Italy's Volcanoes: The Cradle of Volcanology

Etna Decade Volcano, Italy
Eruption update:
2-12 November 1999

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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 "Sorveglianza visiva"

25 October 1999

Etna seen from NW (near the village of Maletto) on the afternoon of 25 October 1999, with a large lava flow running down its W flank. The course of the flow is marked by a white gas plume. At the time the photo was taken, the flow front had nearly reached the forest limit.

25 October 1999

25 October 1999

The W flank of Etna with the large lava flow of 25 October, seen from near the town of Bronte on the late afternoon of that day (upper photograph taken at about 1730 h, during a small ash explosion, the lower one at about 1930 h). Note black lavas on slope to the right of the active flow (marked by the white gas plumes), which were emplaced during the week before.

WARNING: Access to the summit craters is EXTREMELY DANGEROUS. Activity in the Bocca Nuova and the Voragine is very intense, and bombs are falling over all of the summit area. Access to the craters themselves is absolutely impossible. Besides this, weather conditions are often unstable, even during the summer; summit visitors may be surprised by snowstorms (as occurred on 24 July 1999) or thunderstorms: one man was killed by lightning at about 2000 m elevation near Piano Provenzana on 30 August. Any person who enters the area beyond the Torre del Filosofo mountain hut (2900 m elevation) or the hut of the guides on the northern flank (Baita delle guide, 3000 m elevation) goes at his/her own risk and is not covered by any insurance in case a rescue operation (e.g., with helicopters) is necessary.

12 November 1999 update. After another episode of vigorous lava fountaining and overflows on the W flank on the evevening of 3 November, activity at the Bocca Nuova appears to have diminished considerably, and it seems that also the effusive activity near the Southeast Crater cone has almost ceased. However, since 4 November bad weather conditions have permitted only rare glimpses of the summit area of Etna; the first substantial snow falls have occurred on the mountain, and access to the summit area has become difficult. In spite of the poor weather conditions Giuseppe Scarpinati visited the summit area on 6 November and observed very minor lava emission and a sluggish lava flow at the effusive vents at the ESE base of the Southeast Crater cone; it seems that there was little activity elsewhere in the summit area on that day. The following days were characterized by low levels of activity any time the summit area was visible, and there was no incandescence at night, neither near the Southeast Crater nor at the Bocca Nuova. On the morning of 12 November, there was renewed ash emission from the Bocca Nuova before clouds again prevented any further observation.
The current interval of relative quiet does not necessarily imply that the spectacular activity initiated several weeks ago has completely ceased. During the 1964 summit eruptions, which were very similar to the recent activity, eruptive episodes separated by quiet intervals of days to weeks occurred over a period of 5 months. This means that the Bocca Nuova may well resume its activity within the next days to weeks.

