Italy's Volcanoes: The Cradle of Volcanology

Etna Decade Volcano, Italy
Eruption update:
16-27 March 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 22 March 2000 paroxysm:
The view from NE Catania

These photos are captures from video taken by David Bryant

22 March 2000 1 22 March 2000 2
22 March 2000 3 22 March 2000 4
22 March 2000 5 22 March 2000 6

These stills were captured from video footage recorded by British cameraman and film maker David Bryant between 2028 h (frame # 1) and about 2055 h (frame # 6) on 22 March 2000. Bryant was filming the activity from the area of Cannizzaro, a Catania suburb lying on the Ionian coast to the NE of the city. Etna is thus viewed from the SSE. The images clearly show the tall main fountain jetting from the summit vent of the SE Crater, and several smaller fountains high on the WSW and on the lower NE or E flank of the SE Crater cone. Lava is flowing in two branches from the latter vents a few hundred meters down into the Valle del Bove, while a voluminous flow on the WSW flank is visible only in its uppermost part, then disappears behind the ridge on which the Torre del Filosofo building stands. The last frame shows the lights of Cannizzaro and the town of San Gregorio in the foreground

WARNING: Access to the summit area is HIGHLY DANGEROUS. Violent eruptive episodes are occurring frequently 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. 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. 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 (during the summer) at the hotel "Le Betulle" at Piano Provenzana, on the northern side.

27 March 2000 update. No new eruptive activity has occurred at the Southeast Crater as of midnight on 26 March, but another paroxysmal eruptive episode will likely occur within the next 48 hours, if the crater maintains its rhythm of activity established in the past 4 weeks.
On 25 March, Boris Behncke (Dipartimento di Scienze Geologiche of the University of Catania) and British cameraman and film maker David Bryant made an extensive visit to the summit area to survey the effects of the ongoing eruptions of the SE Crater and some of the changes caused by the activity of the Bocca Nuova in October-November 1999.
The cone of the SE Crater has grown to unprecedented dimensions. Its highest point now stands at about 3280 m elevation, almost 100 m higher than it was three years ago, and only about 30-40 m below the highest summit of Etna. During the past month it also has grown much broader, especially on its E side, and it appears that its summit vent is considerably larger than it was in the first half of February. At its southern base stands a large knob of lava, with two larger and several smaller peaks, which is about 30 m high; this is the "Sudestino", which produced some of the paroxysmal eruptive episodes in mid-March (especially on the 12th, the 14th and the 19th).
Lava flows from the most recent two eruptive episodes (on 22 and 24 March) were mainly emitted from vents on the upper S flank and on the lower NE flank of the SE Crater cone. Those emitted by the latter vents have not yet been surveyed, but on the S side of the cone, lava has mainly flown past the W side of the "Sudestino", then turned SW between this vent and the "Observatory cone" (formed in 1971), to cover a part of the flat terrain to the W and SW of the latter. From there three tongues of lava have spilled (on 22 March) onto the relatively steep slope between that flat area and the prehistoric cone of Monte Frumento Supino. Two flow lobes have almost reached the N base of this cone, while the westernmost lobe ran about half way down that distance. The 24 March lava followed the course of the 22 March lava, but extended only slightly beyond the 1971 Observatory cone. No lava has been emplaced near the building of Torre del Filosofo since 14 March (on 19 March, lava flows passed about 100-150 m to the W of the building), and the access road has been reopened to about 50 m below that building. Tourists are now brought to the building but contained within a small area delimited by a fence at the margin of the new lava field, which is nearly inaccesible.
The plain to the S of the main summit cone is covered by a thick layer of scoriae emitted in the past 2 months by the SE Crater. Under that deposit there still lie several meters of snow. When approaching the SW side of the main summit cone, Behncke and Bryant found several large bombs (up to 30 cm in diameter) and two even larger blocks of altered older rock; these had been ejected on 22 March from the SE Crater and fallen about 1.5 km to the WSW. Bombs up to 2 m in diameter, many of which had created spectacular impact craters were found at a distance of 200-300 m from the SE Crater on the SE rim of the Bocca Nuova.
Activity in the Bocca Nuova was almost exactly as it had been when observed on 8 February by Behncke and Scarpinati. Loud emissions of hot gas occurred at intervals of a few minutes from a vent in the E part of the crater. These emissions did not eject any fragments of fresh magmatic rock, and no recent ejecta of this type were seen around the vent. There is no evidence that there has been anything like Strombolian activity since the early days of February.
The NW part of the Bocca Nuova, which had last been seen by Behncke on 1 October 1999 (that is, just before the vigorous activity in that crater, which culminated in the complete filling of the crater and spectacular overflows of lava onto the W flank of Etna), is barely recognizable. A large degassing pit occupies most of that area; this pit was formed as a result of the collapse of a pyroclastic cone built during the October-November 1999 eruptions. On the NW side of the pit, the former rim of the Bocca Nuova had been breached by lava flowing from underneath a pyroclastic cover, draining the lava lake that had filled the crater during the activity. The area where this lava had extruded (probably it had been squeezed out from underneath the growing pyroclastic cone) had numerous amazing features, such as large extruded slabs resembling small lava spines and domes. Immediatey to the S stands a knob which is all that remains of another peculiar feature formed during the October-November 1999 activity, a large block of lava and welded scoriae which had been pushed over the rim of the Bocca Nuova on 25 October 1999. This knob was covered all over by sulfur sublimates and was criscrossed by numerous cracks which were incandescent immediately below the surface, and rimmed by beautiful sublimates ranging in color from orange and yellow to green and turquoise.
Little could be seen of the Voragine, which was filled with dense vapor, but there was no evidence of recent eruptive activity. However, there was some kind of activity going on at the Northeast Crater: while resting at its S base, Behncke and Bryant could hear a whooshing noise, characteristic of vigorous, possibly explosive, degassing. This noise was very different from the loud roaring noises caused by degassing deep within the central pit of that crater during June-September 1999. The NE Crater had been the site of vigorous Strombolian activity in late-September to early October 1999 but had been quiet since then.
The observations made on 26 March indicate that almost all eruptive activity at Etna is presently confined to the SE Crater, which will probably continue to produce violent, short-lived eruptive episodes for some time.

