Italy's Volcanoes: The Cradle of Volcanology

Etna Decade Volcano, Italy
Eruption update:
10-18 May 2001
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Do you plan to visit Etna in the near future?
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NEW: Excursions to the Etna area,
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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.

WARNING: Access to the summit area is VERY DANGEROUS and ACCESS TO THE SUMMIT CRATERS IS FORBIDDEN. Vigorous explosive activity has resumed at the Southeast Crater on 9 May 2001, and further events of this kind are possible in the near future. 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 the Pizzi Deneri, at about 2600 m elevation. 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).

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The latest update is near the bottom of this page

10 May 2001 update. After more than eight months of minor activity, the Southeast Crater has produced a fresh episode of vigorous explosive and effusive activity during the late afternoon of 9 May. This paroxysm was heralded by a gradual increase in the level of activity both at the summit and at the site of effusive activity on the lower NNE flank of the Southeast Crater cone. A group of Portuguese tourists is reported to have barely escaped from the crater rim before the onset of violent explosive activity. The following is based primarily on a report posted on Charles Rivière's web site (in French); Rivière witnessed the event at very close range. That site contains a number of quite spectacular photos as well.
The effusive vent(s) at the lower NNE flank of the Southeast Crater cone were visited daily by Rivière and others during the days preceding the paroxysm. On 6 May, no flowing lava was observed, and all effusive activity appeared to have stopped. At about 0530 h (local time=GMT+2), a bright glow in the area of the effusive vents signalled the resumption of effusive activity there, and later that morning Rivière and others reached the site of the eruptive vents. Passing below the steep and unstable E flank of the SE Crater cone they noted that significant rockfalls had occurred. At the eruptive vents they were greeted by an unexpected spectacle: besides producing four active lava flows, explosions launched incandescent blobs of lava, and a small cone (hornito) rapidly grew around the explosive vent, reaching a height of about 10 m. While staying at a safe distance from the vent, the group heard the sounds of explosions from the direction of the summit vent of the SE Crater, and decided to retreat to the Torre del Filosofo mountain hut. From there they were able to observe frequent explosions coming from the summit vent, some of which dropped pyroclastics (and probably lithic blocks) onto the S flank of the cone.
The next morning, Rivière and his companions returned to the active vents at the NNE flank of the cone. They found abundant large, and still hot, lithic blocks that had been ejected from the summit vent, and explosions occurred at that vent every 7-10 seconds. Rivière noted that not all did produce fresh incandescent pyroclastics, so that it seems that part of the ejected material was old rock torn from the conduit walls. The vent was thus reopening, and it appeared that more violent activity was at hand. Bad weather forced the observers back to the Torre del Filosofo mountain hut later that day.
On the morning of 9 May, Strombolian bursts occurred at the summit vent every few seconds, and a distinct increase of the activity was evident. Rivière and his companions once more made the hazardous trip to the eruptive vents at the NNE flank of the SE Crater cone, passing under the E side of the cone, from which rockfalls occurred frequently. Effusive activity continued at the vents on the NNE flank of the cone, and a new flow began to issue from an area right where Rivière stood. On some occasions the members of the group had to dodge bombs which had been ejected from the summit vent, and which fell around them, eventually forcing them to retreat to the Torre del Filosofo mountain hut.
For a while clouds then covered the cone, and for some time the activity could be heard but not seen. At 1745 h, the activity brusquely increased, and lava fountains began to jet from the NNE flank fissure to a height of about 100 m. At the same time, a dense eruption column began to rise from the summit vent. The activity continued vigorously for the next few hours, and as night fell (between 2000 and 2030 h), incandescent bursts became distinctly visible at the summit vent of the SE Crater. Three lava flows were emitted from the NNE flank fissure, rapidly reaching a length of about 1.5-2 km (directed ESE to ENE). Strong activity continued until about 2050 h and culminated in three strong blasts from the summit vent, accompanied by a brief increase of lava fountaining from the NNE flank fissure. After this the activity rapidly diminished. However, lava continued to flow from the NNE flank fissure throughout the night.
On 10 May, the SE Crater showed strong degassing, and lava continued to flow from the NNE flank fissure. Boris Behncke (Dipartimento di Scienze Geologiche, University of Catania) was able to see the summit area occasionally through gaps in dense cloud cover while returning from several days of fieldwork on Lipari island, and noted dense grayish plumes rising from the summit area. At nightfall on 10 May, lava continued to flow from the NNE flank fissure, reaching a length of about 700 m, and occasional bursts of incandescent spatter occurred at the source vent(s). Possible deep-seated Strombolian activity was also observed at the summit vent of the SE Crater (observations made by Giuseppe Scarpinati, Acireale).
Local press sources reported that air traffic was derouted during the paroxysm (airplanes starting from Catania airport usually pass over the E side of Etna). This measure was introduced after an airplane encountered tephra shortly after an eruptive episode at the SE Crater on 26 April 2000. No reports are available about possible tephra falls over inhabited areas.
The new paroxysm at the SE Crater is no surprise. Even though more than eight months have passed between the previous paroxysm (29 August 2000) and the latest event, the crater was far from extinct. A brief resumption of slow lava effusion from the fissure on the NNE flank of the SE Crater cone in late November and early December 2000 ended without any paroxysmal activity, but two months later, lava began once more to flow from that fissure, and this activity continued almost constantly through early May. Almost all of the 66 paroxysmal eruptive episodes at the SE Crater in 2000 had been preceded by such lava outflows, and the buildup period before the paroxysms had lengthened with time. The 9 May 2001 paroxysm may mark the beginning of a new series of similar events, but it may as well remain an isolated event. The Southeast Crater is still in its growing phase, and it seems that the show is far from over. The continued lava outflow from the NNE flank fissure indicates that magma continues to rise into the SE Crater, and thus more paroxysms may occur in the next few days.