2 November 1999 update. During the past six days (since 27 October), the activity of the Bocca Nuova has continued at relatively high levels, although there have been no further episodes of paroxysmal activity since that day. Different from the previous week, the activity has been virtually continuous, and has concentrated essentially at the northernmost vent in the Bocca Nuova, where a large pyroclastic cone is rapidly building. Lava continues to flow in surges over the W rim of the crater to run down the W flank on top of earlier flows without reaching the extension of the longest flows produced between 17 and 27 October. On 31 October, the activity at the hornitos on the ESE base of the Southeast Crater cone intensified and continued spectacularly through the evening of 1 November.
The activity between 25 and 27 October consisted of at least two major episodes of intense explosive activity at the Bocca Nuova, resulting in major overflows of lava onto the W flank of the volcano. The longest flows ran down along the S side of a row of small scoria cones formed during an eruption in 1843 and covered the Forestale Road to the S of Monte Nunziata over a width of about 100 m before extending about 200 m further downslope and consuming pine and birch trees. This flow reached its full extension (more than 5 km from the Bocca Nuova) during the night of 27-28 October and then stopped; by 29 October it was stagnant and gas was issuing from various places along the flow margins near the interrupted Forestale Road.
Vigorous lava jetting from the Bocca Nuova was observed at about 0600 h (local time=GMT+2) by Giovanni Sturiale (Dipartimento di Scienze Geologiche of the University of Catania); this activity had declined to discrete Strombolian bursts accompanied by loud rumbling sounds when Sturiale, Boris Behncke, Tom Pfeiffer (University of Aarhus, Denmark, and author of a splendid web page about Santorini volcano) and another person climbed to the summit area at about 1030 h. When they arrived at the S base of the main summit cone (which hosts the Bocca Nuova and the Voragine), occasional bursts of incandescent bombs from the NW vent in the Bocca Nuova; at 1130 h the SE vents in the same crater suddenly reactivated and began to produce forceful ejections of dark gray ash and blocks. The ejecta from these vents were apparently derived from older material filling the vents; there were no incandescent fragments among the ejecta. Passing underneath the SW-directed plume, from which there was a continuous shower of lapilli up to 0.5 cm in diameter, Behncke, Sturiale and their companions reached the S margin of the new lava flow-field below the W rim of the Bocca Nuova at about 1200 h. Vigorous Strombolian activity was occurring at the NW vent where the top of the new pyroclastic cone was seen projecting a few tens of meters above the Bocca Nuova rim; forceful ash emission continued at the SE vents. A modest lava flow was running through a well-defined channel immediately N of the peculiar extrusive pinnacle formed on 25 October on the W rim of the crater, and extended to about 2500 m elevation on the W flank of Etna. At about 1245 h the activity from the NW vent increased notably, with strong blasts inclined to the NW, and less frequent bursts from another vent immediately adjacent to the S or SE. One hour later, Behncke and another member of the team descended the steep W flank of the volcano to examine the lava flows emplaced in that area during the previous two weeks
Between 1730 and 1800, the two members of the team who had remained near the Bocca Nuova observed a gradual increase of the activity at the NW vent in the crater, with some bursts reaching heights of 500 m above the vent. While the active lava flow on the W flank was advancing only very slowly, a new, more voluminous surge of lava began to spill down along the same path at about 1800; this flow extended a few hundred meters below the earlier one. A second, much smaller and much slower flow was observed on the upper WNW flank where incandescent blocks detached almost continously from the flow front and rolled hundreds of meters down the steep slope.
Vigorous pulsating lava jetting from the NW vent of the Bocca Nuova was continuing when observations ended at about 2230.
On 30 October, Tom Pfeiffer
revisited the summit area and reported that relatively mild Strombolian activity continued throughout the day, although there was a distinct increase towards the afternoon. Pfeiffer climbed to the E rim of the Voragine from where he enjoyed a fairly good view of this crater and of part of the adjacent Bocca Nuova. The entire area of the Voragine including the E rim was covered with bombs, probably ejected during the previous two weeks from the Bocca Nuova, and the Voragine itself "had ceased to exist": the large 4 September 1999 crater in the W part of the crater was filled to within about 40 m of its rim. The active cone at the NW vent in the Bocca Nuova was seen to stand very close to the location of the former "diaframma" of which no trace was visible. Pfeiffer observed continued emission of blocks and ash from the SE vents in the Bocca Nuova, forming a plume that was driven to the SW.
On the evening of 31 October, Giuseppe Scarpinati (Italian member of the French Association Volcanologique Européenne - LAVE) observed from his home in the town of Acireale (about 18 km SE of Etna) that vigorous lava spattering had resumed at the site of the effusive activity on the ESE base of the Southeast Crater cone, and lava emission from that site had increased. The next day, this kind of activity continued, attracting thousands of tourists who ascended the volcano with the cable-car from the Rifugio Sapienza on the S flank of Etna. Scarpinati visited the area of effusive activity on 1 November and described the activity as very spectacular, with voluminous lava flows running towards the Valle del Bove, and spattering from a group of hornitos.
Later on 1 November, Giada and Boris Behncke and a group of four more persons climbed to the SW side of the Bocca Nuova where vigorous Strombolian activity continued from the NW vent, and occasional weak Strombolian bursts occurred from a second vent further to the S. The most striking change since the previous visit three days earlier was the presence of a new eruptive vent on the W flank of the Bocca Nuova, below the extrusive pinnacle of 25 October. This vent, the first to open outside the Bocca Nuova in the current eruptive period, produced mild spattering and emitted lava in at least three branches. The southernmost of these branches ran along the S margin of the new lava field W of the main summit cone, cutting another section (about 10 m) of the summit dirt road, and descended little further. Lava was emitted in surges, with new lava lobes overrunning each other repeatedly. The explosive activity at the NW vent in the Bocca Nuova produced jets up to 300 m high, but about 90 per cent of the ejected bombs fell back into the crater, contributing to further growth of the large pyroclastic cone around the vent. A dense fall of ash and lapilli (with maximum diameters of several millimeters) occurred to the SW of the Bocca Nuova.
Based on the observations of the past six days, it appears that the activity has settled into a more regular pattern. The opening of the new vent below the W rim of the Bocca Nuova is probably due to the intrusion of lava under the extrusive pinnacle of 25 October, and not to the opening of a new fracture towards the W flank. It is assumed that this activity will continue for weeks.

visitors counted since 12 February 1999
(This page has received an incredible 4362 hits during the week of 24-30 October! - And, amazingly enough, 4430 hits were counted the week after.)
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Page set up on 27 May 1997, last modified on 2 November 1999

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