Italy's Volcanoes: The Cradle of Volcanology

Etna Decade Volcano, Italy
Eruption update:
17-20 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.

20 May 2000 update. The SE Crater erupted with its 56th paroxysm in four months at about midnight on 20 May, following a buildup in the activity late in the evening of 19 May. During and after the paroxysm, large amounts of ash were also erupted from the nearby NE Crater. Tephra falls affected the E side of the volcano, and as a result of the repeated tephra falls on many towns and villages in that sector, the Italian government has declared the state of emergency for Zafferana Etnea, Sant'Alfio, Milo, Acireale, Giarre, Riposto, Mascali, Santa Venerina, Aci Sant' Antonio and Aci Catena.
Observations of the event were made by Giuseppe Scarpinati (Italian correspondent of the Frenche Association Volcanologique Européenne, "L.A.V.E.") from Acireale, and by British cameraman David Bryant (back to Etna after almost two months!) and Boris Behncke (Dipartimento di Scienze Geologiche, University of Catania) from Fornazzo.
Lava effusion from the lower N flank of the SE Crater cone began to increase notably at around 2230 h on 19 May, and a lava flow extended about 1.5 km into the Valle del Bove during the following hour, forming several branches in its most advanced part. Lava spattering began at the effusive vent at about 2330, while Behncke and Bryant were driving up on the E flank towards the village of Fornazzo. When they arrived there at about 2350, a lava fountain was jetting from that same vent to a height of 50-100 m, and the lava output increased. The flow into the Valle del Bove advanced with numerous active fronts. At the same time, the first Strombolian bursts occurred at the summit vent of the SE Crater, producing very tall jets of lava which rose at least 250 m high. The glow from this increasing activity illuminated a dense column of ash which rose from the NE Crater, but no incandescence was seen at that crater, which had shown similar sympathetic behavior during the latest three paroxysms of the SE Crater.
The true paroxysmal activity started a few minutes before midnight when the Strombolian bursts from the summit vent blended into a continuous fountain, and a continuous rumbling sound became audible. Sometime later, more vents opened on the N flank of the cone, forming a continuous curtain of fire between the summit vent and the vent on the lower N flank. The cone and much of the fountains were soon veiled by a dense curtain of falling ash, but large bombs from the summit fountain were seen to rise very high amidst that veil, reaching heights of up to 800 m above the vent. A low pulsating fountain was occasionally seen at still another vent high on the S flank of the cone. For about 30 minutes the activity continued vigorously, and the plume of falling tephra hid most of the fountains and the cone from view; to the S a near continuous rain of large bombs could be seen which fell to several hundred m from the base of the cone.
A tall eruption column rose several kilometers into the sky, its white upper mushroom-shaped portion being beautifully illuminated by the moon. The plume moved to the E, while the falling tephra was carried by shear winds in a slightly more southerly direction.
After 1230 the activity became discontinuous, although this was probably the period of very powerful explosions at the summit vent, which ejected bombs over a wide area. The summit fountain died out first, followed by the upper flank vents, but the vent at the N base of the cone remained active for some time. As the veil of falling ash lifted, all vents became again visible. A broad lava flow extended from the SE Crater to the NE, with numerous active fronts that advanced rapidly on the steep slope separating the Valle del Leone from the Valle del Bove. The most distant flow fronts were between 1.5 and 2 km from the crater. The NE Crater continued to emit a dense column of fine ash as the activity at the SE Crater waned.
Ash and lapilli began to fall at the site where Behncke and Bryant were observing and filming the activity only when the paroxysm was almost over. The tephra fall produced a sound like rain as it fell on the leaves of trees and bushes. During the entire paroxysm an eerie atmosphere was perceived by those who were there: at the beginning of the most violent activity, birds were singing in the trees, while cats and dogs were miowing and barking ceaselessly, and the whole spectrum of sounds was interrupted every 15 minutes by the church bells of nearby Fornazzo.
The main tephra fall occurred in a relatively narrow sector between Fornazzo and the N part of Zafferana, affecting mostly the villages of Milo and Sant'Alfio. The area between Zafferana and Acireale, which was stricken repeatedly by tephra falls in recent weeks this time did not receive much tephra.
The NE Crater continued to emit ash during the day of 20 May, causing light ash falls in the same sector that had received the tephra of the paroxysm during the preceding night. The plume was very well visible as a dark gray streak in Meteosat images, extending at least 200 km to the ESE. This activity continued as this update was posted (1500 h on 20 May).
On 19 May, the Italian government declared the state of emergency for ten towns and numerous smaller villages located in the E sector of Etna. This measure was introduced in order to facilitate financial and logistical aid for the stricken area, which has received tens of tephra showers in the past four months. The state of emergency will remain in vigor until 31 December 2000.

