long. Lava apparently reappeared at the effusive vent on the NNE side of the SE Crater cone at about 2300 h (local time=GMT+2), and this was soon joined by Strombolian bursts from the summit vent of that crater. Scarpinati made observations between 0245 and 0315 h on 7 June, by which time an active lava flow extended about 800 m toward E or NE, and several smaller lobes occasionally spilled from the effusive vent. The activity was characterized by surges that occurred about once per minute, but Scarpinati did not see any lava spattering at the effusive vent. At the summit of the SE Crater, however, vigorous Strombolian activity produced explosions every 10 seconds or so, with jets of incandescent ejecta rising up to 300 m above the summit of the crater. During his 30 minutes of observation, Scarpinati noted a decrease in the lava output, but other observations made before dawn on 7 June revealed that the activity (both effusive and Strombolian) continued vigorously through at least 0600 h. At 0800 h, Scarpinati noted forceful ash emissions at the summit vent of the SE Crater, but these emissions disappeared during the following hour. A dense gas plume continues to be emitted from the effusive vent on the NNE flank of the SE Crater during the forenoon of 7 June, and it is assumed that lava effusion is continuing.

8 June 2001 update. After the vigorous effusive and Strombolian activity of yesterday (7 June) morning, the Southeast Crater has once more settled into a state of total inactivity during the late afternoon of yesterday, and no eruptive activity has been observed since then (that is, through the late forenoon of 8 June). This is an exact repetition of the eruptive quiet observed between the morning and late evening of 6 June, which lasted up to 20 hours. The activity might therefore resume soon, possibly before midnight on 8 June, and be as vigorous as (or even more vigorous than) the previous episode of lava emission and Strombolian activity at the SE Crater. Although at the moment this hypothesis is nothing else than speculative, this change in the eruptive behavior of the crater could mark a return to episodic activity, similar to that observed in 2000, and eruptive episodes might be much more violent than the activity observed in the past few months. That would also mean that visits to the summit area are becoming more dangerous, and it is recommended that no one approach the area of the recent lava emission at the SE Crater, since eruptive episodes might start quite instantaneously.

9 June 2001 update. The "forecast" made in the previous (8 June) update was fully correct except for the precise timing: a new eruptive episode has indeed occurred at the Southeast Crater, but rather than occurring "before midnight" on 8 June, most of it occurred AFTER midnight on 9 June.
The first indications of the imminent eruptive episode were observed by the ceaselessly alert Giuseppe Scarpinati (Italian delegate of the Paris-based Association Volcanologique Européenne, or "L.A.V.E.") at about 2200 h on 8 June (local time=GMT+2) from his home in Acireale. At this time a small incandescent spot was visible at the NNE flank vent of the Southeast Crater, but there were no indications of flowing lava or any type of explosive degassing. Lava began to issue in earnest from the NNE flank vent sometime after midnight on 9 June, and during the following hours the activity gradually increased, until, by about 0345 h, lava fountains were continuously rising from the NNE flank vent, and Strombolian bursts occurred at the summit vent of the crater. Scarpinati was back observing the activity at about 0410 h when continuous, Hawaiian-style lava fountaining occurred at the NNE flank vent and Strombolian bursts continued at the summit vent. Two well-developed lava flows had already formed, one toward the Valle del Leone which was between 1 and 1.5 km long (the longer value has been given on the web site of Charles Rivière), while the second, directed toward southeast, was only a few hundred meters long and split into several lobes. This latter flow had apparently stopped moving already and was gradually cooling.
After 0500 h the fountaining at the NNE flank vent decreased in intensity and was soon replaced by discrete Strombolian bursts which occurred about every 1.5 seconds, until there was a further reduction in the level of activity at about 0530 h. In this late phase, Scarpinati observed the appearance of a glowing area between the NNE flank vent and the summit vent of the Southeast Crater, which, however, never started to produce true eruptive activity.
By about 0800 h, the activity had declined to low levels, and lava outflow from the NNE flank vent had essentially ceased. However, during the following hours Etna's summit area remained volcanically active. By 1100 h, the Bocca Nuova's northwestern vent produced frequent explosive ash emissions, and Strombolian explosions were occasionally visible at the summit vent of the Southeast Crater.
This eruptive episode occurred two days after its predecessor and was very similar in character, though slightly stronger (lava fountains from the NNE flank vent rose up to 150 m high). A main feature which distinguishes these events from those of last year (when there were no less than 66 powerful eruptive episodes at the Southeast Crater in the course of 7 months) is that the main seat of activity is now the NNE flank vent, while the summit vent of the SE Crater does not produce tall, sustained lava fountains, but only vigorous Strombolian explosions.
This latest event confirms the assumptions expressed in the previous updates on this page that the Southeast Crater has returned to episodic eruptive activity and may continue in this manner for some time to come. Unfortunately the dynamics of magma ascent, storage and explosive degassing are still poorly understood, and it remains largely mysterious why there are such changes from episodic to continuous and then again episodic activity such as observed in the course of the past 18 months at the Southeast Crater.

