Italy's Volcanoes: The Cradle of Volcanology

Etna Decade Volcano, Italy
Eruption update:
9-21 December 1999

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Lava flows, Oct-Nov 1999

Revised map of the lava flows emitted from the Bocca Nuova during October-November 1999, based on photos taken from various locations. Main vents of the Bocca Nova (BN) are shown as orange colored dots. The other summit craters are the Northeast Crater (NE), Voragine (V) and Southeast Crater (SE). The inset at upper left shows the entire Etna area with the location of the new lavas and the towns of Bronte and Catania. VDB in the inset is Valle del Bove.

12 November 1999 12 November 1999

Eruptive activity at the NW (?) vent in the Bocca Nuova on 12 November, photographed by Charles Rivière. The activity consists of the expulsion of ash. Note low pyroclastic cone around the vent. Steaming peak in right background in photo at right is what remains of the 1964 cone at the junction of the Bocca Nuova and the Voragine.

For those of you who missed the Etna telecamera (please note that I am not the right person to ask about technical details of the telecamera), visit this site: "Sistema Poseidon" (in Italian) and go to "Etna live-cam "

WARNING: Access to the summit area is DANGEROUS. Eruptive activity at the summit craters is again increasing, and sudden explosions that may drop pyroclastics (blocks and bombs) are possible. Besides this, weather conditions are often unstable. The onset of the winter brings frequent snow storms and clouds, and one gets easily lost due to the lack of points of reference once there is a thick snow cover. Tragically, this warning has been confirmed by the death, on 19 or 20 December 1999, of a young resident of Catania who went on the mountain for skiing and lost his way in bad weather; his lifeless body was recovered only two days after he was reported missing by his family. Excursions should be made only with the mountain guides who can be contacted at the cable car (near the Rifugio Sapienza) on the southern side of Etna, or at the hotel "Le Betulle" at Piano Provenzana, on the northern side.

21 December 1999 update. Relatives and friends are mourning the death of a young resident of Catania who died on the E flank of Etna after falling on a steep slope, probably as a result of having lost his way and visibility during bad weather late on Sunday, 19 December. His family reported the man missing on the evening of that day, and search parties repeatedly were hindered by very harsh weather conditions from finding the body until the forenoon of 21 December, in the "canalone della Montagnola", a steep, ash-covered slope descending from the NE side of the Montagnola (a cinder cone at about 2600 m elevation on the S flank of Etna) into the Valle del Bove.
Attempts of a reconstruction of how the man met his tragic fate had not revealed, by mid-afternoon of 21 December, the circumstances of his death. All that is known is that he went up to the Montagnola area with the cable car for skiing on the morning of Sunday 19 December. Apparently he lost his way as the weather conditions worsened towards the evening and fell into the abyss, possibly dying from impact against rocks. The man was known as a passionate skier and knew the summit area of Etna well.
As reported in the update of 20 December, other people had reached the summit craters of Etna on the same day, enjoying splendid sunny weather until about sunset, but then clouds moved up towards the summit, and it was only possible to find the way back to the area of the Rifugio Sapienza with a compass and a torch.
This accident, the first deadly one in many years on Etna, sadly proves that there cannot be enough warning of excursions to the summit area, especially during unstable weather and during the winter. Of course the warning concerns also the risk of being exposed to the fall of rock fragments when there is eruptive active at the summit craters. The death of the young Catanese man has shown that even persons who are acquainted with the volcano are not safe from losing orientation.

