Italy's Volcanoes: The Cradle of Volcanology

Etna Decade Volcano, Italy
Eruption update:
18-26 February 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.

Photos of the 11 February 2000 paroxysm:
The view from Acireale

A detailed description of the event is available on an archived previous Etna updates page. All photos are by Boris Behncke

11 February 2000 1 11 February 2000 2
11 February 2000 3 11 February 2000 4
11 February 2000 5 11 February 2000 6
This is how Boris Behncke and Giuseppe Scarpinati saw the paroxysm at the Southeast Crater at shortly after 2200 h on 11 February from Scarpinati's home in Acireale, a town about 10 km north of Catania. The entire sequence of photos was taken within only 15 minutes, with exposure lengths of up to 2.5 minutes

WARNING: Access to the summit area is EXTREMELY DANGEROUS. Violent eruptive episodes are occurring about twice per day at the Southeast Crater, and heavy showers of tephra (including clasts tens of centimeters in diameter) may occur up to several kilometers away. It is absolutely not safe to stay in the area of the Torre del Filosofo mountain hut. Besides this, weather conditions are often unstable. 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. 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.

26 February 2000 update. Since Sunday 20 February, there has been only one eruptive episode at the SE Crater, early on 23 February. This event lasted more than one hour and consisted mostly of vigorous Strombolian activity, culminating in a very brief phase of lava fountaining. Since then the crater has remained quiet, with only light fuming occurring from its summit area, and the fractures on its northern and southern flanks.
During a summit visit on 25 February, Behncke, Carniel and Fulle noted eruptive activity only at the Bocca Nuova, while the SE Crater remained completely quiet. The Bocca Nuova produced discrete explosions at intervals of a few minutes, many of which produced beautiful "smoke" rings.

22 February 2000 update. More eruptive paroxysms have occurred at the Southeast Crater, but it is not clear precisely when, because bad weather is frequently hampering visual observations. Until Sunday 20 February, the number of paroxysms since 26 January had risen to 34. Since the prevailing wind direction in the past few days has been to the east and southeast, the town of Zafferana has suffered most from the ash and lapilli falls caused by the paroxysmal episodes. On the forenoon of 19 February, a heavy rain of pyroclastics occurred, leaving a continuous blanket of scoriae on roads, roofs and cars. Some of the fragments falling in Zafferana had diameters of several centimeters.

Photos of the 14 February 2000 paroxysm:
The view from 900 m distance

A detailed description of the event is available on an archived previous Etna updates page. All photos are by Boris Behncke

14 February 2000 1 14 February 2000 2
Initial stage of the paroxysm: a cherry red lava fountain is jetting from a vent low on the NNE flank of the SE Crater cone (which is seen in the left photo with the fountain at right). It is shortly after 1600 h, and the activity is rapidly increasing
14 February 2000 3 14 February 2000 4
Within one or two minutes, the entire SE Crater cone disappears behind a dense curtain of gas and ash, and a large eruption column begins to develop, drifting south under the strong northerly wind, right towards Torre del Filosofo (which is out of the images to the left)
14 February 2000 5 While bombs and scoriae begin to fall all over the cone and a dense gas plume drifts around its eastern side from the vents on the northern flank, new fountains are bursting from vents in the summit area: a red glow is visible in the left part of the photo, where a lava fountain shoots obliquely to the south
14 February 2000 6 14 February 2000 7
At the height of the paroxysm, a large lava fountain (seen glowing in its lower portion) rises up to 400 m from the summit vent, and the eruption column above the crater rapidly rises several kilometers high
14 February 2000 8 14 February 2000 9
About 10 minutes after its beginning, the paroxysmal activity begins to wane. The eruption column is less dense, and the SE Crater cone reappears from its veil of ash and gas
14 February 2000 10 14 February 2000 11
The paroxysm has reached its final stage. The lava fountains break down and for a few minutes ash continues to be emitted from the summit vent of the SE Crater. Lava is still flowing down in several streams on the southern (left) side of the cone
14 February 2000 12 14 February 2000 13
About 10 minutes after the end of the paroxysm, Behncke and Scarpinati reach the still flowing lava at the southern base of the SE Crater cone. Lava is slowly advancing over lavas emplaced during the previous parosyxms, and lava continues to spall off the steep southern flank of the cone (in the background)
14 February 2000 14 A detailed view of the lava front advancing slowly near the southern base of the SE Crater cone