11 June 2001 update. Two days after its latest eruptive episode (9 June), the Southeast Crater erupted once more on the early morning of 11 June, for the third time in 5 days. This event might have been stronger than the previous one, which means that the intensity of eruptive episodes at the Southeast Crater is progressively increasing.
On 10 June, Etna remained in a state of complete quiet. Giuseppe Scarpinati (Italian delegate of the Paris-based Association Volcanologique Européenne, or "L.A.V.E.") visited the summit area in the late forenoon and described the SE Crater and the growing cone on its NNE flank as "absolutely dead", while there were sporadic, deep-seated explosions occurring at the NW vent of the Bocca Nuova. At nightfall (about 2130 h local time=GMT+2), no incandescence was visible anywhere in the summit area except for a brief glow at the Bocca Nuova, possibly produced by one of its rare Strombolian explosions.
However, things were to change soon. Mild Strombolian activity began at about 0300 h on 11 June at the summit vent of the SE Crater and at the NNE flank vent, and at 0430, lava fountains rose from the latter, while more intense Strombolian bursts occurred at the summit vent. As day broke (about 0500 h), a dark tephra-laden eruption column was seen rising from the summit vent, while fountains jetted about 150 m above the NNE flank vent. Strong tephra emission continued from the summit vent until about 0600 h and rapidly declined thereafter; the plume drifted to SW and had reached the Monti Iblei (about 50 km S of Etna) by about 0930 h. Gas emission from the SE Crater continued through the early afternoon.
Based on the eruptive behavior observed in the past week, it is very likely that more eruptive episodes will occur at the SE Crater in the near future, although it is not clear whether the crater will maintain its surprisingly regular rhythm with eruptive episodes occurring every 2 days and few hours. In any case, the situation is now very similar to that during the first months of last year when eruptive episodes were separated by intervals lasting 6 hours to 10 days.

12 June 2001 update. The Southeast Crater has remained inactive after the latest eruptive episode on the morning of 11 June, with only wisps of gas rising from its summit vent. This quiet, however, might soon be interrupted by another eruptive episode, similar to the three events of the past 7 days. At present (12 June, noon) there are little signs that could help to forecast if and when another paroxysm will take place, but it is possible that there will be one within the next 24-48 hours. If not, then the dynamics of Etna's eruptive activity have once more changed, and it will be very difficult to say what will happen next. In spite of continuous sophisticated monitoring, the volcano remains largely mysterious.

Several other web pages covering the recent and ongoing eruptions of the Southeast Crater are now available; these contain photos and movie clips of some of the most spectacular moments of that period.

Etna in 2000 - a list of all paroxysms at the SE Crater since 26 January and photos (this site)

Etna in 2000 - various pages at Stromboli On-line with photos and movie clips of SE Crater paroxysms and Bocca Nuova gas rings: most photos are of Marco Fulle, the artist photographer among us

Extremely spectacular video clips, taken by British cameraman and film maker David Bryant on 15 February 2000
At "Italy's Volcanoes" -
At Stromboli On-line

An interview with Boris Behncke, made in late February 2000 by a BBC team and a video clip (RealPlayer)

Photos of the eruptive activity, 15-23 February 2000, by Tom Pfeiffer (University of Arhus, Denmark) - scroll to bottom of page

Alain Catté (Association Volcanologique Européenne) has photos of Etna
from many years

Photos of an eruptive episode on 13 February 2000, posted on the web site of the Association Volcanologique Européenne, Paris, France

Thorsten Boeckel's web site (Germany) with photos and movie clips of several paroxysm of the SE Crater in February, April and June 2000

A small web page reporting on Etna's current activity - and check what happens to your cursor on that page...

Charles Rivière's Etna home page, with many photos and video clips (the most recent of the paroxysm of 5 May 2000), frequent updates, and other, highly interesting items (in French and English)

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Page set up on 27 May 1997, last modified on 12 June 2001

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