24 March 2000 update. Exactly two days after its previous eruptive episode, the Southeast Crater produced another spectacular eruptive episode, which was in many respects similar to its predecessor. The activity initiated with lava outflow on the NE flank of the SE Crater cone after nightfall, and gradually gained in strength until, at about 1945 h (local time=GMT+1), lava fountains began jetting from the summit vent of the crater. Giuseppe Scarpinati observed from his home in Acireale that before the lava fountain appeared at the summit vent, a lava fountain had developed at the effusive vent on the NE side of the SE Crater cone, and then an intermittent glow appeared at its summit vent, which probably resulted from weak Strombolian activity. The lava fountain gained in vigor around 2000 h and continued strongly until about 2040 h. During this period, loud prolonged rumbling sounds could be heard above the traffic noise in Catania, and windows vibrated in Acireale and other towns closer to the volcano. Scarpinati remarked that this was a much louder eruptive episode than the previous one, which hardly produced any noise audible at Acireale.
Lava flowed vigorously from the NE vents into the Valle del Bove, bifurcating into numerous lobes, the longest of which reached a length of more than 1 km from their source. On the SSW flank, the vent, which had already erupted two days before, reactivated and produced a modest lava flow. By 2100 the paroxysmal phase of the eruptive episode was over, but lava continued to flow vigorously from the NE vents, accompanied by mild spattering, and had not ceased as this update was posted (shortly before midnight on 24 March).

22 March 2000 update. The following is based on visual observations made by Behncke from Catania, by David Bryant from Cannizzaro, NE of Catania, and by Giuseppe Scarpinati from Acireale, N of Catania. The text has been slightly modified on 23 March.
Three and a half days after the latest eruptive episode from the "Sudestino" on the southern flank of the Southeast Crater cone, the main vent of the Southeast Crater began erupting in the late afternoon o 22 March. By 1945 h (local time=GMT+1), the activity, which had initially consisted of mild Strombolian bursts, had gradually developed into a near continuous fountain. Shorty after 2000 h, a new vent burst open high on the SSW flank of the SE Crater cone, and soon lava began to flow from this vent. Sometime around 2025 h, eruptive activity began from vents at the northeastern (or eastern) base of the cone, producing a spectacular lava fountain a few tens of meters high, and a lava flow that formed two lobes into the Valle del Bove. The main fountain at the summit of the SE Crater cone at this time was about 300 m high, with some brief jets rising even higher, but began to decrease a few minutes later and ceased shortly before 2100 h; lava continued to flow from the flank vents for some time thereafter. The flow from the SSW flank fissure apparently turned sharply to the W and thus the Torre del Filosofo building was not threatened. It seems that this flow reached a length of up to 1.5 km and turned to the SW near Monte Frumento Supino. The other flow, which was fed by the NE (or E) vents, ran down into the Valle del Bove probably to the E and SE, and was possibly longer than the flow from the SSW flank vents. The wind direction was to the SW, so that any tephra falls are expected to have occurred in the area between the towns of Paternò and Adrano. By about 2220 h, very mild eruptive activity was continuing at the NE (or E) vent and possibly near the summit of the SE Crater cone, and lava flows kept advancing to the SSW and E.
This latest eruptive episode - the 43rd in two months - apparently marked a return to conditions similar to those prevailing in early to mid-February, when the most vigorous activity occurred at the summit vent of the SE Crater, but lava was erupted from vents that opened on the S and N flanks of its cone. The duration of this event, however, was longer than most paroxysms of that period when eruptive episodes occurred at a rate of 2-3 per day. It is also interesting that no activity occurred at the "Sudestino" which had been the main vent of the last few eruptive episodes.