12 May 2001 update. Bad weather has prevented visual observations of the summit craters of Etna since the late evening of 10 May when lava continued to flow from the fissure on the NNE side of the SE Crater cone.
In the previous (10 May) update, it was originally reported that during the buildup phase of the 9 May SE Crater paroxysm a group of Portuguese scientists accompanied by volcanologist Patrick Allard (of the Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia, formerly Poseidon) had climbed the cone of the crater while it was already displaying intense Strombolian activity. This information was not correct, and it has been deleted from the 10 May update. Allard has kindly provided detailed information about the fate of the Portuguese volcanologists who were accompanied by himself and Daniele Andronico, also of the Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia, which is cited fully in the following paragraphs.
"A group of Portuguese volcanologists (not "tourists") from the Azores, guided by local volcanologists Patrick Allard and Daniele Andronico, was visiting the summit zone of Etna in the afternoon of May 9. After two hours [of] observations of gradually increasing Strombolian activity at the crater of [the] SE cone, most of the Portuguese group, headed by two professors and equipped with radio, was invited to move back to Torre del Filosofo mountain hut, along the gentle path coming from [the] Sudestino [a small spatter cone that had formed at the S base of the SE Crater cone during the spring of 2000]. They had quietly reached this safe position in about 20 minutes. In the same time, Patrick Allard, Daniele Andronico and the four most experienced Portuguese volcanologists (including Joao Gaspar, director of the Azores Volcanological Center), also with radio, went to the west of [the] SE cone, [about half way up the SE] slope of Bocca Nuova, with the aim to collect water-quenched samples of lava bombs and scoriae ejected from SE crater, for routine petrological monitoring conducted by the Catania section of INGV (National Institute for Geophysics and Volcanology of Italy). Both groups maintained permanent radio link. In contrast to information given in May 10 Boris Behncke's web site report, the last group of volcanologists never attempted to climb SE cone itself, whose hazardous conditions were too obvious. Because of the growing height of the jets and enlarging area of tephra fall, Patrick Allard rapidly decided the group had to move back to Torre del Filosofo. On this way back sampling of a water-quenched lava bomb rolling down the slope of SE cone could be achieved successfully. The group rapidly went out of the tephra roll limit and reached the mountain hut in 12 minutes. Contrary to reports, again, the first group of volcanologists was never "anxiously awaiting the return of their companions", as regular radio links had informed them of the safety of these latter. While volcanologists in the second group were certainly excited by the volcanic show and by successful rock sampling, they were by no means "extremely frightened". This field trip, planned for professional reasons and involving professional people, was conducted with all the caution required by our previous experiences of SE crater fountaining episodes since September 1998. We acknowledge the quality and usual accuracy of Boris Behncke's web site reports on Etna's activity and, therefore, would appreciate that the informations provided here be used to correct those erroneous ones in the May 10 report."
With this it is hoped to maintain the level of accuracy necessary for a web site like this one. This is particularly important in the case of Etna which is visited by hundreds to thousands of people daily, and which is studied by numerous volcanologists, both local and from many parts of the world. Unfortunately, many visitors (not volcanologists) are unexperienced with active volcanoes, and many come with an idea that Etna is a "good volcano" which does not produce explosive eruptions. The last few years have shown that the contrary is the case: the summit craters of the volcano frequently show a highly explosive activity, and approaching the active vents is dangerous even during periods of relatively mild intracrater Strombolian activity. On several occasions tourists found themselves in highly uncomfortable situations (at times not even recognizing this) and escaped unharmed rather by miracle than reason. On the other hand, volcanologists (not volcano adventurers) commonly apply strict safety measures during their visits to the summit area (such as wearing hard hats, gas masks and protective clothing, and bringing radioes or cell phones), and this is underlined in Allard's report.

