Italy's Volcanoes: The Cradle of Volcanology

Etna Decade Volcano, Italy
Eruption update:
13-16 February 2000

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The Etna telecamera is maintained by the "Sistema Poseidon" 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.

Video captures of the 11 February 2000 paroxysm
A detailed description of the event is available on the archived previous Etna updates page

11 February 2000 11 February 2000
These two images show the SE Crater cone seen from the east during the paroxysm shortly after 2200 h on 11 February. Left frame shows lava flowing down the southern (left) and northern (right) side of the fractured cone and fountains jetting from several vent in the upper part of the cone. The four main fountains are seen in the right frame
11 February 2000 11 February 2000
Left frame: Minor lava fountains play from numerous vents on the N flank of the SE Crater cone at the height of the paroxysm. A voluminous bilobate lava flow fed by these fountains is shown in right frame, moving towards the Valle del Bove

WARNING: Access to the summit area is VERY DANGEROUS. Violent eruptive episodes are occurring about twice per day at the Southeast Crater, and heavy showers of tephra (including clasts tens of centimeters in diameter) may occur up to several kilometers away. 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. 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.

16 February 2000 update. The twenty-seventh paroxysmal eruptive episode of the Southeast Crater since 26 January occurred shortly after 1600 h (local time=GMT+1) on 16 February, little more than nine hours after its predecessor. As usual, the culminating phase of the event was very short-lived (less than ten minutes) and consisted of violent lava fountaining and emission of lava flows on the southern (and possibly northern) flank of the SE Crater cone. An eruption column consisting mainly of vapor but containing ash in its lower part rose at least 5 km above the summit of Etna and then drifted to the SE. As of nightfall on 16 February, lava continued to flow from a new vent at the SSE base of the SE Crater cone.
On the same day at about 0700 h, the SE Crater had produced its previous paroxysm. Like its predecessors it produced tall lava fountains, minor lava flows and a spectacular eruption column. According to Giuseppe Scarpinati who observed the event from his home in Acireale, the culminating phase was of short duration - maybe less than 10 minutes, and affected mostly the southern side of the SE Crater cone.
The previous paroxysm had occurred just after 1800 h (local time=GMT+1) on 15 February. The event was perfectly visible from Catania and other locations south, east and north of the volcano and produced huge lava fountains, possibly higher than 500 m, lava flows (mainly on the S side of the SE Crater cone), and an eruption column that rose several kilometers into the sky. The culminating phase apparently lasted somewhat longer than those of previous episodes, but by 1830 all explosive activity had ended. Only at the end of the most intense activity the vents on the N flank of the cone reactivated, producing a minor lava flow. The repose period between this paroxysm and the previous one was one of the longest (26 hours) of the past two weeks.
Marco Fulle (Astronomical Observatory of Trieste, Italy), Tom Pfeiffer (University of Arhus, Denmark), British cameraman David Bryant and others were at Torre del Filosofo when the paroxysm occurred. Fulle reported that the first evidence of the imminent paroxysm was an increase in the gas output at the crater, shortly before 1800 h. Within a few minutes, Strombolian bursts became visible at the summit vent of the SE Crater cone, and lava began to flow from a vent high on the S flank. The Strombolian activity continued for several minutes, followed by a powerful incandescent blast that sent ballistic bombs far beyond the base of the cone, and large, still molten lumps of lava fell at Torre del Filosofo, forcing the group of observers to seek shelter on the SE side of the building. However, from then on all the fallout was blown to the E by strong wind, and no further pyroclastics fell at Torre del Filosofo.
The most impressing feature of the activity, according to Fulle, was the height of the fountains jetting from the SE Crater. In aggreement with estimates made by Behncke (from Catania) and Scarpinati (from Acireale), the fountain height was at least 500 m. The activity appears to have been more intense in this paroxysm (and also in the previous one) than during earlier paroxysmal episodes.

