Italy's Volcanoes: The Cradle of Volcanology

Etna Decade Volcano, Italy
Eruption update:
8 September - 16 October 2001
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THE JULY-AUGUST 2001 ERUPTION AREA: This map is still preliminary since detailed mapping of the new eruption products is in progress. It is based on maps posted on the INGV-Sezione Catania web site and on preliminary field mapping by Boris Behncke. The 1983 lava flow field (pink color) is shown for comparison. Roads are shown in violet color. Inset at upper left shows relation of new lavas to towns around Etna.

Do you plan to visit Etna in the near future?
Check the
weather forecasts for the Etnean area and learn about how to prepare for a visit to the mountain

The world-famous Etna telecamera maintained by the "Sistema Poseidon" (now part of the newly constituted Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia) has been off-line since the onset of the July 2001 flank eruption. It has been saved before very strong explosive activity from nearby vents destroyed the hut where it was located. For more information from the INGV about the July-August 2001 summit-flank eruption (including very frequent updates, maps and a few photos), visit this new page; see also links at bottom of this page

WARNING: Etna is currently showing only weak (if any) eruptive activity at the summit craters, but as always visits to the summit area expose escursionists to high risks, especially those risks related to unstable weather conditions. In late August 2001, two excursionists were killed by lightning near the summit, and in early September, five other excursionists had to be rescued during another thunderstorm.
Tourism has resumed on Etna after the end of the recent eruption. Excursions to 2800 m elevation are currently possible from Piano Provenzana on the northern flank, and since a few days tourists can go in Jeeps to about 2500 m elevation on the southern flank. The lava flows and the lowermost eruptive fissure near the Rifugio Sapienza and the cable car base station are easily accessible, but the vent areas are still unstable and should be approached only very carefully, preferably with a local mountain guide.
The mountain guides and excursion services can be contacted at the cable car building (near the Rifugio Sapienza on the southern flank), telephone +39-095-914141; or at the Hotel Le Betulle (Piano Provenzana on the northern flank), telephone +39-095-643430. Further information (in Italian) is available on the Funivia dell'Etna web site.

The latest update is near the bottom of this page

8 September 2001 update. There has been no eruptive activity anywhere on Etna since 10 August, the day when the spectacular and destructive summit-flank eruption ended after little more than three weeks. Unfortunately, since then there have been more victims caused by (essentially easily avoidable) accidents than have been caused by eruptive activity at Etna in the past 14 years. On 22 August, a couple from Switzerland was killed by lightning in the Punta Lucia area at about 2900 m elevation, only about 1 km W of the Northeast Crater. They had climbed from Piano Provenzana on the northern flank and were neither equipped for the tour (both wore sandals and light clothes) nor were they prepared for the unstable weather which usually affects the Etna region in late August-September. A similar accident had occurred almost exactly two years before, when an Israelian tourist was killed by lightning at about 2000 m elevation on the northern flank.
Only ten days later, on 1 September, a group of excursionists who had also gone to the summit area from Piano Provenzana was caught in a violent thunderstorm. Fortunately a search party aided by mountain guides was able to rescue these people in time; also in this case it was observed that the excursionists were not correctly equipped for the tour to the summit area of the mountain.
These accidents once more confirm that many visitors to Etna are completely unaware of the risks of unguided excursions, and very often they wear only light clothes, sandals, they do not carry enough water and food on long excursions, in many cases they go alone, without any maps, compasses and communication means such as cell phones. In the past three years five people have been killed by accidents on Etna, whereas the last time people died in an eruption was in 1987, and in that case they were killed close to the Southeast Crater by a small phreatic explosion.
So the eruption is over, but only now is the scientific community beginning to dig through the huge pile of data that poured in during that event. One thing that can be said for sure already is that this has been the best monitored eruption of Etna so far, and it is likely that this will make us learn more about this volcano than has been learned in more than 2000 years of history before. It has also been understood, while the eruption was still ongoing, that this was one of the most unusual eruptions of Etna in the past few centuries, and it was also one of the most violent (in terms of explosivity) flank eruptions of this volcano in the past century.
As could be expected, some of the first results emerging from recent scientific research have immediately caused controversy. A paper published in the 30 August 2001 of the renowned journal "Nature" by P. Schiano et al. announces that Etna is currently changing behavior, from a more benign hot-spot type eruptive style, to a more violent, subduction-related activity. Some Italian researchers have rejected this hypothesis, and of course the discussion of the article in the news media has triggered an apprehensive reaction among the people living around Etna. An in-depth discussion of this subject can be found toward the end of the new "Etna 2001 page".

13 September 2001 update. 11 September 2001 will remain in human memory as one of the most mournful days of modern history, and the bit of news that comes with this update from Etna seems absolutely bland compared to the shock and terror which overwhelmed the world on that day. What ever has been said about Etna in the mass media during the large eruption of July-August 2001, it is necessary to underline that volcanoes only do what the physical laws of this planet force them to do, and those who live nearby usually know very well that they coexist with potentially dangerous neighbors and take that risk.
On 11 September Etna seems to have returned to its usual business. During a summit visit on that day loud explosions occurred from the northwestern vent of the Bocca Nuova at intervals of 5-10 minutes. Observers standing on the rim of that vent during one of these explosions did not see any rock fragments rising from the deep inner pit of that vent and no noises of falling ejecta could be heard. Each blast, however, was followed by a dense gas puff that rose higher than the continuous gas plume issuing from the pit. Local mountain guides who were about 3 km away also heard the explosion sounds and remarked that no such noises had been heard ever since the July-August eruption had ended on 10 August.
The explosions heard on 11 September might mark the resumption of eruptive activity at the summit, which had been expected to occur sooner or later. It is possible that during the next weeks to months this activity will intensify and extend to some of the other summit craters, and that this activity will be very similar to that observed between July 1995 and July 2001.
The discussion about the possible changing behavior of Etna is now available on the new "Etna 2001 page".

