Italy's Volcanoes: The Cradle of Volcanology

Etna Decade Volcano, Italy
Eruption update:
5-16 May 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.

26 April 2000

The eruptive episode at the SE Crater on the morning of 26 April 2000, seen from the home of Giovanni Sturiale (Dipartimento di Scienze Geologiche, University of Catania) in the town of Sant'Agata li Battiati to the N of Catania. This photo was taken towards the end of the paroxysm, when tephra emission was diminishing, but heavy tephra falls were continuing to the SE (right in the photo). Note dense brownish plume travelling across the Valle del Bove (behind the crest below the eruption column)

5 May 2000

This is a very similar view to the one above, except that it was taken during the evening of 5 May 2000, when the SE Crater erupted again. The illumination is thus very different. At the time of the eruptive episode, the sun had already set behind the horizon, but the upper part of the eruption colum was still spectacularly illuminated, producing beautiful shades of yellow, orange and gray. Note streaks of falling tephra below the eruption column to the right. Photo by Giovanni Sturiale. More photos of the paroxysms of 26 April and 5 May can be viewed below

WARNING: Access to the summit area is VERY DANGEROUS. Violent eruptive episodes are occurring every few days at the Southeast Crater, and heavy showers of tephra (including clasts tens of centimeters in diameter) may occur up to several kilometers away. Lava may also arrive rapidly at up to 1.5 km of distance from the crater on the plain between Torre del Filosofo, Monte Frumento Supino, and the summit crater cones. The Torre del Filosofo area, which is familiar to many excursionists, is presently not a safe place at all. Tourists are presently not allowed to go beyond 2700 m elevation, and they should make excursions only with the mountain guides. Besides this, weather conditions are often unstable. Strong wind, snow or rain and clouds are occuring frequently in the summit area, 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, or (during the summer) at the hotel "Le Betulle" at Piano Provenzana, on the northern side.

16 May 2000 update. No forecast or prediction was made for an eruptive event that occurred late in the evening of 15 May, only about 12 hours after the latest paroxysmal eruptive episode from the SE Crater, and so Etna has once more surprised many who are observing its activity.
Residents of towns around the volcano heard loud detonations at around 2315 h, and some were able to observe vigorous eruptive activity in the summit area of Etna. While people watching this activity from the S flank believed that the SE Crater was producing yet another paroxysm, the view from the E sector proved that this time it was the NE Crater that erupted. Ash falls this time affected the S sector of the volcano, arriving as far as Catania, which lies some 25-30 km from the NE Crater. No details of the activity are available as of the afternoon of 16 May, but it seems that there were lava fountains and/or powerful Strombolian explosions. Strong gas emission from the crater was observed on the morning of 16 May.

Photos of the 26 April 2000 paroxysm:
The view from Sant'Agata li Battiati

These photos are courtesy of Giovanni Sturiale

26 April 2000
26 April 2000
26 April 2000
26 April 2000

Eruptive episode at the SE Crater on the morning of 26 April 2000, photographed from the town of Sant'Agata li Battiati (to the N of Catania). These four photos, taken at intervals of about 5 minutes at the same angle, show the progressive growth of the eruption column that rises from the crater, eventually reaching a height of about 5 km above the summit of Etna. Note fallout to the right of the column in last image. Shortly after this eruptive episode an airplane encountered the plume while taking off from the international airport of Catania, and had to return to the airport. The pilot reported that the plume had not been visible to him

Photos of the 5 May 2000 paroxysm:
The view from Sant'Agata li Battiati

These photos are courtesy of Giovanni Sturiale

5 May 2000 5 May 2000 5 May 2000

Eruptive episode at the SE Crater on the evening of 5 May 2000, seen from the home of Giovanni Sturiale in Sant'Agata li Battiati; view is the same as in the 26 April 2000 photos above. The episode occurred shortly after sunset, but the higher parts of the eruption column are still illuminated by the setting sun.