19 May 2000 update. No significant eruptive activity has occurred at Etna throughout this day, but at nightfall, a small active lava flow issuing from the N side of the SE Crater cone has become evident. This flow was also active early on 19 May, and it seems that very minor effusive activity at that site is now essentially continuous between paroxysms. This is very similar to the conditions at the crater in early February, when paroxysmal eruptive epsiodes occurred very frequently. A new paroxysm may occur within the next 24 to 48 hours, it will likely be preceded by an increase in the lava output at the eruptive fissure on the N side of the SE Crater cone.

18 May 2000 (2030 h) update. The paroxysmal eruptive episode announced in the previous update (18 May, 0005 h) occurred shortly afterwards at the SE Crater, 49 hours after its predecessor. For the 55th time in less than 4 months the paroxysm produced very spectacular lava fountains from several vents at the summit vent and on the N flank of the SE Crater cone, extensive lava flows from the N flank vents, and a small volume of lava from vents on the S flank of the cone. The following is based on observations made by Giuseppe Scarpinati (Italian correspondent of the Frenche Association Volcanologique Européenne, "L.A.V.E."), British cameraman David Bryant (back to Etna after almost two months!), mountain guides of Piano Provenzana, on the N flank of Etna, and by Boris Behncke (Dipartimento di Scienze Geologiche, University of Catania).
The activity began with the emission of a small lava flow from the lower N flank of the SE Crater cone during the late afternoon of 17 May. At about the same time vigorous ash emissions came from the NE Crater, which continued with some fluctuations for the next few hours, but without incandescent ejections. At 2245 h, mild lava spattering began from the effusive vent on the N flank of the SE Crater cone, and the lava output rate increased notably. The lava formed several lobes that extended E into the Valle del Leone, reaching a length of at least 1 km by midnight.

Photos of the 18 May 2000 paroxysm
Photos were taken by Fabrizio Villa and posted on
the web site of the newspaper "La Sicilia"

18 May 2000
18 May 2000
18 May 2000

Spectacular photos taken by press photographer Fabrizio Villa (Catania) during the 18 May 2000 eruptive episode of the SE Crater. Photos were taken from the E and NE sides of the volcano