20 December 1999 update. Explosive activity at the Bocca Nuova is again increasing. On 19 December, British camera man David Bryant observed frequent explosions from the SE vent that mainly ejected ash, but also blocks or bombs (no incandescence was seen during the daylight) which rose above the rim of the vent in some cases. At the NW vent there was rhythmic but noiseless emission of very dense vapor, and vapor was also emitted from a vent in the center of the Voragine.
At about 0900 h (local time=GMT+1)
an ash-laden eruption column was seen to rise from the summit of Etna to a height of at least 1 km; this column was observed by Giuseppe Scarpinati (Italian correspondent of the French Association Volcanologique Européenne, L.A.V.E.) from Acireale at about 0915 and appeared to be still rising. Sometime around 0940 or later Giovanni Sturiale (Dipartimento di Scienze Geologiche of Catania University) noted continuing emission of an ash-rich eruption column. Between 1245 and 1250, Boris Behncke (also of the Dipartimento di Scienze Geologiche of Catania University) saw dense volutes of white vapor rising hundreds of meters above the summit; the emissions came from the area of the Bocca Nuova and were forcefully rising before being blown eastwards by a strong wind. Since the whole summit area was covered by gas and vapor, no traces of possible pyroclastic deposits caused by the earlier explosive activity were visible, but the fact that the plume was anything else but passive indicates that some explosive activity was continuing. Bad weather conditions prevented further observations afterwards.
Nothing much can be said at this point about the nature of this activity. Since last week there has been a definite increase in the volume and engergy of explosive emissions from the Bocca Nuova, but so far there are no good hints that any of these emissions are related to a renewed rise of the magmatic column within the conduits. Activity of this kind may nonetheless be a predecessor of magmatic activity, with material clogging the vents being blown out before the magma arrives at the surface.

15 December 1999 update. On 14 December, ash was emitted sporadically from a vent within the Bocca Nuova, the most notable eruptive activity at this crater in about one month. A very strong wind blew the ash towards the E, causing light ash falls on the E flank of the volcano, and a thin film of ash was deposited as far as the Catania-Messina highway. Each emission lasted up to 2 minutes and consisted of distinct pulses; the resulting plume rose no more than 100 m above the crater due to the wind. Between the ash emissions occasional puffs of light colored gas were seen rising from the crater.
The true character of this renewed activity is not known - that means, whether it is new magmatic activity or whether it is related to collapse within the conduits of one of the two vents within the Bocca Nuova.
If intense magmatic activity is to resume at this crater, then renewed overflows of lava onto the W flank, similar to those of mid-October to early November can be expected.

9 December 1999 update. The years-long summit eruption of Etna, which culminated with the spectacular activity at the Bocca Nuova between 5 October and 3 November, appears to have essentially ended, at least temporarily. The latest event of vigorous Strombolian activity or lava fountaining from the Bocca Nuova on the evening of 3 November was followed by a rapid decrease in the activity, also at the effusive vents at the ESE base of the Southeast Crater, and by 8 November, all activity in the summit area consisted of occasional expulsions of ash from the NW vent of the Bocca Nuova. Weak Strombolian activity from this vent was noted during several nights between 10 and 15 November. David Bryant, a Britisch camera man who visited the summit area on several occasions in late-November and early December heard loud explosion noises, coming probably from the Bocca Nuova. During his latest summit visit on 8 December he climbed to the rim of the Bocca Nuova and witnessed deep-seated explosions from the NW vent every 3-5 minutes which ejected incandescent bombs, at times to tens of meters above the vent's lip. A lot of snow has recently fallen on the volcano, and the ski season will be opened on 8 December; at no time since 1995 has the ski season begun so early.
What will Etna do next? The record of recent summit eruptions shows that activity is mainly episodic and may resume after a few days or weeks. On the other hand, the five-months long summit eruptions in 1964 were followed by 18 months of inactivity (apart from sporadic ash emissions mainly caused by collapse within the eruptive vents).

A series of other web pages covering the October-November eruptions of the Bocca Nuova have recently posted; these contain photos and movie clips of some of the most spectacular moments of that period.

Photos of the eruptive activity, 26-31 October 1999, by Tom Pfeiffer (University of Arhus, Denmark)

Photos by Marco Fulle, 17-23 October 1999, at Stromboli On-line - Marco at his best

Very impressive video clips, taken by Roberto Carniel on 17-23 October 1999, at Stromboli On-line

Photos by Juerg Alean, of 1 November 1999, at Stromboli On-line

Video clips, taken by Juerg Alean on 1 November 1999, at Stromboli On-line

A page by Charles Rivière, France, with many photos of the summer and autumn of 1999 (in French)

visitors counted since 12 February 1999
(This page has received an incredible 4362 hits during the week of 24-30 October! - And, amazingly enough, 4430 hits were counted the week after.)
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Page set up on 27 May 1997, last modified on 27 December 1999

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