Italy's Volcanoes: The Cradle of Volcanology

Etna Decade Volcano, Italy
Eruption update:
26-27 April 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.

Etna summit map, March 2000

Map of the summit area and upper flanks of Etna, showing approximate distribution of lavas erupted from the SE Crater since 26 March (as of late March 2000). Lavas erupted between February and November 1999 from fissures at the SE base of the SE Crater cone and in October-November 1999 from the Bocca Nuova are shown for comparison (see legend). Arrows at flow terminations indicate flow directions rather than flow lengths. Broken line extending westwards from TDF (which stands for Torre del Filosofo) is the rim of the Piano caldera, probably formed during a violent explosive eruption in 122 BC. V is Voragine, BN is Bocca Nuova. Vents on the flanks of the SE Crater cone, which were active during many of the paroxysmal eruptive episodes of 2000 are indicated in yellow color, including the "Sudestino" on the S base of the SE Crater cone

WARNING: Access to the summit area is 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 April 2000 update. More detail is emerging about the 26 April eruptive episode at the SE Crater and its effects, which were more far-reaching than usual. Additional information was furnished by Charles Rivière and Robert Clocchiatti, who witnessed the event from close distance, Giuseppe Scarpinati (Italian delegate of the Association Volcanologique Européenne, "Lave", seated in Paris; Scarpinati lives in the town of Acireale on the SE flank of Etna), and other sources.
The first signs of a revival of the activity at the SE Crater were observed by Scarpinati at around midnight (during the night of 25-26 April) when he noted "a very small incandescent lava extrusion, which was barely visible" at the N base of the SE Crater cone. By 0530 h on the 26th, the lava flow had grown significantly and now was about 500 m long; at its source there was vigorous Strombolian activity. The next thing that happened was the emission of white vapor mixed with brown ash plumes at 0615, as observed by Rivière. Fifteen minutes later Scarpinati, who had returned to sleeping, was awakened by loud detonations and saw the beginning of strong explosive activity at the summit vent of the SE Crater. According to Rivière, the true paroxysmal phase started at 0655 h, when lava fountains rose hundreds of meters from the crater; a tall eruption column rapidly rose several kilometers above the summit of the volcano, forming an impressive dark mushroom of gas and ash. The plume then was carried to the SE, in the direction of towns like Viagrande (which received a heavy shower of scoriaceous lapilli) and Acireale, where pea-sized lapilli fell abundantly. From Catania, the view of the plume passing just slightly to the north was awe-inspiring; it filled about half of the sky and blotted out the rising sun.
The strongest activity occurred shortly after 0700 when large bombs were thrown to more than 1 km distance of the SE Crater summit. Many bombs up to 0.5 m in diameter fell around the Torre del Filosofo building, 1 km S of the crater. At that time of the day the guided tours of tourists to the building, which is now the point of arrival of the tours, had not yet been initiated, so that there very few people in the area, and no one was hurt. During this phase of activity, a vent burst open low on the S flank of the SE Crater cone, just above the saddle which stands between the cone and the newly grown Sudestino. Lava was emitted from this vent to the SW, forming a short flow; no lava appears to have flown from there in other directions. Invisible to observers on the S side of the erupting cone, lava was also emitted through a large breach on the N side of the cone, where it advanced for a few hundred meters.
The activity subsided rapidly after 0720 h and was essentially over five minutes later. However, the lava flow to the SW remained active for more than one hour afterwards, stopping at the N side of the 1971 "Observatory" cone (indicated as "1971 cone" on the map above).
It was shortly after the end of the main paroxysmal phase, at 0739 h, when an airbus of the AirEurope, which had departed from the Fontanarossa international airport of Catania in the direction of Milano, entered the fallout zone of the plume at an altitude of about 1000 m. Apparently the aircraft received windshield damage by the violent impact of scoriaceous lapilli and was forced to return immediately to the airport of Catania. Windshields were scratched but apparently not broken. Passengers reported to news reporters that it seemed that the airplane entered a zone of turbulence, causing it to vibrate strongly, and then it seemed as though something was scratching one of the side windows, "as if it were hit by a sharp object". According to some news reports, some fear was aroused among the passengers, but the pilot soon informed the passengers about a "technical problem" and told them everything was under control, and that they were to return to Catania airport. Other sources report that the passengers did not note anything unusual until the pilot advised of the return to Catania.
This incident, the first of this kind reported at Etna, underlines the existence of a hazard that has received relatively little attention in the past at this volcano. Etna is generally considered a mainly effusive volcano, for it is essentially known for emission of voluminous lava flows during flank eruptions, which have a relatively low degree of explosivity. Summit activity on the other hand is often much more explosive, and this has been the case particularly during the past five years, since the current period of intense summit activity has begun. In this period nearly hundred episodes of powerful explosive activity generating significant tephra columns have occurred at all four summit craters, of which 51 have occurred in the last three months alone at the SE Crater. Etna thus is currently among the most explosively active volcanoes on Earth.
