Italy's Volcanoes: The Cradle of Volcanology

Etna Decade Volcano, Italy
Eruption update:
18-29 November 2002
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New cone at 2750 m elevation on the southern flank of Mount Etna, 12 November 2002
Close-up view of the growing new cone at 2750 m elevation on the southern flank of Mount Etna after the change in activity on 12 November 2002. Note dilute ash plume rising above lava fountain. Peak to the left is the summit of the Southeast Crater cone, which has remained completely inactive during the current eruption. Photo taken from the 13 November 2002 issue of "La Sicilia"

WARNING: Access to the southern flank of the volcano (above 1500 m) is STRICTLY forbidden. In fact, it IS dangerous to get close to the vent that is still erupting and to the lava flows, and during the past few days many curious have risked their lives.
There are currently no guided excursions offered at Etna, and most tourist facilities have been severely damaged or destroyed during both the 2001 and 2002 eruptions. Piano Provenzana, on the northern flank, has been virtually deleted from the face of Earth on the first day of the 2002 eruption. With the onset of the winter season, visits to the summit area of Etna and the sites of the 2002 eruption will be close to impossible until next spring and reconstruction of access roads.

The latest update is below this line

29 November 2002 update. The eruption of Mount Etna is continuing on its 34th day without showing signs of abating. Activity continues on the upper southern flank at the large pyroclastic cone, where two or three vents are producing lava fountains and ash columns. On 28 November 2002 a northerly wind drove the ash plume over Catania and once more paralyzed civil aviation; today the plume is oriented southeast. Lava flowing from a vent on the base of the active cone has invaded a forest at about 1750-1800 m elevation on the southwestern flank but appears to have slowed its advance.

28 November 2002 update. Residents of Catania and surrounding areas who were still awake at about 01:00 h on 28 November were lightly shaken by a magnitude 3.4 earthquake whose epicenter lay some 30 km off the coast in the Ionian Sea. This earthquake is probably not related to the ongoing eruption at Mount Etna and seismicity on its flanks.
Etna is finally unveiling after several days of very bad weather, and it seems that the southwesterly lava flow that started on 25 November has extended more than three kilometers and burned patches of forest. A mountain hut of the forest guard stands in the path of this flow, but no other structures or inhabited areas are currently threatened. Explosive activity at the cluster of eruptive vents between 2750 and 2800 m elevation on the southern flank of the volcano is continuing with lava fountains, Strombolian explosions, and ash emission.

26 November 2002 update. After the dramatic days of the last weekend with lava threatening the tourist facilities around the Rifugio Sapienza on the southern flank of Mount Etna, the eruption is giving the people working there a break. The lava flow that had advanced southward toward the tourist complex has stopped short of the Provincial Road 92, which had been interrupted during the 2001 eruption and seems to be no longer fed. Instead, lava has resumed to flow on top of the earlier, southwest directed flow that had until the weekend threatened the Botanical Garden. Furthermore, explosive activity is now occurring not only at the summit of the huge pyroclastic cone at 2750 m elevation (its summit is actually at around 2900 m altitude) but also from a small vent at the northern base of that cone. This vent was active during the first few days of the eruption in late October and is well visible (inactive) in some of Thorsten Boeckel's spectacular photographs (small steaming vent in the foreground). Impressive photographs of this vent in activity were published in today's issue of the local newspaper "La Sicilia" but so far are not available on the newspaper's web site.

25 November 2002 update. During the past few days the situation on the southern flank of Mount Etna has deteriorated significantly. Four weeks after the beginning of the 2002 eruption, lava flowing from the active cone at 2750 m elevation has come uncomfortably close to the tourist facilities at 1900 m, especially to the Rifugio Sapienza and the nearby departure station of the cable car. Both had survived the 2001 eruption and an earlier eruption in 1983. Like in 2001, Etna is playing a "cat and mouse" game, which contrasts with the relentless, rapid devastation of Piano Provenzana at the beginning of this eruption. As of early 25 November, the Rifugio Sapienza and surrounding structures have escaped destruction, also thanks to earth barriers that have been hastily erected in an effort to contain the advancing lava and keep it away from the most threatened buildings. At the same time the level of eruptive activity seems to have dropped significantly in comparison with the previous days.
During observations on 23 November the active pyroclastic cone at 2750 m was seen to have grown significantly. This is mostly due to the rapid construction of a smaller cone within the large crater formed at the top of the main cone. Compared to the largest cone formed during the 2001 eruption (Monte Josemaria Escrivà), the new cone is significantly larger, but due to its position on a steep slope its southern flank is considerably higher (possibly up to 150 m) than its northern flank, which rises only a few tens of meters above the pre-eruption surface.
On the same day explosive activity at the cone showed significant variations. For certain periods lasting up to 1 hour the activity was ash-rich and then abruptly changed to violent Strombolian explosions which dropped meter-sized bombs all over the cone and its surroundings. Between active phases there were periods of nearly absolute quiet with only a few weak ash emissions. At the resumption of stronger activity, a continuous, ash-rich lava fountain was seen jetting from a vent at the top of the intracrater cone, strongly resembling an oil fire. Rare but stronger Strombolian explosions then began from a second, more easterly vent at the same cone, and the activity gradually increased over the following hour to become violently Strombolian as described above.
It has to be noted that access to the theater of the eruption is SEVERELY RESTRICTED, only persons possessing a special authorisation released by the Prefecture of Catania and local volcanologists are permitted to enter the restricted area. Nonwithstanding the access restrictions numerous people during the past few days have ventured into the eruption area and some did risk their lives when staying on the steep slope before the advancing lava flow and blocks detaching from the flow front began rolling toward them. It is presently useless to plan excursions to the eruption area, since non-authorized persons are inevitably blocked and sent back by rescue forces and police.