19 March 2000 update. After almost five days of quiescence, a new eruptive episode occurred at the "Sudestino" vent of the Southeast Crater during the early morning hours of 19 March. The activity was visible from Catania at about 01:30 h (local time=GMT+1) in spite of very bad weather, when a gap opened in the low clouds. At that time, a broad fountain was seen jetting from the vent, and lava had begun to extend down the flanks of the "Sudestino" cone. The activity probably lasted until about 0300 h, by which time the fountaining activity was essentially over, but lava continued to advance on the flat area to the southwest of the eruptive vent, slightly to the west of the Torre del Filosofo building, which had been encircled by lava on 14 March. It is not known whether any lava has reached the building this time, but is appears that most lava went in other directions.
At the height of the activity, the fountain from the "Sudestino" rose 150-200 m high, but decreased later to a few tens of meters in height. There was also significant ash emission - maybe from the crater lying slightly above the "Sudestino" on the lower south flank of the SE Crater cone - as evident from a light rain of ash that fell over Catania and surrounding areas during the early morning hours. The time of the ash fall must have been considerably later than 0200 h, since by that time it was still raining, but the ash fell when most water on cars had already dried up.
When day broke, lava was still advancing on the slope below the plain south of the summit cone complex, and dense whitish fume continued to rise from the "Sudestino" vent as of noon on 19 March.

16 March 2000 update. Boris Behncke (Dipartimento di Scienze Geologiche of the University of Catania) and British cameraman and film maker David Bryant visited the summit area of Etna on 16 March to document the effects of the recent eruptive activity at the Southeast Crater. They were accompanied by a small group of students from France, Spain and the UK. No eruptive activity occurred during the several hours of their ascent and stay at the Torre del Filosofo building.
Lava from the latest episode of eruptive activity at the SE Crater - or, rather, from vents on its lower southern flank - has reached and nearly encircled the Torre del Filosofo building, and piled up nearly to its roof on the northern side. Only the southern and eastern sides of the building are still accessible at ground height. Miraculously the entrance to the cellar of the building is still accessible, although the lava has burned the wooden shack which stood in front of it, and which had been used by the Etna mountain guides for the sale of souvenirs and drinks. While the group was approaching towards the building, the last bits of scientific and communication equipment (antennae and solar panels) were removed from the building; a new road had been dug by a carterpillar into the most recent lava up to about 100 m away to allow transport of the equipment.
The building presents a pitiful sight - even more pitiful than it was for many years before. It had definitely not been one of Sicily's architectural masterpieces, but it had given comfort and shelter during bad weather and eruptions; now this may soon vanish in a new assault of lava. The rapid snowmelt - maybe in part caused by the burning of the wooden shack, which had been covered to its roof by snow until Saturday - had generated a small flash flood on the eastern side of the building, where a deep ravine was eroded into the unconsolidated ground, exposing older tephra deposits, and, on top of them, a stratum of litter produced during construction of the building in the late-1960s. Below this ravine, which was up to 3 m deep, a peculiar yellowish gray lahar deposit was formed, extending about 100 m down the slope to the south. The deposit contained gravel and blocks up to 0.5 m in diameter.
It appears that the destruction of the guides' shack only occurred as late as on 14 March, not, as previously indicated, during the 12 March eruptive episode. Observers of the eruptive episode of 14 March reported that at the time of their observations, they noted "no lava near the Torre del Filosofo", and saw the wooden shack exactly as Behncke had seen it during his previous visit, on 11 March: buried almost completely by snow, with only a small portion of the roof protruding. This detail is interesting, because the shack had been reported "burnt by the lava" already on 12 March, and that same day lava had reportedly touched the main Torre del Filosofo building on its northern and western sides (source of the latter piece of information: weekly bulletin of the Poseidon monitoring network, 13 March 2000, where no reference to the guides' shack is made).
During the most recent eruptive episodes - the latest had occurred on Sunday 12 March and Tuesday 14 March - most activity had occurred not from the summit vent of the Southeast Crater itself, but from vents on the lower southern flank of its cone. Photos taken by mountain guides during the eruptive episode of 12 March show that a dark ash plume originated from a crater about two-thirds down the southern flank of the cone, while a broad lava fountain was erupted from a vent still further downslope, where a new lava shield crowned by a small cone has formed. Most if not all of the lava came from this latter vent, which appears to have become the principal eruptive vent, and which will be from here on named "Sudestino" (little Southeast - in agreement with the famous "Nordestino", a small cone that formed adjacent to the Northeast Crater in the late-1960s; the name "Sudestino" has been proposed first by Marco Fulle of Stromboli On-line and has been accepted by the makers of both Stromboli On-line and "Italy's Volcanoes", but it is also being used by the Etnean mountain guides). Since Behncke's previous visit to the Torre del Filosofo area on Saturday 11 March, the "Sudestino" has grown significantly and assumed a more pointed shape, whereas the larger crater - source of the ash emissions during the 12 March eruptive episode - is similar to how it was like during the past few weeks, without much of a cone around it. Both vents are only about 600 m away from the Torre del Filosofo building, and it is well possible that the next eruptive episodes will deliver more lava in its direction, which will inevitably cause the burial of the building.