14 May 2001 update. With improving weather conditions Etna and its activity have again become visible, and it appears that the effusive activity at the NNE flank of the Southeast Crater cone has never ceased since the 9 May paroxysmal eruptive episode. A persistent gas plume is rising from the summit vent of the crater. Charles Rivière and others briefly revisited the area of the effusive vent(s) on the morning of 13 May and noted a fairly impressive outflow rate, together with intense degassing, and occasionally noises typical of Strombolian activity came from the direction of the SE Crater summit vent.
After nightfall on 13 May, Giuseppe Scarpinati (Italian correspondent of the Paris-based Association Volcanologique Européenne) made telescopic observations of the activity from his home in Acireale, a town located about 15 km SE of the summit. The active lava flow was seen advancing for hundreds of meters in a northeasterly direction, and occasionally weak Strombolian bursts sent incandescent bombs above the lip of the summit vent of the SE Crater. These observations indicate a relatively high level of magma in the conduit of that crater, and that makes a new paroxysm in the near future a real possibility. Last year, the SE Crater produced 66 similar paroxysms between late January and late August, at times several per day, producing tall lava fountains, rapidly advancing lava flows, and tephra columns which in some cases rose up to 6 km above the vent. On many occasions towns and villages on the slopes of the volcano received heavy showers of scoriaceous lapilli which caused traffic problems and aroused fears of significant agricultural damage. During a paroxysm on 26 April 2000, an airplane encountered falling lapilli and had to make an emergency landing at the International Airport of Catania; after that air traffic was rerouted during paroxysms. Several persons received minor injuries by falling scoria fragments during various paroxysms in 2000, but it was mere luck that no one was seriously injured or killed, since tourists flock in Etna's summit area anytime the weather conditions permit access to this zone.

15 May 2001 update. Mild eruptive activity continues at the Southeast Crater, with persistent lava outflow from the vent on the NNE flank of its cone (apparently much of the 9 May eruptive episode came from this vent and led to the growth of a minor cone there) and very weak Strombolian bursts at the summit vent of the cone. During the forenoon of 14 May Charles Rivière observed a gradual increase in the lava output at the effusive vent and of the intensity of Strombolian activity at the summit vent of the SE Crater, but at nightfall the level of the activity remained at moderate levels. On 15 May, Giovanni Sturiale (Dipartimento di Scienze Geologiche, University of Catania) saw the active lava flow from near the village of Fornazzo, on the E flank of Etna. Its course was marked by bluish gas and extended at least 1 km down toward E or NE (in the direction of the Valle del Leone). As of the late afternoon of 15 May, the summit vent of the SE Crater is emitting a dense gas plume, similar to that of the previous days, and gas is also rising from the effusive vent on the NNE flank of its cone.

