Italy's Volcanoes: The Cradle of Volcanology

Etna Decade Volcano, Italy
Eruption update:
14 November 2001 - 29 March 2002
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Etna, late March 2002
Impressive photograph of ash emission from the Northeast Crater (left) and the Bocca Nuova (right), taken from the town of Randazzo on the NNW flank of Etna, probably on 28 or 29 March 2002. Height of the ash columns above the summit is about 800 m. A sight like this easily creates the impression that the volcano has returned to full activity; however, no magma has appeared at the surface so far. This photograph was taken by Antonio Parrinello and appeared in the 30 March 2002 issue of the Catania-based newspaper "La Sicilia"

The Etna Live-cam of the Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia is back!
The new web cam is located in the village of Milo, on the E flank of the volcano, and the view is quite different from that of the previous live-cam, which was destroyed during the July-August 2001 eruption

Click here to go there (leave this site)
The ash emissions from the Bocca Nuova in these days are perfectly visible. Since the ash plumes are often drifting behind the Southeast Crater (the prominent cone to the left), this might create the impression that this crater is resuming its activity, but this is not the case. The broad crater to the right, which is emitting a whitish gas plume, is the Northeast Crater

Do you plan to visit Etna in the near future?
Check the
weather forecasts for the Etnean area and learn about how to prepare for a visit to the mountain

WARNING: Etna is currently showing only weak eruptive activity at the summit craters, but as always visits to the summit area expose escursionists to high risks, especially those risks related to unstable weather conditions. Although the winter in Sicily seems essentially over, heavy snow falls might still occur until early May, and unstable weather in general is among the main risks that visitors to the summit area have to face. Generally access to the summit craters without guides is prohibited.
The mountain guides and excursion services can be contacted at the cable car building (near the Rifugio Sapienza on the southern flank), telephone +39-095-914141; or at the Hotel Le Betulle (Piano Provenzana on the northern flank), telephone +39-095-643430. Further information (in Italian) is available on the Funivia dell'Etna web site.

The latest update is near the bottom of this page

14 November 2001 update. No new activity has been observed on Etna in recent weeks, and it seems that the volcano is still slumbering after its major eruption in July-August this year. Meanwhile more web sites dealing with that eruption have appeared on the internet, which are listed at the bottom of this page.

22 December 2001 update. Etna continues its post-eruptive slumber, no fresh magma has appeared in the summit craters, although occasional collapse within the Bocca Nuova conduits generates emissions of lithic ash. Quiet, non-eruptive degassing is occurring at the NE Crater and the Bocca Nuova, and minor gas emission can be observed at the SE Crater and the Voragine. The lava flows erupted during July-August 2001 are still warm so that they remain free of snow, while the mountain is covered with a splendid white blanket to an elevation of about 1700 m. Snow-free areas are also present on the S flank of the SE Crater cone.

7 January 2002 update. The beginning of the new year has been a quiet one at Etna, as far as eruptive activity is concerned. Heavy snow falls repeatedly covered the slopes of the mountain down to less than 1000 m, and skiing is possible on the northern flank, which has spared by the destructive effects of the July-August 2001 eruption. During visits made to the summit area in early January, no unusual activity was observed and no explosion sounds were heard. The Southeast Crater, site of spectacular eruptive activity between 1996 and 2001, was perfectly calm until 6 January.
On the afternoon of 6 January, wisps of vapor began to issue from the western rim of the crater, which is the highest point of the Southeast Crater cone. Similar emissions occurred intermittently, at intervals of a few minutes, until night fell. No incandescence was observed at dark, neither at the Southeast Crater, nor at the Bocca Nuova, which was also emitting a dense gas plume. Fumarolic activity at the Southeast Crater and quiet degassing at the Bocca Nuova continued on 7 January.
The appearance of the new fumarole at the Southeast Crater might be a first clear sign that the crater is "heating up" because magma is slowly rising toward the surface within its conduit. This is to be considered a normal process; a resumption of summit eruptive activity has to be expected sooner or later, as magma is being fed into the volcano more or less constantly, and eruptive activity at the summit craters is common between larger eruptive events such as flank eruptions. Yet it is impossible to say when summit activity will resume, it is likely that it will do so within the next few months to years, as is always the case after major eruptions at Etna. It is also likely that the next period of summit activity will be similar to the 1995-2001 summit eruptions, but it might culminate in a new flank eruption after much less than 6 years.
On the other hand, the emission of vapor at the Southeast Crater might simply reflect the heating of meltwater percolating into hot areas within the cone after the recent heavy snow falls. In this case, a resumption of summit eruptive activity is still some time away.

17 January 2002 update. Increased gas emissions from the Southeast Crater and from the Bocca Nuova (at the latter crater mixed with ash) occurred in mid-January. Very light ash falls occurred on the eastern side of the volcano, extending as far as Acireale. During visits to the summit area loud explosions were heard, which probably came from the Bocca Nuova. These explosions were also heard in the skiing area of Piano Provenzana on the northern flank of the mountain. No incandescent ejections have been noted at night. Bad weather has occasionally hampered visual observations since 13 January.

