Italy's Volcanoes: The Cradle of Volcanology

Etna Decade Volcano, Italy
Eruption update:
11-30 June 2003
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Etna's summit area, 3 June 2003
Etna's summit area seen from SSE on the morning of 3 June 2003. The steep cone in the center is the Southeast Crater, which shows signs of heating up. Note the steaming fissure on its southern (foreground left) side and steam plume rising from the small cone at its left base; this cone formed in the spring of 2000 and was informally named "Sudestino". The increased steaming was enhanced by humid weather conditions. The dredger in the right foreground is working at the reconstruction of the dirt road to the site of the Torre del Filosofo mountain hut, which was completed a few days later

NOTE: The restrictions to excursions to Etna's summit area have been significantly modified. Free access is now allowed to up to 2500 m elevation (south flank) and 2600 m (north flank), four-wheel-drive tours go up to 2900 m on the southern flank (to the place where there was once the Torre del Filosofo mountain hut, and close to the newly formed craters) and have also resumed on the northern flank (Piano Provenzana area). Guided excursions for groups of up to 10 persons may visit any spot on the mountain. Read more on the Etna Excursions page

The latest update is below this line

30 June 2003 update. The repose period following the October 2002-January 2003 eruption of Mount Etna is continuing, with some signs that the central conduit system is recharging, and movement (slippage) of the unstable eastern flank of the mountain is continuing. Strong degassing is occurring at the Northeast Crater, and minor emissions come from the Bocca Nuova, but none of these seem to be symptomatic of surface eruptive activity. However, about 23 June there were rumors that some explosive activity had occurred at the Bocca Nuova, and the obstructed southeastern pit of this crater was reopening. As a consequence, controls by Financial Guard and Forest Service staff were tightened in order to prevent hikers to enter the summit area without an authorized guide. No further indications of explosive activity were received thereafter, and during several days of reasonably clear weather in late June the summit craters were showing their usual degassing activity without any ash emissions.
A series of small shallow earthquakes occurred on 26 June on the eastern flank of Etna, near the village of Fornazzo. This area lies in a sector of the volcano that is known to be unstable and slowly sliding eastward. Generally it can be assumed that such shallow seismicity is related to displacement of one or more of the slide blocks comprising the unstable sector. Accelerated slippage of the flank started a few weeks before the 2002-2003 eruption (but due to insufficient knowledge of the phenomenon and its cause-relationship with flank eruptions was not interpreted as warning of the imminent eruption) and culminated during the early days of that eruption, with up to 2 m of displacement in the Piano Provenzana area. Although at a much lower rate, slippage has continued after the end of the 2002-2003 eruption and thus the volcano continues to be structurally unstable. This instability might facilitate further flank eruptions in the forthcoming years.
To see how Etna looks like in these days, visit the new and growing photo gallery "Return to Etna, 2003". Many photographs taken during 14 years of visits to, and life near, Mount Etna are available in the Etna photo gallery.

20 June 2003 update. Mount Etna remains essentially quiet, although deep explosions continue to be observed in one of the active pits of the Bocca Nuova by visitors to the summit craters. A visit a fes days ago to the Northeast Crater, the source of the most intense gas emissions at the summit, by mountain guide and volcanologist Carmelo Ferlito of the Dipartimento di Scienze Geologiche at the University of Catania revealed that there was no noise audible within the active pit of that crater.
No big news, but the news is that there are some new photographs taken during my recent visits to Etna's southern and northern flanks during the past 2 weeks on this site. You can access them on a temporary special page; they document what changes have occurred as a result of the latest eruption (October 2002-January 2003).