20 February 2000 update. While eruptive paroxysms are occurring at the Southeast Crater about once or twice daily. The latest three of which I know took place on 18 February at shortly before 1600 h (local time=GMT+1), on 19 February at about 0950 h and at around 0400 h on the 20th. The number of paroxysms since 26 January is now over thirty.
Analysis of photos and spectacular video footage taken during some of the paroxysms of the past seven days reveals much interesting detail about these events and their dynamics, which will be discussed below for the case of the two eruptive episodes on 15 and 16 February. Furthermore, some words will be said here about safety in the summit area and observation possibilities during eruptive paroxysms.
Paroxysmal eruptive episodes of 15 and 16 February 2000. The following describes in more detail the eruptive episodes at the Southeast Crater (SE Crater) on the afternoon of 15 February and on the afternoon of 16 February, which were observed in detail by several persons, some of which know the volcano well and have witnessed other important eruptive events in the past. Marco Fulle, who frequently collaborates with "Italy's Volcanoes" and "Stromboli On-line", was at the Torre del Filosofo mountain hut on both occasions (he did not observe directly the paroxysm on the morning of 16 February). This mountain hut, which was erected in the late-1960s on a small hill, stands about 1 km south of the SE Crater and has been until now spared from destruction by lava flows, but in 1971 and 1989 lava flows came very close to the building, scratching one of its corners in the latter occasion. During the summer season hundreds or even thousands of tourists are brought to this place by the jeeps of the SITAS company which is in charge of the cable car and the tourist jeeps on the southern flank of Etna. It is generally considered a safe place because it has been affected only rarely by heavy falls of pyroclastics during major explosive eruptions at the summit craters.
By the afternoon of 15 February, the SE Crater had been in a state of absolute calm since the eruptive episode witnessed by Behncke and Scarpinati shortly after 1600 h on 14 February. A strong wind blew towards east, so that in the case of renewed activity, most of the scoriae and ash would have been deposited to the east of the crater. After nearly 26 hours of quiescence, increased gas output was noted by a member of a group of about 7 persons staying at Torre del Filosofo, shortly before 1800 h. This was followed by the appearance of weak Strombolian bursts at the summit vent of the SE Crater cone. There does not appear to have been any activity at the vent low on the N flank of the cone, which had been the first to erupt during the previous paroxysmal eruptive episode. Strombolian bursts continued for about five minutes at increasing frequency and intensity from at least two vents, the more northerly of which ejected bombs obliquely onto the E flank of the cone. Then the activity became more and more continuous, and incandescent pyroclastics were thrown at ever greater distance, mainly onto the eastern flank. Shortly after 1800, a glowing spot appeared immediately below the southern lip of the summit vent, which lies in a deep notch persisting since the beginning of episodic eruptive activity at the SE Crater in late January. A small pulsating fountain rose from the vent, initially only a few meters high, but gaining rapidly in height and vigor. Within shortly a very small lava flow began to leak from this vent, slowly extending downslope. At the same time, the noise of the activity began to change from the initial intermittent, relatively flat, gushing noise of the Strombolian activity to a continuous loud and deep roaring.
The activity increased rapidly. Within one minute or two from the appearance of the southern vent, huge jets of fluid lava rose from that vent and, even more vigorously, from the vents at the summit of the cone. The volume of lava flowing from the southern vent increased rapidly, at times generating surges overriding the slower, more advanced part of the flow. The entire cone was soon covered by incandescent pyroclastics. The observers, who still stood in the flat area to the N of the Torre del Filosofo building, saw a curtain of falling glowing bombs and scoriae extending rapidly towards them, and the sky above them all at once was full of red-hot pyroclastics flying in their direction. While beating a hasty retreat to find shelter at the Torre del Filosofo building, cameraman David Bryant filmed bombs falling around and behind him; some of them had diameters of tens of centimeters, and many were seen bouncing from the ground and bursting into smaller fragments. Fortunately it was only one particularly strong, oblique jet of lava from the southern vent, which sent bombs to as far as the Torre del Filosofo, "if it had lasted 30 seconds longer, we wouldn't be here anymore", as Bryant expressed.