28 September 2001 update. No new information is available about the current state of the summit craters of Etna, but it is possible that some deep-seated explosive activity is continuing in the Bocca Nuova, as gas emissions from that crater have appeared more vigorous at times during the past few weeks. While a dense gas plume is rising rather passively from the Northeast Crater, a somewhat more dilute plume coming from the Bocca Nuova is sometimes rising in distinct "puffs". All other areas on Etna appear currently quiet. The new cones formed during the July-August 2001 eruption on the S flank (mainly at 2570 and 2100 m elevation) are still emitting heat and minor amounts of gas, but it can be excluded that there will be any further activity at these sites. It is hoped to obtain new information about the current activity during a summit visit planned for the next few days.

5 October 2001 update. No new daylight observations of activity at the summit craters of Etna have been made, mostly due to cloud cover. Regular observations made by Giuseppe Scarpinati (Italian delegate of the Paris-based "Association Européenne Volcanologique") after nightfall has not revealed any incandescence at the summit or elsewhere. Etna thus seems to continue in relative quiet, and a resumption of visible eruptive activity might occur sometime during the forthcoming months.

16 October 2001 update. There is not much to say about eruptive activity at Etna in this moment. It seems that the volcano is currently quiet, with only some degassing taking place at the summit craters, mostly at the Northeast Crater. To mention a non-eruptive event that has taken place recently, a portion of the western crater rim of the scoria cone formed during the July-August 2001 eruption at 2100 m elevation has collapsed into the vent, blocking a narrow open pit that was visible there at least through late September. The exact time of this collapse is unknown. The collapsed sector of the crater rim had been crowded with tourists during the weeks after the eruption although extensive fracturing around the vent had indicated that collapse was likely.
Nearly two months after the eruption began, work is underway to free the Provincial Road 92 (which connects the Rifugio Sapienza area with Zafferana) from two lava flows which buried a 500 m-wide section of it during July 2001. It is expected that the road will be functional in 2001.

The July-August 2001 eruption and its precursors (the spectacular paroxysmal eruptive episodes at the Southeast Crater in June-July 2001) are featured on many web pages that contain additional information, highly spectacular images, and video clips. These will hopefully make up for the lack of photos on this page (I will post them as soon as I have my office computer back to working fully)

The July-August 2001 eruption - a new page on this web site, with an in-depth analysis of the events and related public reactions, mass media coverage, eruptive products, morphological changes, and a discussion of the recent paper in "Nature" about the changing behavior of Etna. Includes a map and press photos

View a streaming video clip with Boris Behncke interviewed by Dana Friesen of NBC channel on 2 August 2001 (courtesy of MSNBC). Windows Media Player is needed

The most instructive web page on the 2001 eruption so far (but in Italian only), created by Lisetta Giacomelli and Roberto Scandone

The "official" Etna 2001 eruption web site at the Catania section of the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV), contains a preliminary map of the lava flows

Photos of the eruption at the Roma section of the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV)

Etna eruption 2001: a page produced by the GNV (National Group for Volcanology) and hosted by, with photos, maps and movie clips

"Emergenza Etna" - the Etna emergency, presented by the Italian Department of Civil Protection (includes simulations of the lava flows)

Charles Rivière's Etna home page, with frequent updates, photos, video clips: Rivière was at Etna almost continuously during the 2001 eruption

Davide Corsaro's (of the Hotel Corsaro) "Etna FAQ", a nice and entertaining resource with many references to this Etna News page (grazie Davide!)

Tom Pfeiffer (University of Arhus, Denmark) has stunning photos of:
the precursory activity at the SE Crater in the spring of 2001 and of the July-August 2001 eruption (scroll down to "Etna photos")

Alain Catté (Association Volcanologique Européenne) is currently working on a page on the 2001 eruption (we went together to see the incredibly spectacular activity at the "Monte del Lago" (also called "cono del laghetto") one evening during the eruption)

Thorsten Boeckel's web site (Germany) contains various pages with photos and video clips of the SE Crater activity in the spring of 2001 and of the July-August 2001 eruption, a German homepage about volcanoes made by my former colleagues (at the University of Bochum) Marc Szeglat and Daniela Szcze

Jean Louis Piette from Belgium, who visits Etna every year, and who always has something good to drink when we meet on the volcano, presents his impressions of the July-August 2001 eruption

Alain Melchior, also from Belgium and partner in crime of Jean-Louis Piette, has set up his Etna 2001 page, with nice 3D animations and digital elevation models of Etna and photos, video clips and other items are planned to appear on this site soon

Eurimage has spectacular satellite (Landsat, ERS) views of the July-August 2001 eruption, a web site maintained by Andrea Fiore, has impressive photos and videos of the eruption

Photos taken during the eruption on 20 July 2001 at

Photos and reports on a field trip with OUGS-ME (Open University Geological Society - Mainland Europe) in May 2001, with a visit to the erupting SE Crater

The Catania-based newspaper "La Sicilia" has published numerous articles on the eruption. Here is a page dedicated to the eruption, with photos, video clips and links

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Page set up on 27 May 1997, last modified on 16 October 2001

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