The circumstances of the 26 April incident are still not clear. It is not well explainable why the airliner ended up under the plume. The eruption had been perfectly visible from Catania airport as well as from all over eastern Sicily, and it occurred quite some time before the airplane took off. Yet the pilot said that he did not see the plume ("it was invisible, certainly not a black cloud" - yet the plume was quite dark as seen from Catania by residents of the city), and to his knowledge it had been drifting in the opposite direction (that is, towards W; however, since about one week the wind had been constantly blowing from W). Certainly an investigation will follow and hopefully teach an important lesson which will help avoid similar incidents in the future, as air traffic at Catania is intensifying with a rapid growth of the tourist flux, and more explosive eruptions of Etna are to be expected in the near future.
Later on 26 April Boris Behncke (Dipartimento di Scienze Geologiche, University of Catania) and others visited the summit area of Etna (as briefly reported in the 26 April update below). Very detailed observations could be made at the Bocca Nuova and the Voragine, and good views were obtained of the SE Crater from the platform in the SE part of what once was the Central Crater of Etna.
The Bocca Nuova, accessible only from SE, S or SW, which in any case means an agonizing 300 m climb up the steep flank of the main summit cone, is a most varied, colorful little world on its own. There have been no remarkable changes at this crater since visits made in the past three months, and the activity is the same as observed on earlier occasions: gas emissions from a vent in the E part of the crater, at times more explosively, but without ejections of any solid material. The explosions are generally very short, producing sharp reports, and often resulting in the formation of gas rings.
Little activity is apparently occuring in the second large vent in the NW part of the crater. This vent is a pit about 150 m in diameter with vertical, in part even overhanging, walls, from which several internal avalanches were observed during the stay at the Bocca Nuova. The interior of this pit is invisible due to a dense, but passive gas plume.
It was possible to walk around what remains of the NW rim of the Bocca Nuova to the area where this crater once intersected the SW rim of the Voragine. Until 1998 the two craters were separated by a thin wall of rock (which demonstrated a surprising degree of stability), known as the "diaframma". Now in its place there is a kind of a saddle separating a knob on the SW rim of the Voragine from the N side of the partially collapsed cone that had built around the NW vent in the Bocca Nuova in October-November 1999. The area is cut by numerous degassing fractures, some up to 1.5 m wide, with beautifully colorful sublimates on their rims.
The structure of the adjacent Voragine is amazingly simple in comparison with that of the Bocca Nuova. The crater has a large pit (about 200 m in diameter) in its W part, which was formed during the violent 4 September 1999 eruptive episode. To the N, NW, E and SE this is surrounded by a very flat terrace up to 150 m wide, which lies some 20 m below the E rim of the crater.
The SE Crater, as seen from the flat area in the SE part of the main summit cone, shows a deep notch on its N side, which reaches almost down to its base. The notch and the lavas that had issued at its lower end (where the effusive vents active before the 26 April paroxysm are located) were well illuminated by the sun, so that no incandescence (if there was any) could be perceived there. However, a fan-shaped field of numerous overlapping lava flows was seen to extend from there towards NE and E, into the upper reaches of the Valle del Leone and the Valle del Bove. Only very weak gas emission was seen in some locations along the N flank notch. The summit of the SE Crater cone consists of two very sharp crests lying on the E and W sides of the elongate summit vent area, which are of approximately equal height. The highest points of the cone stand several meters above the elevation of the main part of the terrace from where observations were made, that is, at approximately 3270 m. The highest point of Etna presently lies at about 3310 m elevation, so that the SE Crater would have to grow only 40 m to become the new summit of Etna. If the activity continues at a similar rate to that of the past two years, the cone might reach that height within one year or two.
Further reading on the internet. Many Italian newspapers with on-line versions carry the news of the 26 April eruptive episode and the airplane incident. Note that many of these links will probably remain on-line only for the next few days, and all are in Italian.
La Sicilia, the most widely read newspaper in Catania, has an article entitled "Etna wakes up in the morning" and another one with the header "Debris against the airbus". The print edition contains a third article on the fall of ash and lapilli on towns to the SE of the volcano. It furthermore contains numerous photographs of photographer Fabrizio Villa (who is faithfully documenting as many of the eruptive events of the volcano as possible).
The Giornale di Sicilia has the following on the event: "Cloud of dust and ash from Etna - Airplane forced to return", and a short interview with L. Villari, director of the Poseidon monitoring network: "Black rain of sand and lapilli - No reason for alarm, says volcanologist".
The third newspaper focused on Sicily (and Calabria) is the Gazzetta del Sud, which reports "Airbus in an ash cloud - A disaster narrowly avoided".
The national newspaper La Repubblica tells of "Fear during flight over Etna, airplane hit by lapilli".
The Corriere della Sera of Milano has three articles on the event. The first is headed "Etna: a cloud of lapilli hits jet plane - Terror on flight Catania-Milano"; the second is under the header "Storm of lava; Etna stops airplane", while the third, "Volcanologist says, the only countermeasure is to modify the airline routes", has an interview with one of the scientists of the Poseidon monitoring network, R. Azzarro.
At Yahoo, a search option allows to find news containing the word "volcano". It also has a link to press photos about volcanoes. For the next few days you will find there some of the photos by press photographer Fabrizio Villa of the damaged airplane and of the eruption column of 26 April.