15 May 2000 update (1900 h local time). The forecast made in the previous update below (15 May 2000, 0235 h) has been fully correct. The 53rd paroxysmal eruptive episode from the SE Crater occurred on 15 May between 1130 and 1200 h, after little more than 12 hours of premonitory minor activity. Lava emission from the N flank of the SE Crater cone appears to have begun at about 2300 h on 14 May, as observed by Giuseppe Scarpinati (Italian delegate of the Paris-based Association Volcanologique Europeenne, L.A.V.E.) from his home in Acireale. At about 0200 h on 15 May, Boris Behncke (Dipartimento di Scienze Geologiche, University of Catania) observed that a lava flow several hundred meters long had formed to the NE of the SE Crater cone, but no explosive activity was seen at the source of that flow, neither was there any activity visible at the summit of the cone. The resumption of the activity was taken as evidence that the crater had entered into the buildup phase of the next paroxysm, which was expected to occur within the following 24 hours, most probably before 1200 h on 15 May.
The crater did behave exactly as expected. At 1130 h, as Marco Fulle (Stromboli On-line) and his wife Francesca were at about 2700 m elevation, near the destroyed former upper cable car station on the S flank, they heard the noise of the beginning paroxysmal phase of the activity. Soon afterwards, the cloud cover that had previously prevented any visibility in the summit area was torn open by a tremendous thermal uprush, and the cone of the SE Crater became visible, ejecting an intensely red lava fountain to hundreds of meters above the vent. This activity lasted until about 1200 and then rapidly subsided, followed by intense gas emission from the S flank of the cone. It is not known whether there was any lava emission in that area.
According to Fulle, the tephra was probably blown to the SE, but he noted that "there was very little wind". However, Giovanni Sturiale (Dipartimento di Scienze Geologiche, University of Catania) received a heavy shower of scoriaceous lapilli while staying in the area of Fornazzo, on the ENE flank of Etna. The southern margin of the fallout sector passed to the S of that village, which means that the most affected area is probably the NE flank.
The SE Crater will now fall back into a state of complete inactivity, which may last 9-10 days. If the crater continues to behave as regularly as it has done since early April, then the next paroxysmal eruptive episode will be preceded by minor eruptive activity, probably in the form of lava extrusion from the N flank. The beginning of this activity will be followed after about 12-18 hours by a phase of violent lava fountaining and tephra emission, and probably also by lava emission on the N or S flank of its cone, or both.
Although this latest eruptive episode repeated in all details its predecessors, something was different this time in Etna's summit area. The SE Crater was not the only crater to erupt in the past 24 hours. When Scarpinati observed the summit area on the late evening of 14 May, he saw "quite intense" Strombolian activity from a location which clearly lay to the N of the source of the lava flow of the SE Crater, probably at the NE Crater. This crater had shown signs of increasing activity in the past two weeks. On 14 May, Sturiale, who was on the NE flank of the volcano, observed frequent emissions of dense, ash-laden plumes from the crater. Shortly before noon on 15 May, Sturiale was near the village of Fornazzo on the ENE flank of Etna and observed vigorous ash emission from the NE Crater - this was at the same time when the SE Crater produced the paroxysm. Sturiale could not see the SE Crater, which was hidden behind weather clouds, but the NE Crater was visible; the noise of the lava jetting at the SE Crater was well audible, so that he thought the NE Crater had entered into a paroxysmal episode.
The NE Crater, which was the most active vent at Etna's summit for most of the 20th century but became less active after the early 1980's, was last active in September-October 1999, when it produced near continuous Strombolian bursts during a period of about 3 weeks. In September 1986 the crater produced one of the most violent eruptive episodes observed on Etna in recent decades.

15 May 2000 update (02:35 h local time). Lava is flowing from the N flank of the SE Crater since the late evening of 14 May. The new lava flow was first seen by Giuseppe Scarpinati from Acireale somtime around 2300 h, along with Strombolian activity from a site that was distinctly to the N of the SE Crater (maybe the NE Crater?). The effusive activity was seen to be significantly more vigorous at 0200 h by Boris Behncke, while driving from Acireale to Catania.
The resumption of effusive activity from vents on the fracture cutting from N to S across the SE Crater is an almost certain indicator that a new paroxysmal eruptive episode will occur within less than 24 hours, probably before noon on 15 May. The SE Crater thus remains extremely faithful to its very regular eruptive behavior in the past six weeks. The Strombolian activity seen by Scarpinati to the N of the SE Crater and its active lava flow cannot be well understood at this moment, but more information will be posted as soon as it becomes available.