15 February 2000 update. The saga of paroxysmal eruptive episodes at Etna's Southeast Crater (SE Crater) is continuing. It appears now that since the late evening of Saturday 12 February there have been four eruptive episodes: one around midnight on 12-13 February, one at around noon on 13 February, one at about 0330 h (local time=GMT+1) on 14 February, and the latest one so far (as of on 15 February, shortly after midnight) at 1600 h on the 14th. The event on the early morning of 14 February was observed by Giuseppe Scarpinati from his home in Acireale (north of Catania) and apparently resembled strikingly the spectacular eruptive episode of the evening of 11 February (see photos above), but the volume of lava produced by that paroxysm may have been smaller.
The paroxysm of the afternoon of 14 February was again witnessed by Boris Behncke (Dipartimento di Scienze Geologiche, University of Catania) and Giuseppe Scarpinati at very close quarters. They had climbed to the summit area during the early afternoon in spite of highly uncertain weather conditions and were rewarded by the sudden vanishing of the cloud cover that had veiled the upper part of Etna since the forenoon. Expecting a possible paroxysm at the SE Crater, they chose not to go to the Torre del Filosofo mountain hut - which was right downwind of the crater - but instead reached a spatter rampart formed in 1991 and now half-buried in recent lavas, which stands about 900 m SE of the crater.
Just a few minutes after their arrival in that place, the gas output from the effusive vents on the N flank of the SE Crater cone began to increase, and soon sprays of lava were seen to rise a few tens of meters from the same area. A few minutes later - at exactly 1600 h - a broad, dull red fountain roared from these vents to a height of about 100 m, and gas emissions increased rapidly in a number of spots on the upper N flank. Small rockfalls occurred on the southeastern flank of the cone, possibly caused by seismicity (although no tremors were felt at the observation post of Behncke and Scarpinati).
At 1605 the summit area of the cone was veiled in gas, but soon after a huge jet of glowing bombs was seen rising from the summit, forming a rapidly expanding eruption column. Shortly thereafter, a densely tephra-charged, cauliflower-shaped plume burst obliquely upwards from the S side of the summit of the SE Crater cone. At the same time, incandescent pyroclastics were seen falling from the column to far beyond the base of the cone, but none hit the area from where Behncke and Scarpinati were filming and photographing the activity. It must be noted here that both were equipped with hard hats, gas masks, and they were ready to retire away from the fallout area in case the fallout front approached in their direction. The escape route was easy to walk on and would have permitted rapid movement away from the danger zone.
Instead, the curtain of falling ash and scoriae rapidly extended southwards, towards Torre del Filosofo, and one man, who had previously approached the lava field near the base of the SE Crater cone, was seen running for shelter at the building - he was later found to have escaped unharmed. The continuous loud rumbling of the fountains mixed with the pattering noise of large clasts impacting the snow cover near Torre del Filosofo. While much of the SE Crater cone was hidden from view by dust clouds generated by the continuous rain of pyroclastics onto its flanks, lava could be seen flowing down the S flank in a broad stream a few minutes after the onset of the paroxysmal activity.
At about 1620, the activity began to wane, and the only vent to produce lava fountains was that at the summit of the SE Crater cone. Shortly thereafter, the loud roaring noise faded, and the fountain was replaced by dense ash puffs.
Behncke and Scarpinati explored the area around Torre del Filosofo shortly after the cessation of the activity; this area had been in the main axis of the pyroclastic fallout. Large scoriae formed a near continuous deposit, and many of the clasts were 15-20 cm in diameter or even larger. All consisted of highly inflated scoriae, there were no dense bombs even closer to the base of the SE Crater cone. When descending from Torre del Filosofo on the late afternoon, Behncke and Scarpinati found clasts with diameters of up to 10 cm at a distance of 4 km from the SE Crater, near the upper station of the cable car. Scoria fragments several centimeters across were found near the Rifugio Sapienza, and a continuous sheet of lapilli extended from there southwards to as far as the suburbs of Catania.
Lava continued to advance slowly at the southern base of the SE Crater cone at about 1700 h when the area was examined by Behncke and Scarpinati. The flows had not extended as far as some of the earlier flows, and they had apparently been fed from vents high on the S flank of the SE Crater cone. Lava continued to ooze from these vents, producing frequent incandescent rockfalls.
The observations made during the paroxysm of the afternoon of 14 February confirm once more the typical evolution of such an event. Activity commonly starts at the northern effusive vents, where lava output increases, followed by mild spattering which then rapidly develops into a broad lava fountain. The activity then progressively moves upslope on the northern flank of the SE Crater cone and culminates with the appearance of several tall lava fountains from vents at and near the summit. This climactic stage lasts approximately 10 minutes and is followed by a rapid diminuition of the activity, passing into ash emissions and a few isolated jets of lava, before all eruptive phenomena cease altogether. In some events, this last stage is characterized by one or more violent explosions that eject large lumps of lava all over the cone.
The cone of the SE Crater has grown visibly since the last summit visit by Behncke and Scarpinati on 8 February, and a deep notch is present in the southern and northern crater rims. Lava has fanned out at the southern base of the cone, and between eruptive episodes lava apparently oozes slowly from vents on the upper S flank of the cone.
It cannot be said how long this series of paroxysmal eruptive episodes will continue, and what will occur after that. For the moment the eruptive activity of Etna is limited to the summit area, and the flanks below the SE Crater cone show no evidence of structural instability which might lead to a flank eruption. Etna produces almost continuous, and often vigorous, eruptive activity from all four summit craters - at times simultaneously, at times only at one or two craters - since the summer of 1995. This is a fairly long period, but between 1955 and 1971 there was near continuous summit activity and no flank eruption, so that the present activity may continue to be restricted to the summit area for still some time, maybe years.

13 February 2000 update. Weather conditions have worsened over this weekend, seriously hampering visual observations of the activity in the summit area of Etna, and in this moment it is difficult to follow the course of events. Furthermore, the tempo of the eruptive activity at the Southeast Crater (SE Crater) has apparently accelerated once more, with three eruptive episodes in 12 hours between the late evening of 11 February and the forenoon of 12 February. The eruptive paroxysm, which occurred at about 2200 h (local time=GMT+1) on 11 February, was featured in spectacular video footage which has been shown in all major news services of the world. As a result, this page received more than 800 hits on 12 February, unprecedented in the history of "Italy's Volcanoes".
After the paroxysm on the evening of 11 February, the SE Crater went through its shortest repose interval so far, 6 hours, and then erupted again at around 0400 h on 12 February, in a manner much similar to the previous episode. Yet another eruptive episode occurred after a similarly short repose interval at about 1000 h on 12 February. Nothing is known about the activity since then, but it is assumed that one or more paroxysmal episodes have occurred.

Lava flowing from vents on the N flank of the SE Crater cone (which is seen immediately above the church tower) on 8 February 2000. Photo was probably taken shortly before or after an eruptive episode at the SE Crater from the village of Zafferana by press photographer Fabrizio Villa/Associated Press

Several other web pages covering the October-November 1999 eruptions of the Bocca Nuova have recently been 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
(This page has received an incredible 4362 hits during the week of 24-30 October 1999. 4430 hits were counted the week after. However, this is nothing compared to the more than 1000 visitors daily in mid-February 2000)
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Page set up on 27 May 1997, last modified on 18 February 2000

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