26 April 2000 update. Almost ten days have passed between the 50th and eruptive episode at the SE Crater on 16 April and the next episode on the morning of 26 April. At around 0630 h the crater finally erupted again violently, producing a gas and ash plume which is drifting over Catania right as this update is posted on the web. The activity could be well observed from Catania during perfectly clear weather. It seems that this eruptive episode - the 51st in precisely 3 months - lasted shorter than its predecessor and maybe it was slightly less violent. The main phase of the activity lasted about fifty minutes and was characterized by lava fountaining, the generation of a tall eruption column, and some lava emission.
During the hours preceding the Giuseppe Scarpinati (Acireale) observed the slow resumption of lava effusion at the vents at the N base of the SE Crater cone. This activity gradually increased with Strombolian bursts from one of the vents. At the same time no lava emission occurred at the S side of the cone, but mountain guides had observed increased fuming late on 25 April. The eruptive episode was thus announced like most of its predecessors by a gradual increase of the activity at vents located on its flanks.
Interestingly the Sudestino, which had emitted lava for about 18 hours prior to the onset of paroxysmal activity during the preceding episode on 16 April, did not show any activity during the 26 April event. Instead, towards the end of the paroxysmal activity, lava was emitted from a vent located in the saddle between the Sudestino and the SE Crater cone. One lava flow, which moved from there to the SW, advanced only about 200 m to near the 1971 "Observatory" cone; other lava may have descended to the SE, but no information is available about the dimensions of flows in that area. Some fresh lava forming a short flow was also observed during the afternoon on the N side of the cone. Other flows from recent eruptive episodes had advanced significantly farther into the Valle del Leone.
This is the second consecutive time that the repose period between two eruptive episodes has lasted ten days; the latest two repose periods have been the longest so far in the current series of paroxysms at the SE Crater.
During a visit to the summit area a few hours after the end of the paroxysm on 26 April, Behncke and others saw no further movement at the SW lava flow, and the SE Crater and the Sudestino were perfectly quiet. The Bocca Nuova was equal to how it had been seen by Behncke during previous visits in early February and late March. The Voragine was also quiet, with only some gas issuing from the bottom of the large pit formed in its W part on 4 September 1999.

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 (the most recent of the paroxysm of 16 April 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)
26 March-1 April: 8205 (1172 per day!)
Change of counter mode on 2 April
3-9 April: 6046 (864 per day)

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