If the more recent eruptive episodes are compared to those of early to mid-February, a number of significant changes are to be noted.
1) The intervals between the episodes are longer than about one month earlier. While in mid-February there were up to three episodes in one day, the intervals are now lasting several days (maximum: 4 days).
2) The eruptive episodes are less violent now than one month ago. In mid-February, fire fountains often jetted to heights of 300-500 m and even higher, as in the case of the 15 February paroxysm. The lava fountains from the "Sudestino" on 12 March were at best 100 m high.
3) The culminating phases of the episodes now last longer than those of the earlier ones - more than one hour compared to only 10 minutes. Similarly, the buildup of the activity extends over periods of many hours, while in February the buildup - from increased gas emission to the establishment of a continuous gas and magma jet - often lasted only 15-30 minutes.
4) Most eruptive activity during the latest episodes was concentrated at the "Sudestino", while the main vent of the Southeast Crater produced relatively little activity and no lava effusion. There is not much known about the vents on the northern flank of the SE Crater cone, but it appears that they are less significant in the recent activity than in early to mid-February.
5) The latest eruptive episodes have produced a significant volume of lava on the southern side of the SE Crater, with much longer flows than their predecessors. Lava flows of the latest two episodes have advanced up to 1.5 km from the summit of the SE Crater (almost 1 km from their source vent) and covered a broad terrain to the south of the SE Crater.

What are the prospects for the near future? Eruptive episodes will likely continue from the Southeast Crater and its new vents. Lava will continue to spill from these vents over the gently sloping plain south of them, and some flows may reach the Torre del Filosofo again. If the lava tightens its deadly grip, the building will eventually be buried - not crushed - by the lava, and the only structure offering shelter will be lost. During the impending summer season - regular guided tours by cable car and jeeps will be resumed early next week - tourists might no longer be transported to the building, either because it will no longer be there or because of the risk from the ongoing activity. "We'll bring them as far as we can", one guide said today, "certainly respecting the limits of safety." For the moment, the only safe place from which relatively good views of the summit craters can be obtained is the "Belvedere", on the rim of the Valle del Bove, about 2.5 km SSE of the SE Crater.

15 February 2000 15 February 2000
15 February 2000 15 February 2000
15 February 2000 15 February 2000
See the spectacular video clips (taken by David Bryant) of the Southeast Crater in eruption on 15 February 2000

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.

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

Photos of the eruptive activity, 15-23 February 2000, by Tom Pfeiffer (University of Arhus, Denmark)

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 (the most recent of March 2000), updates, and other, highly interesting items (in French and English)

visitors counted since 12 February 1999
This page received 4362 hits during the week of 24-30 October 1999. 4430 hits were counted the week after.
Visitor statistics in February-March 2000:
01-05 February: 2189 (438 per day)
06-12 February: 4170 (596 per day)
13-19 February: 6498 (928 per day)
20-26 February: 4988 (712 per day)
27 February-04 March: 5327 (767 per day)
05-11 March: 4103 (586 per day)
12-18 March: 3942 (563 per day)
19-25 March: 6992 (999 per day)
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