13 May 2000 update. The SE Crater has remained quiet for the eigth consecutive day after its latest paroxysmal eruptive episode on 5 May. This was to be expected, since the repose intervals between such events have been very regular in the past month, varying from 9.5 to 10 days. If the crater maintains this regular behavior, the next eruptive episode - the 53rd in less than four months - can be expected to occur on 14 or 15 May. An interesting question is whether the current repose interval will follow the observed trend of a very gradual shortening of these quiet intervals.
On the late forenoon of 13 May, very minor gas emission was seen somewhere on the lower S flank of the SE Crater cone, but observations were rendered difficult by bad weather conditions. If there is really gas emission from that area - maybe the Sudestino cone at the S base of the cone - this may be taken as an almost certain indicator that the crater is beginning to reactivate, and this will very likely lead to the expected next paroxysmal episode. The next few days will show if these assumptions are realistic.
There has been a light snow fall in the summit area of Etna on 13 May. Different from the past three years, the summer is not beginning as abruptly in Sicily in this year; there is actually a spring season, which in the past few years had been omitted. Yet the temperature has been rising rapidly in Catania since 12 May, but still the weather conditions are unstable, creating some difficulty for many people who are on "eruption watch" at Etna, hoping to catch the next paroxysm...
You may now watch some very impressive movie clips (avi format) of the 5 May paroxysm that have been posted on the Etna web site of Charles Rivière who witnessed the event from Torre del Filosofo. The most up-to-date section of the site is in French. The movies are also available (as Quicktime files) at Stromboli On-line.

8 May 2000 update. A state of relative quiet has prevailed at Etna's summit craters since the latest paroxysm at the SE Crater on 5 May. Yet that area has not been totally silent. On 6-7 May, there were frequent emissions of ash from the NE Crater, which had last shown significant activity in the first half of October 1999. These new signs of activity were possibly related to the sliding of material from the crater walls into the deeper parts of its conduit, which is steadily degassing. While the emissions continued to the early afternoon of 7 May, none have been noted since. It has to be noted that similar emissions occurred sporadically in the summer of 1999, heralding the gradual reactivation of the summit craters that culminated in the spectacular eruptions of September-November 1999.
At the same time, the Bocca Nuova has become much more busy in producing gas rings. On the late afternoon of 7 May, Behncke and others, while resting at the Rifugio Citelli on the NE flank of Etna observed the emission of five gas rings within about one minute; hundreds of such rings were produced throughout the day.
This slight increase in the activity was interpreted by Robert Clocchiatti and Charles Rivière as a response to changes in the magmatic pressure regime in the central conduit system of the volcano as a result of the violent eruptive episode at the SE Crater on 5 May. This paroxysm was described as even more violent than that of 16 April (based on comparison of video footage of both events by the mountain guide Antonio Nicoloso and Charles Rivière). It seems that some bombs fell again at the Torre del Filosofo (Rivière had to seek shelter under the protective roof on the SE side of the building), but most bombs fell to the SE of the crater, and heavy tephra fall occurred also at the "Belvedere" lookout on the rim of the Valle del Bove, about 2 km SE of the crater, which is the point where guided tourist tours terminate in these days.
In the meantime several towns and villages on the E and SE sides of the volcano have to cope with the lapilli and ash that have fallen during the recent paroxysms of the SE Crater. The town of Zafferana, one of the most stricken, is under a state of calamity since 1 March, and has asked financial and technical aid from the regional and national governments; in the past few months the town has received nine showers of tephra from the SE Crater eruptions. Even towns lying at greater distance from the summit have to struggle with the fallout. After the 5 May paroxysm, Giuseppe Scarpinati had to remove 100 kilograms of lapilli from his terrace in Acireale, which he had just cleaned from the lapilli of the previous paroxysm of 26 April.
It seems that people living near Etna - especially in the sector encompassing the NE, E and SE sides of the volcano - have to face a long period of ongoing pyroclastic eruptions from the summit craters, and more tephra falls are to be expected. As a rule, summit eruptions at Etna are more explosive than flank eruptions, and in the past 5 years, summit eruptions have been near continuous. In contrast to earlier periods of long-lasting summit activity, the eruptions in the past 5 years have been more intense and had more frequent episodes of paroxysmal activity. It is not known how long this exceptional summit activity will continue (and many hope that it will continue, in spite of the tephra falls, because once they will end, they will do so because there will be flank activity), but it is possible that it will do so for some years to come.