5 February 2002 update. During a visit to the summit craters of Etna on 30 January, low levels of activity were observed. Deep-seated, loud explosions occurred at intervals of 5-30 minutes within the northwestern pit of the Bocca Nuova, but no solid material was ejected. The rims of the pit were covered with brown lithic ash (which had been emitted in December-January) but there were no blocks or fresh scoriae indicating recent ejections. The conformation of the pit was the same as in September 2001, with a crecent-shaped flat terrace surrounding a deep degassing vent in the SE part of the pit. The southeastern pit of the Bocca Nuova was quietly degassing, and its bottom could not be seen while peering over its S and SW rims.
Most of the present degassing at the summit craters is occurring from a vent in the southwestern part of the Voragine, which had been much less active during the past 1.5 years. The Northeast Crater emitted a fairly dilute plume, and at the Southeast Crater, fumarolic activity was concentrated at its western rim where numerous degassing vents lie in a fracture.
Access to the summit area is very difficult due to the destruction of the cable car and the ski lifts on the S flank last summer, and one has to hike from about 1900 m elevation. This is a harsh trip that takes several hours and leads across the lava fields of July-August 2001. Consequently very few persons have visited the summit area recently. Meanwhile it seems that the cable car will be rebuilt in the same location as soon as possible and the touristic infrastructures around the Rifugio Sapienza on the S flank will be extended and improved. The road leading from there to Zafferana, which had been buried by lava flows in the July-August 2001 eruption has been reopened, and guided excursions with jeeps on the S flank will resume as soon as the winter is over and the dirt road (which had also been re-established soon after the eruption) will be accessible.

7 March 2002 update. No eruptive activity is occurring presently at Etna, although deep-seated explosions are probably continuing within the conduit of one of the eruptive vents of the Bocca Nuova (see previous updates). Numerous small earthquakes, some of which were felt by the local population, have been recorded recently on the S flank (in the area of the largest of the July-August 2001 lava flows), which were interpreted as the result of the cooling of the lava flow. Thus the longest quiet interval at Etna since 1995 is continuing, and nothing indicates in this moment when this will end.

13 March 2002 update. Near continuous, pulsating emissions of reddish-brown lithic ash have started around 9 March at the NW vent of the Bocca Nuova, generating a plume that trails for dozens of kilometers downwind. The source vent is the same one that was the site of deep-seated explosions during the past six months. The emissions might be caused by collapse within the conduit, which has occurred repeatedly after the end of the July-August 2001 eruption, and does not necessarily indicate an intensification of the activity or uprise of fresh magma. On the other hand, it is 8 months now that the volcano has been quiet, and renewed magmatic activity at the summit should be expected in the not too distant future.

21 March 2002 update. Emissions of lithic, pink-colored ash continue at the Bocca Nuova. These are accompanied by voluminous degassing from the Northeast Crater and minor fumarolic activity from the Voragine and the Southeast Crater. During days without strong wind, these emissions rise vertically to form a spectacular plume that might easily create the impression that true eruptive activity is taking place at the summit of Etna. However, there is no evidence that fresh magma has risen to near the surface, since no incandescence can be seen at night. Yet it seems that something is moving up there. During a mid-March summit visit by Giovanni Tomarchio, the cameraman of the Italian television RAI (much of what you have seen about Etna in the TV news in recent years is footage by Tomarchio), frequent loud explosions occurred in the southwestern vent of the Bocca Nuova. Although the floor of this vent, which was exceptionally clear, was not visible, it seemed that the explosions originated somewhere immediately below the visible part of the pit. The southwestern vent was silent when visited by Behncke in late January, while loud explosions occurred at its neighbor pit in the northwestern part of the crater, which is now emitting all the ash. All recent ejecta are fine lithic ash, which has left a thick, soft deposit in the summit area. Similar emissions occurred for months at the Bocca Nuova during the spring and summer of 1999, prior to the vigorous eruptions at the Voragine and the Bocca Nuova in September-November of that year.

29 March 2002 update. After nearly three weeks of ash emissions from the Bocca Nuova, the Northeast Crater has joined the party and begun to emit dark brown to gray ash early this week. The first direct observation of these emissions were made on 27 March but local mountain guides report that they began about two days earlier. In that case the beginning of the Northeast Crater emissions would coincide with a series of small earthquakes that shook the southeastern flank of the volcano during the night of 24-25 March. At least three of the shocks were felt by the local population and caused some apprehension but no damage.
On 27 and 28 March the ash emissions from both the Bocca Nuova and the Northeast Crater rose as distinct puffs to several hundred meters above the summit and seemed more energetic, denser and darker than during the previous weeks. To a passing airplane pilot they appeared so spectacular that he sent out a warning of a true eruption of the volcano. On 28 March, a light ash fall occurred over the southern flank of Etna to as far as Catania.
So is Etna back in eruption? What IS an eruption? Generally text books define an eruption as a process that transports rock from the interior of the Earth to its surface. Actually the ash that is coming from the two craters consists of fine-grained fragments of rock, but until now this rock was derived from the conduit walls and thus was no new magmatic material. The ash that fell on Catania on 28 March is distinctly darker than that which fell in the summit area during the previous weeks and it thus might contain a certain proportion of fresh magmatic material, although microscopic examination would be necessary to confirm this. No glow has been seen so far at the summit during night observations, so it seems unlikely that magma has reached the surface. In any case a resumption of magmatic summit activity would be a very normal process at Etna, and it needs to be recalled that this is one of the few volcanoes on Earth that are nearly continuously active.
On 29 March two impressive columns of dark ash rose nearly continuously from the two craters to several hundred meters above the summit. Shifting winds carried the plume first to the E, then S and then W.