17 May 2001 update. A human drama is overshadowing the ongoing mild eruptive activity at the Southeast Crater in these days. Since Monday 14 May, a 41 year old Spanish tourist from Madrid, Beatriz Caldevilla Lebena, is missing after climbing to the summit area alone, probably hoping to get a close view of the lava flow that issues from a vent on the remote north-northeastern side of the Southeast Crater cone. Rescue teams, supported by helicopters, have found no trace of the woman so far.
Beatriz Caldevilla Lebena had left her hotel room (at the hotel Corsaro, near the cable car on the southern flank of Etna) on the afternoon of 14 May, equipped with a tent, and was last seen by mountain guides at about 1730 h (local time=GMT+2) near the summit area. When she did not return to her hotel room that night, the alarm was launched, and search troups began to look for her the next day at daylight. The search was continuing as of noon on 17 May, but hopes of finding her were fading since the search teams had scanned virtually all of the summit area of the volcano, including the zone surrounding the active lava flow which extends more than 1 km from its vent, and the vast Valle del Bove.
News reports state that the woman was on her first visit to Etna and had no knowledge of the volcano and the risks of visiting its summit area. Her airplane ticket for the return to Spain (due on the afternoon of 16 May) was found in her hotel room. It was excluded that she had left Etna intentionally, without leaving a trace.
So this is once more that a tourist has gone lost on Etna; there have been similar incidents in the past, but so far most have luckily ended with the recovery of the missing persons. All were caused by the inexperience of the involved tourists, and often they had ventured to the summit area alone. Here it must be stressed once more (as has been on numerous occasions in the past) that anyone wishing to visit Etna should NOT GO ALONE, and make excursions ONLY WITH THE LOCAL MOUNTAIN GUIDES. This might be expensive and not satisfy the desire to "see the lava" (the current lava flow is in one of the least accessible areas of the volcano), but it saves lives. In case you decide to ignore these advices, take a cell phone with you, and leave note (e.g., in your hotel) about where you are going and when you plan to return. Do note, however, that access to the summit craters is NOT ALLOWED.
The eruptive activity, which probably attracted the missing Spanish tourist, is continuing without significant variations. Lava is flowing incessantly from one or more vents on the lower NNE flank of the SE Crater cone, at times accompanied by mild spattering. On 15 May, a cluster of three hornitos was observed by Charles Rivière and others, but the next day these had collapsed, leaving a large hollow. On that day lava was issuing from a vent at the base of what remained of the hornitos. While Rivière and his companions were observing and filming the activity, the effusion rate increased, and a new effusive vent became active about 10 m further downslope from the former, yielding a vigorous new flow that was directed NE. The observers also noted an increase in the degassing activity at the main (summit) vent of the SE Crater.
On the same afternoon, Boris Behncke (Dipartimento di Scienze Geologiche of the University of Catania) and three geologists from the Consiglio Nazionale di Ricerca (Rome, Italy) and from Canada approached the effusive vent area from the SE, but was forced to remain at a distance of about 100 m due to a gale-force wind that drove the gas plume from the summit vent of the SE Crater across the ground and thus reduced visibility to a minimum. Loud degassing noises and sporadic explosions were audible in spite of the relentless wind. After descending, the group drove to the village of Fornazzo on the E side of Etna, from where visibility was excellent, especially after nightfall. The active lava flow was perfectly visible, extending in at least three lobes to the NE and E. More impressively, the summit vent of the SE Crater produced Strombolian explosions that sent incandescent bombs up to 100 m into the sky, and some fell onto the flanks of the cone. These explosions appeared to be clustered, there would be a relatively quiet period lasting up to 15 minutes, after which a series of explosions occurred in the course of about 10 minutes. The strongest burst was observed at about 2100 h, which was directed obliquely to the S or SE and dropped a significant amount of glowing pyroclastics on the upper SE flank of the cone.

18 May 2001 update. NOTE: There will be no updates on this page until 26 May due to a week-long excursion to Etna organized by the Open University Geological Society
The Spanish tourist from Madrid, Beatriz Caldevilla Lebena, who had disappeared on Etna four days ago, is presumed dead after remains of her tent were found on 18 May near the rim of the Bocca Nuova, one of the four summit craters of Etna. Press sources cite rescue team members who found footprints leading from the tent to the rim of one of the two active pits within that crater, but no footprints leading back from there. It is possible that the woman went to look into the pit on the evening of her arrival at the summit and fell into it when a portion of its rim broke loose.
Meanwhile the effusion of lava from the vent (or vents) on the NNE flank of the SE Crater cone is continuing. The active lava was well visible during the night of 17-18 May, and possibly there was also weak Strombolian activity at the summit vent of the SE Crater. The active lava flow advanced in several branches, the longest of which was almost 2 km long (information from Giuseppe Scarpinati).

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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