6 May 2000 update. Just as this update is posted, at dusk on 6 May, dark gray emissions (ash?) have appeared at the NE Crater (no typo, this is the North-east Crater). These emissions are visible from Acireale (information from Giuseppe Scarpinati), and a diffuse plume is drifting towards SE. The activity is definitely not coming from the SE Crater, which has returned to its intereruptive state of quiescence. In the meantime information has emerged about an incident related to the latest eruptive episode at the SE Crater on 5 May.
The 6 May edition of the local newspaper "La Sicilia", reporting on the event, tells the dramatic story of a German tourist who remained in the summit area to see the eruptive activity and was later reported missing by his daughter, who had descended earlier from the mountain. The man had not returned when it got dark, while the activity culminated in the paroxysm, and a search operation was launched by the Alpine rescue corps on the upper S flank of the volcano. The search was rendered difficult by falling tephra, weather clouds and increasing darkness. Finally the man was found while descending on the track towards Piano Provenzana, on the N flank of the mountain.
This incident casts new light on an old problem which has been discussed repeatedly on this page in the past two years or so, and which is also addressed in the box above. In spite of the warning signs exposed at the cable car stations and elsewhere along the roads towards the summit area, many tourists (and lots of them unexperienced) venture to "see the lava" and enter zones of high risk. During the past months it has repeatedly happened to the author of this site that excursionists expressed to him their intention to climb on the cone of the SE Crater, simply not knowing anything about the potential danger, and they could be kept from doing so only after long and insistent explanations. Two young men from Germany had been on the rim of the crater in early 1998 when this was still a fairly harmless affair; at that time there was continuous mild Strombolian activity occurring at a small cone on the crater floor. They believed this was still possible, not realizing that the cone had in the meantime grown by about 100 m and become much steeper (and thus much more difficult to climb), and they did not know that the kind of activity they had witnessed had been replaced by violent paroxysms. On another occasion, during a period of strong explosive activity at the summit craters in September 1999, two people were seen walking on the rim of the Bocca Nuova in spite of dense weather clouds, which would have prevented them from seeing any rock fragments flying towards them.
Fortunately no serious accident caused by the eruptive activity has occurred so far, but with a steadily growing influx of tourists - of which many are absolutely not prepared for the meteorological and eruptive conditions prevailing at Etna's summit - it seems only a question of time that something bad will happen up there. To render things more complex, much of the area around the summit craters has been covered by fresh lava (the dirt road that once connected the S and N flanks has been buried along two sections, each about 1 km long, by lava flows produced during the October-November 1999 activity at the Bocca Nuova, and since March 2000 at the SE Crater, and the section between these lavas is covered by tens of centimeters of fresh scoriae). These lava fields are extremely difficult to walk on, since they have very chaotic surfaces, with very spiny slabs of lava and unstably placed blocks. In the case of a strong eruption escape across this material will be a painful and very slow process.
The aforementioned newspaper report in "La Sicilia" wrongly states that the eruptive episode came from the NE Crater (it really came from the SE Crater) and reports tephra falls at Acireale, Acicastello and Acitrezza. While the latter two towns had been affected by heavy tephra falls during the previous paroxysmal episode on 26 April, they have been spared on 5 May; as reported in the previous update (see below), the southern margin of the tephra fall sector passed across the town of Acireale, to the north of the two smaller towns.
Like its predecessors, this latest eruptive episode was preceded by many hours of minor activity. Charles Rivière reports that mild Strombolian explosions began from the summit vent of the SE Crater during the early forenoon of 5 May, about 12 hours before the main paroxysmal phase. It is thus fully true that these paroxysmal eruptive episodes can be foreseen quite well, since in all recent cases such premonitory activity has unvariably led to a paroxysm within a time frame of 12-18 hours. This has significant implications for timely warnings to tourists, authorities of the sectors most likely to be affected by tephra falls, and the control center at the international airport of Catania. Yet it seems that communication does not work as it should, and there is a strong need for an improved system of timely advice as similar activity is likely to continue for some time at the SE Crater.
Note: Very spectacular photos (captured from video footage) of the 5 May paroxysm are now available on the Etna web site of Charles Rivière who witnessed the event from Torre del Filosofo. The most up-to-date section of the site is in French.