11 June 2003 update. No new eruptive activity has been observed at Mount Etna over the past 4.5 months, since the end of the major 2002-2003 eruption on 28 January. The volcano is still recovering from its major eruption that lasted from 26 October 2002 until 28 January 2003, which emitted some 30 million cubic meters of lava and approximately 50 million cubic meters of tephra (these figures are very approximate but render an idea of the "magnitude" of this eruption). It is quite likely that magma is slowly rising within the central conduit system (the pathways that lead up to the summit craters). Whether there is also renewed magma accumulation in the second reservoir that fed most of the eruptive activity on the southern flank in 2001 and 2002-2003 is uncertain.
Intense gas emission occurs at the Northeast Crater, often feeding a plume that extends tens of kilometers downwind. The northwestern vent of the Bocca Nuova, which lies close to its rim, is also the site of strong gas emissions, and on many occasions visitors have reported deep-seated explosions. These have so far failed to eject any fresh magmatic material beyond the pit and presumably occur at a depth of several hundred meters. The second, southeastern vent of the Bocca Nuova is currently completely obstructed. Recent obervations at night by a local mountain guide have revealed that some fractures around this pit are incandescent at dark. This is probably due to escaping hot gas that heats the surrounding rocks to glowing.
Gas is emitted as well from the two pits within the Voragine, which has not shown any eruptive activity since late 1999. Most interestingly, the Southeast Crater has shown a progressive increase in the number and activity of fumaroles near its summit and on its southern flank. During humid weather, steam is emitted from the full length of a fissure which was frequently active during the spectacular period of lava fountains in 2000, and from the "Sudestino", a small satellite cone that formed at the southern base of the Southeast Crater cone during the same period. During the period between the 2001 and 2002-2003 eruptions, fumarolic activity at the Southeast Crater had been much less conspicuous, and this might indicate that the crater is heating up.
There are also continuous vapor emissions occurring at the new craters formed during the latest eruption, which may appear quite voluminous during humid weather. Such emissions are quite normal after a flank eruption but do not mean that these craters may erupt again in the future (this has virtually never happened at any site of an Etnean flank eruption).

A summary of the 2002-2003 eruption

Piano Provenzana - a requiem

The 2002-2003 eruption of Mount Etna is featured on numerous web sites. The two principal sources of information (updates, photographs, and other graphic material) are:

The "official" Etna 2002 eruption web site at the Catania section of the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV) (in Italian)

Charles Rivière's Etna home page, with frequent updates and photos (in French)

Like in 2001, Lisetta Giacomelli and Roberto Scandone of the University of Roma 3 have created an incredibly informative and well-illustrated web page, which unfortunately is only available in Italian:

Eruzione dell'Etna 2002

Furthermore there are two web cams pointed on the southern flank of Etna, which can be accessed at the web site of:

Davide Corsaro, of the Hotel Corsaro, located at nearly 2000 m elevation on the southern flank of Etna

Two further web cams, located at Riposto (east-northeast of Etna) show a wide-angle view and a close-up of the volcano; these are provided by:

Alain Melchior presents interesting digital models of the lava flows of the 2002 eruption and has numerous captures from Italian television news of the eruption

Eruption 2002 de l'Etna (du 26/10/2002 au ?)

One could expect some high-quality photography of the eruption at "Stromboli On-Line", and Marco Fulle's photos do fulfill all expectations...

The 2002 eruption of Etna at Stromboli On-Line

The same is true for Tom Pfeiffer's photos, which are among the most spectacular of the 2002 eruption so far available - Tom was lucky to be at Etna on the evening of 27 October and photograph the most spectacular phases of activity on the Northeast Rift:

This is a relatively poorly known site, created in 2000, which has photos and spectacular video clips of the 2002 eruption (and of the activity in 2000 and 2001 as well): by Simone Genovese

Another web site that has escaped attention thus far, but deserves to be visited (good photos and movie clips, including one of the spectacular explosive eruption at the Voragine on 22 July 1998):

Malosito/Geoarchive by Marco Busetta

Very spectacular photos of the still-erupting crater at 2750 m elevation on the southern flank (seen from the Torre del Filosofo area) plus a nice map of the upper southern flank of Etna are available on

Thorsten Boeckel's web site

No less spectacular, the view of the eruption from the International Space Station (NASA):

The eruption seen from space on 30 October 2002

...and, of course, there are photos, updates and video clips at

Much information (in Italian) is offered by the Catania-based newspaper

La Sicilia


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Copyright Boris Behncke, "Italy's Volcanoes: The Cradle of Volcanology"

Page set up on 27 May 1997, last modified on 30 June 2003

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