Bryant managed to film the ongoing activity from relative safety behind an overhanging roof of the building, placing himself on a large accumulation of snow (in January, heavy snowfalls had buried the building almost to its roof) on its southeastern side. While still increasing, the activity had now gained a state of relative stability, with all fountains (at least those visible from Torre del Filosofo) rising vertically. The largest fountain came from the summit vent(s), and from Bryant's video footage as well from estimates made by other observers, including Behncke who watched the activity from Catania and Scarpinati, who made observations from Acireale, the fountain height was consistently 500-600 m with bursts reaching 800 m above the summit. In this period, the lower central portion of the main fountain had a flame-like appearance, with brighter and darker portions mixing in a turbulent uprush. The entire cone was covered with incandescent material, some of which developed secondary flowage, while a broad lava flow gushed down the southern flank, fanning out at its base.
About 10 minutes after the onset of violent fountaining, the fountains rising from the cone began to appear slightly weaker, although the continuous uprush continued for some time. Then, from one moment to another, the fountains stopped, while thousands of incandescent projectiles continued to fall in a dense shower onto the cone. After a few seconds, new lava jets appeared, but they were only short-lived and much weaker than the earlier fountains. The cone eventually stood there quiet, covered all over with incandescence, and lava continued to flow on its southern flank. As the activity ceased, the members of the group at Torre del Filosofo screamed and laughed with relief. Each of them had lived through moments of extreme apprehension when the rain of bombs had extended around and beyond them.
These eyewitness accounts, and observations made by the author of this site during the paroxysm on the afternoon of 15 February, indicate that there is no safety at Torre del Filosofo during the ongoing paroxysmal eruptions from the SE Crater. The group surprised by the rain of bombs during the 15 February paroxysm fortunately had stayed close to the building, so that they reached shelter in a few seconds. Had they stayed a bit farther away, they might have encountered very serious problems.
For about 10 minutes after the cessation of the paroxysmal activity, minor Strombolian activity occasionally resumed for short periods. The most interesting thing at this stage was the continuing flow of lava from a crack on the southern flank of the cone. The surface of lava in the crack dropped consistently, indicating that the conduit virtually ran empty through the crack. This crack apparently had opened at the height of the paroxysm, but it is difficult to judge if fountaining had occurred also lower on the flank, since this area had been entirely hidden from view by the dense curtain of falling pyroclastics.
The 15 February paroxysm was certaily the most vigorous activity produced at the SE Crater since its reawakening on 26 January. Nonetheless it was of minor proportions compared to events like the 4 September 1999 paroxysm at the Voragine, and its most dramatic effects were limited to a small area immediately around the crater.
The paroxysm on the afternoon of 16 February was, though spectacular, much less intense than that of the evening before. Fountain heights were only about 300 m, and the paroxysmal activity lasted only about 7 minutes.

Based on what has been said in the preceding paragraphs, people hoping to see the eruptive activity at close quarters are advised to stay always away from the direction of the main fallout (downwind from the SE Crater). During the paroxysm on the afternoon of 14 February, clasts up to 10 cm in diameter fell on the Piano del Lago, the relatively flat area about 2 km south of Torre del Filosofo. Fragments of this size hurt badly if falling on unprotected parts of a human body. Visitors should maintain a reasonable distance from the crater, possibly of at least 3 km (such as the Montagnola area, near the upper cable car station, if this is not downwind from the crater). In the case of being surprised by a paroxysmal eruptive episode, one should try to find shelter, either at a building (although close to the SE Cratere, there's nothing except the Torre del Filosofo mountain hut), or behind a large rock. However, any unexperienced visitor of Etna is advised to stay near the upper cable car station, the activity can be well observed from there.

Several other web pages covering the October-November 1999 eruptions of the Bocca Nuova have recently been posted; these contain photos and movie clips of some of the most spectacular moments of that period.

A photo gallery covering the period September-November 1999 (with photos by Boris Behncke and Giuseppe Scarpinati)

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)

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