5 May 2000 update. The 52nd paroxysmal eruptive episode from the SE Crater since 6 January occurred on the late afternoon/early evening of 5 May, after nine and a half days of absolute quiet. This event was observed under somewhat difficult conditions by Boris Behncke (Dipartimento di Scienze Geologiche, University of Catania) and Giuseppe Scarpinati (Italian delegate of the Paris-based Association Volcanologique Europeenne, L.A.V.E.), who then mapped the approximate area of tephra fall when freshly fallen, during their return from the volcano.
No signs of eruptive activity were observed during the night of 4-5 May from Acireale (information from Scarpinati). During the early afternoon, Behncke and Scarpinati drove to the volcano for an excursion from the "Piano del Vescovo" (a small plain that lies on the SE flank above the town of Zafferana) to the S rim of the Valle del Bove (Serra del Solfizio) along the deeply incised Vallone Acqua Rocca. During their ascent, frequent loud explosion noises were heard from the summit area, and it soon became apparent that these were not coming from the Bocca Nuova. From the crest of the Serra del Solfizio, Behncke and Scarpinati descended onto the floor of the Valle del Bove and then walked about 1 km upslope along the base of the S rim of the Valle. During this part of the excursion, which lasted about 1.5 hours, the sounds of the eruptive activity became progressively louder and more frequent. A bank of clouds hovered below the summit area, covering it for most of the time, but during occasional breaks in the clouds, the SE Crater became briefly visible, and surprisingly no visible signs of eruptive activity could be made out.
This changed at about 1800 h, when Behncke and Scarpinati had climbed back on the Serra del Solfizio and the clouds had largely disappeared. By this time strong gas emission from the N flank of the SE Crater cone and a line of rising fume to the NE indicated effusive activity at that site; yet no jets of incandescent material or flowing lava were visible. It remained thus a mystery where the explosions which made the noise took place. The Sudestino cone at the S base of the SE Crater cone was plainly visible and did not show any activity. Sometime after 1800 h, small, dark eruption plumes began to rise from the summit of the SE Crater cone at intervals of several minutes. During the following hour the amount of gas rising from the area of the SE Crater increased notably, and by 1900 h it became clear that the plume would drift right in the direction of the place where Behncke and Scarpinati were observing the activity, thus they decided to descend along the Vallone Acqua Rocca to get to the car and escape from the expected fallout. For about 15 minutes the discrete, loud explosion sounds generated by Strombolian activity continued, but then the noise suddenly disappeared, followed almost immediately by the rise of a much denser plume. Shortly before 1930 h Behncke and Scarpinati arrived at the outlet of the Vallone Acqua Rocca near Piano del Vescovo, and looking back up towards the summit area, they noted that a black eruption column began to rise rapidly into the sky above them. A slight rain of ash had already begun a few minutes earlier; on the last 300 m of the path towards the car, scoria fragments up to 3 cm in diameter began to fall around them. When leaving Piano del Vescovo in the car, a heavy downpour of scoriae with diameters of max. 5 cm began.
Racing towards the area of the Rifugio Sapienza to the W, they eventually left the fallout area, but before that they saw scoria lumps as large as 10 cm crash onto the pavement of the road and bursting into smaller fragments. None of these fragments were incandescent. During the drive up to the Rifugio Sapienza, intense tephra emission and lava fountaining continued from the SE Crater, and the eruption column rose several kilometers high, its white upper portion being spectacularly illuminated by the setting sun. This was accompanied by a deep roaring noise that could be heard above the motor of the car. When Behncke and Scarpinati arrived at Monte Vetore, to the SW of the Rifugio Sapienza, the paroxysmal phase of the activity began to decline, and lava fountaining and tephra emission ended by about 2000 h.
When driving back via Zafferana towards Acireale, Behncke and Scarpinati had to go across the area of tephra fallout, crossing various times its northern and southern limits, so that a fairly clear idea of the sector stricken by the ash and scoria fall could be obtained. The northern limit of this sector passes through Zafferana and the village of Santa Venerina, extending to the coast of the Ionian sea near the village of Mangano, whereas its southern limit runs across the village of Monterosso towards Acireale whose northern part received ash and small lapilli, while only traces of ash fell in the southern part of the town. In Poggiofelice and Fleri to the S of Zafferana the fall deposit was continuous, creating traffic problems.
Furthermore it could be observed that lava flows had extended from the vents on the lower N flank of the SE Crater cone towards NE, in the direction of the Valle del Leone. A longer, less brightly incandescent flow had reached a length of 0.5-1 km, while a fresher flow extended about 200 m further to the S.
In the past four weeks the repose intervals between the most recent four eruptive episodes have been remarkably regular. Exactly ten days passed between those of 6 and 16 April, while that of 26 April came after 9 days and 19 hours; the latest repose interval lasted 9 days and almost 12 hours. Three of the latest four paroxysms were relatively short, with their main phases lasting approximately 30 minutes in each case; the 16 April paroxysm had several phases of vigorous activity but its culminating phase lasted 25 minutes. The SE Crater has thus established a fairly regular behavior, even though it is likely that it will not maintain this same rhythm for long.
No eruptive activity has occurred at the other summit craters, except the regular gas bursts from the E vent of the Bocca Nuova, which continue to provide the unusual spectacle of gas rings (one of these rings was seen travelling across the growing eruption column of the SE Crater paroxysm on 5 May).

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)

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)

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

Photos of the 15 February 2000 paroxysm of the SE Crater, by Thorsten Boeckel, Germany

Photos by Marco Fulle, 15-20 February 2000, at Stromboli On-line - very high quality, as usual

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

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