The first Strombolian bursts at the summit vent of the SE Crater were seen at 0015 h. Thereafter the activity increased rapidly, and continuous lava fountaining began at 0035 h, involving at least three major vents at the summit and the N flank of the SE Crater cone. Smaller vents were intermittently active along the N flank fissure, and minor eruptive activity was observed at smaller vents that were briefly active in other locations on the cone, apparently not along the main fissure cutting the cone from N to S. The activity reached its climax at about 0045 h, when four large lava fountains jetted more than 500 m high. Five minutes later, the activity extended to the S flank of the cone, where minor spattering occurred, and lava was emitted to form a short flow which apparently extended to the SW.
The paroxysm ended at 0107 h with a series of very powerful, loud explosions which sprayed bombs over a wide area around the cone. The entire cone remained incandescent for about 5 minutes after the end of the activity, with numerous slides of glowing material on its flanks. At about 0500 h, only a very small active lava flow was observed at the N base of the cone.
During the paroxysm a dense plume of gas and ash rose from the erupting crater, which was illuminated by the full moon. The plume moved SE and began to drop ash and lapilli over towns and villages in an area between Zafferana, Viagrande, Acicastello and Acireale. This area had already been affected by similar tephra falls after the paroxysms of 26 April and 5 May, and on several earlier occasions during the past four months.
This was the third paroxysmal eruptive episode at the SE Crater in three days. The repose intervals between these events has thus shortened notably; during the period from 6 April to 15 May the quiet intervals had always lasted 9-10 days. The paroxysms themselves continue to strictly follow the same scheme, with a gradual buildup of the activity over several hours, and the most vigorous phase of activity lasting 20-30 minutes. This increase in the frequency of the eruptive episodes coincides with the reactivation of the NE Crater, which showed beautiful Strombolian activity during the night of 14-15 May. People at Piano Provenzana succeeded in taking photographs of the erupting NE Crater and lava emission at the SE Crater, which is one of the very few times the two craters were seen erupting simultaneously. On 18 May, the activity of the NE Crater was limited to emissions of dense plumes containing some ash, but no incandescent ejections were visible as night fell. The countdown for the next paroxysm at the SE Crater has begun; this might occur sometime during the next few days, but given the very irregular intervals between the most recent eruptive episodes it is impossible to make any more precise "forecasts" unless the crater reenters a new phase of premonitory activity.
At this point it is necessary to repeat the advice to anybody who intends to visit Etna to stay away from the summit crater area. Violent eruptive episodes may occur at the SE Crater at relatively short intervals. Much of the premonitory activity - which commonly occurs at the N side of the SE Crater cone - is invisible to visitors who stay on the S side of the cone, and once the activity extends to its summit vent, it may very rapidly evolve into the paroxysmal phase, with a high risk of bombs and large scoriae falling at quite some distance from the cone, especially on the downwind side. The risk is even higher in these days as weather condidions continue to be unstable, and the summit area is veiled in dense cloud for most of the day. The wisest thing is to go with the guided excursions organized regularly on both the N and S sides of Etna. They certainly can not render the thrill of peering into the summit craters (which are anyway largely filled with the products of the intense activity of the past five years), but they guarantee a high level of safety.

18 May 2000 (0005 h) update. Once more, lava is flowing from the N flank of the SE Crater cone, and this is an almost certain indicator of an impending paroxysmal eruptive episode at that crater within the next 12 hours or less. Lava effusion was first observed at about 2240 h by Giuseppe Scarpinati from Acireale; by midnight the lava flow was well visible from Catania and had extended at least 1 km down the E flank of Etna into the Valle del Bove. No other activity was observed at the time of this update.

17 May 2000 update. After one day of more or less complete confusion it has become clear that the vigorous eruptive activity on the late evening of 15 May has occurred from the SE Crater, not, as it seemed, from the NE Crater. Sebastiano Raciti, who lives in the town of Pedara on the SSE flank of Etna, observed lava fountaining from the SE Crater which began shortly before 2315 h and continued until for about 20 minutes, producing a large plume which moved in the direction of his home town. Lava was emitted from the N flank of the cone, moving towards the Valle del Leone (observation by Giuseppe Scarpinati, Acireale). Meanwhile, activity at the NE Crater seems to have been limited to moderate Strombolian activity accompanied by strong ash emissions. A weak, fluctuating glow was observed at that crater on the evening of 16 May by Scarpinati, but there was also a small area of incandescence on the lower N flank of the SE Crater cone, possibly caused by very minor lava extrusion or emission of hot gas from the eruptive vents that erupted the night before.
The sequence of eruptive spasms on 15 May shows that Etna is capable of changing its behavior rapidly. The eruptive episode from the SE Crater that occurred shortly before noon on that day could be perfectly foreseen, but the next one, twelve hours later, came as a complete surprise. Based on the behavior of the crater during the preceding weeks the next paroxysm was expected to occur after 9-10 days of quiet. It is thus very difficult to express any prognosis concerning the future development of the activity at Etna's summit. Yet it is likely that episodic activity will continue at the SE Crater at intervals of several days, but these intervals may be shorter than during the past 6 weeks. More precise forecasts can only be made once the activity shows a clear increasing trend.

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.

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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