The July-August 2001 eruption and its precursors (the spectacular paroxysmal eruptive episodes at the Southeast Crater in June-July 2001) are featured on many web pages that contain additional information, highly spectacular images, and video clips. These will hopefully make up for the lack of photos on this page (I will post them as soon as I have my office computer back to working fully)

The July-August 2001 eruption - a new page on this web site, with an in-depth analysis of the events and related public reactions, mass media coverage, eruptive products, morphological changes, and a discussion of the recent paper in "Nature" about the changing behavior of Etna. Includes a map and press photos

View a streaming video clip with Boris Behncke interviewed by Dana Friesen of NBC channel on 2 August 2001 (courtesy of MSNBC). Windows Media Player is needed

The most instructive web page on the 2001 eruption so far (but in Italian only), created by Lisetta Giacomelli and Roberto Scandone

The "official" Etna 2001 eruption web site at the Catania section of the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV), contains a preliminary map of the lava flows

Photos of the eruption at the Roma section of the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV)

Etna eruption 2001: a page produced by the GNV (National Group for Volcanology) and hosted by, with photos, maps and movie clips

"Emergenza Etna" - the Etna emergency, presented by the Italian Department of Civil Protection (includes simulations of the lava flows)

Charles Rivière's Etna home page, with frequent updates, photos, video clips: Rivière was at Etna almost continuously during the 2001 eruption

Davide Corsaro's (of the Hotel Corsaro) "Etna FAQ", a nice and entertaining resource with many references to this Etna News page (grazie Davide!)

Tom Pfeiffer (University of Arhus, Denmark) has stunning photos of:
the precursory activity at the SE Crater in the spring of 2001 and of the July-August 2001 eruption (scroll down to "Etna photos")

Alain Catté (Association Volcanologique Européenne) is currently working on a page on the 2001 eruption (we went together to see the incredibly spectacular activity at the "Monte del Lago" (also called "cono del laghetto") one evening during the eruption)

André Laurenti (also of the Association Volcanologique Européenne) came with the same excursion as Alain Catté and has made his impressions and photos available in the "112-911 Magazine"

Thorsten Boeckel's web site (Germany) contains various pages with photos and video clips of the SE Crater activity in the spring of 2001 and of the July-August 2001 eruption, a German homepage about volcanoes made by my former colleagues (at the University of Bochum) Marc Szeglat and Daniela Szcze

Jean Louis Piette from Belgium, who visits Etna every year, and who always has something good to drink when we meet on the volcano, presents his impressions of the July-August 2001 eruption

Alain Melchior, also from Belgium and partner in crime of Jean-Louis Piette, has set up his Etna 2001 page, with nice 3D animations and digital elevation models of Etna and photos, video clips and other items are planned to appear on this site soon

Eurimage has spectacular satellite (Landsat, ERS) views of the July-August 2001 eruption, a web site maintained by Andrea Fiore, has impressive photos and videos of the eruption

Photos taken during the eruption on 20 July 2001 at

A brief summary of the 2001 eruption (in Spanish), with a few photos (the second one shows the 4 September 1999 lava fountain at the Voragine, the third and seventh show the Piano del Lago cone, and the other photos are of the vents at 2950 m elevation), from the Instituto Andaluz de Geofísica (University of Granada, Spain)

"Etna 2000" is an Italian home page made by Simone Genovese, with general information on Etna, and has a special section on the 2001 eruption with photos and video clips

A small selection of photos of the 2001 eruption (mainly of the lava flow from the vents at 2100 m elevation), by Giovanni Grasso and Antonio Guarnera (at Acitrezza On-line)

Photos (2 galleries) of the 2001 eruption (including a spectacular aerial view) by Alexander Gerst (in German)

Photos and reports on a field trip with OUGS-ME (Open University Geological Society - Mainland Europe) in May 2001, with a visit to the erupting SE Crater

A brief report and nice photos of two paroxsms at the SE Crater (22 and 24 June 2001), from André Laurenti (112-911 Magazine)

The Catania-based newspaper "La Sicilia" has published numerous articles on the eruption. Here is a page dedicated to the eruption, with photos, video clips and links

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Page set up on 27 May 1997, last modified on 29 March 2002

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