21 November 2002 update. The 2002 eruption of Mount Etna has developed yet another facet on 21 November with the emission of a new lava flow from the still-active cone at 2750 m elevation on the upper southern flank of the volcano. This new flow is advancing more or less south and thus toward a much more vulnerable area. A report in the local newspaper "La Sicilia" states that the flow advanced about 1 km and is heading toward the area of the Rifugio Sapienza and the surrounding tourist facilities, which were seriously threatened and partially damaged during the 2001 eruption. Very bad weather is hampering observations, but it seems that explosive activity at the active cone is stronger on 21 November than on the day before.

20 November 2002 update. Lava flowing from the still-active cone at 2750 m elevation on the southern flank of Mount Etna has reached a length of more than 4 km on 20 November, with two flow fronts advancing very slowly across lightly forested terrain next to the Botanical Garden at about 2750 m elevation. Explosive activity is continuing mainly from one vent in the summit crater of the huge pyroclastic cone formed since 27 October, generating alternating emissions of ash and Strombolian explosions. Though continuing, the overall impression of the activity is that this is not exceedingly strong, but phases of waning and waxing have been observed at this cone repeatedly during the past two weeks.
A visit to what was once Piano Provenzana, on the northeastern flank of Etna, was made on 19 November. All eruptive activity near that place has ended since 5 November, but the lava flows which destroyed virtually all of the tourist facilities of Piano Provenzana on 27 October are still emitting steam. To those familiar with the place before the eruption the area has become unrecongnizable beyond belief. It is currently discussed in which manner and where a new tourist station can be created to re-launch tourism on the nothern flank of Etna. A possibility is to build a new road across the 2002 lava fields, but create the new tourist station somewhat away from Piano Provenzana, in an area at lower risk from future eruptions on the Northeast Rift.

18 November 2002 update. The eruption initiated on 27 October 2002 is continuing at 2750 m on the southern flank, where a large pyroclastic cone continues to grow and lava is flowing to the southwest; all eruptive activity on the northeastern flank ended by 5 November. On 17 November, explosive activity occurred from two distinct vents within the crater of the pyroclastic cone on the upper southern flank, producing intermittent fountains of incandescent bombs and ash that rose about 500 m above the vent. Lava issued from a vent on the southern flank of this cone, coinciding with the northern wall of a smaller crater active during the first days of the eruption. This crater was filled to the rim by lava at the beginning of the effusive activity on 13 November, and lava spilled over its southern rim to feed a flow that had advanced below 1900 m elevation on the southwestern flank of the volcano. On 17 November the flow front was still 1 km away from the Botanical Garden near the Astrophysical Observatory (which does not seem to be threatened at the moment).
The fine Sunday weather on 17 November and the ongoing activity attracted hundreds of spectators who climbed toward the active vents, but many of them were sent back by Civil Protection, Finance Police and Forest Guard patrols. Currently access to all areas of Etna above 1910 m elevation (Rifugio Sapienza) is forbidden by decree of the Prefecture of Catania.

A summary of the 2002 eruption (up to 25 November)

Piano Provenzana - a requiem

The 2002 eruption of Mount Etna is now featured on more and more web sites. The two principal sources of information (updates, photographs, and other graphic material) are:

The "official" Etna 2002 eruption web site at the Catania section of the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV) (in Italian)

Charles Rivière's Etna home page, with frequent updates and photos (in French)

Like in 2001, Lisetta Giacomelli and Roberto Scandone of the University of Roma 3 have created an incredibly informative and well-illustrated web page, which unfortunately is only available in Italian:

Eruzione dell'Etna 2002

Furthermore there are two web cams pointed on the southern flank of Etna, which can be accessed at the web site of:

Davide Corsaro, of the Hotel Corsaro, located at nearly 2000 m elevation on the southern flank of Etna

Alain Melchior presents interesting digital models of the lava flows of the 2002 eruption and has numerous captures from Italian television news of the eruption

Eruption 2002 de l'Etna (du 26/10/2002 au ?)

One could expect some high-quality photography of the eruption at "Stromboli On-Line", and Marco Fulle's photos do fulfill all expectations...

The 2002 eruption of Etna at Stromboli On-Line

The same is true for Tom Pfeiffer's photos, which are among the most spectacular of the 2002 eruption so far available - Tom was lucky to be at Etna on the evening of 27 October and photograph the most spectacular phases of activity on the Northeast Rift:

This is a relatively poorly known site, created in 2000, which has photos and spectacular video clips of the 2002 eruption (and of the activity in 2000 and 2001 as well): by Simone Genovese

Another web site that has escaped attention thus far, but deserves to be visited (good photos and movie clips, including one of the spectacular explosive eruption at the Voragine on 22 July 1998):

Malosito/Geoarchive by Marco Busetta

Very spectacular photos of the still-erupting crater at 2750 m elevation on the southern flank (seen from the Torre del Filosofo area) plus a nice map of the upper southern flank of Etna are available on

Thorsten Boeckel's web site

No less spectacular, the view of the eruption from the International Space Station (NASA):

The eruption seen from space on 30 October 2002

...and, of course, there are photos, updates and video clips at

Much information (in Italian) is offered by the Catania-based newspaper

La Sicilia


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Copyright Boris Behncke, "Italy's Volcanoes: The Cradle of Volcanology"

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