Italy's Volcanoes: The Cradle of Volcanology

Stromboli home page

Geography Geological Evolution

Eruptive history

Volcanic Hazards References Web sites

Stromboli, June 1996

Stromboli erupting from Craters 1 and 3, 12 June 1996

Activity of Stromboli since 1996


The 4 September 1996 explosion Explosion of 4 September 1996
This photo was taken a few minutes after the explosion and shows bushfires on the upper slopes of the mountain. The eruption plume (upper left) is rapidly dissipating as no further major eruptive activity is occurring. The site from which the photo was taken is in the San Vincenzo fraction of Stromboli village (the "bunker" hosting an observation post of volcanologists from Firenze, Italy, is visible on the lower slope to the right). Photo taken by Antonio Di Sarno, Napoli.

Late September 1996 Crater 3 in late September 1996
This is a typical view from Pizzo sopra la Fossa into Crater 3 during an eruption in late September 1996. Incandescent lava fragments are barely visible at Vent 2, remaining deep in the crater. According to Matthias Hort (who took this photo on 30 September 1996), few eruptions during the observation period (30 September until 2 October) were stronger than this one.

Explosion of 4 September 1996
Another view of Crater 3 during a small eruption, 30 September 1996. A complex conelet at vent 3/1 is visible at the extreme right; this conelet grew during the intense activity of August 1996 and was only degassing in late September 1996. Photos by Matthias Hort, Geomar.

More photos of Stromboli's activity, 30 September 1996

1996 was a particular period in the recent history of Stromboli (and its residents and visitors). More than ever before, the difficult "relationship" between this volcano and man has demonstrated its complexity, and both tourists and people living from tourism had to face that Stromboli is not a "toy volcano", but that it is potentially dangerous instead.
Activity of Stromboli during the first three months of 1996 generally was similar to that in previous years. Normal explosive Strombolian activity of varying intensity was interrupted once, on the evening of 16 February, by a powerful phreatomagmatic (?) explosion. The event occurred without any evident forerunners, in a manner very similar to events in March 1989, February 1993 and October 1993 and on 5 March 1995. Intense seismicity (see the plot created by Roberto Carniel, Udine University) lasted 12 minutes; residents in Stromboli village saw the ejection of incandescent pyroclastics above the summit. This episode was followed by a sudden drop in seismic activity. A few days later, volcanologists from the Istituto Internazionale di Vulcanologia in Catania visited the summit area and found fresh black bombs and Pele's Hair together with blocks of old, altered material to the north of Crater 1, the possible source of the explosion. Further, they observed very weak Strombolian activity.
The explosion seems to have been very similar to the previous events in that it occurred quite suddenly (and therefore had a high danger potential to any people staying in the summit area) and that it occurred during the winter season (most recent explosions of that kind have occurred either during autumn or in February-March). The causes for such explosions and their apparent clustering in certain periods of the year may be interactions of magma with water in the uppermost parts of the mountain, maybe after rainy periods. However, any such relationships would still have to be established and corroborated before taken for valid. In any case, the 16 February 1996 event once more points to the fact that Stromboli can be indeed pose significant danger to visitors of its summit area.
After the 16 February explosion, the seismicity of Stromboli declined dramatically but later gradually increased back to normal values (see the 1996 seismicity graph prepared by Roberto Carniel, Udine). After late February, and through mid-April, the seismicity indicated ongoing normal Strombolian activity with some fluctuations, on levels similar to late 1995.
A notable increase in the number of seismically recorded eruptive events occurred on 16 April (1996 seismicity graph) and was soon confirmed by visual observations, some of them made by Jürg Alean and Roberto Carniel of Stromboli On-Line. The activity was apparently very similar to that of July-October 1994, with tall lava fountains and periods of continuous lava fountaining and spattering. However, this time it appears to have been largely restricted to Crater 1 while in 1994 there was also very intense activity from Crater 3. Photos of this activity have been made available at Stromboli On-Line. There are also a few morphological changes evident. The remainder of the central cone in Crater 1 (partially destroyed by the 5 March 1995 explosion) has completely vanished (see the view of Crater 1 from the summit, taken by Juerg Alean on 28 April 1996), but there is a new, broad feature growing in the same area, below Pizzo sopra la Fossa. The latter shot also shows that parts of the "Gemelli" (twins) cones, formed during the summer 1994 activity, are still remaining, and the more southerly one has a vigorously glowing vent and was the site of occasional eruptions.
Similar activity, with some minor fluctuations, but generally on a very high level, continued through late May. On the late evening of 1 June (at 2350 h), a sudden explosion occurred from Crater 1, surprising a group of mostly German visitors in the summit area (see eyewitness reports at Stromboli On-line). Four of them were slightly injured. Two persons initially reported missing were later found unharmed. A bush fire caused by the fall of hot pyroclastics on the upper slopes was under control a few hours after the explosions. Stromboli On-Line has a spectacular photo taken (by Wolfgang Müller) immediately after the event. According to the Istituto Internazionale di Vulcanologia of Catania (now replaced by the Catania section of the Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia), another, smaller explosion occurred from Crater 1 on 6 June, this time with less spectacular effects.
Info regarding the activity of Stromboli on 9-12 June 1996 comes from Marco Fulle (Astronomical Observatory of Trieste) which is reproduced here in full length. Note that the plot of 1996 seismicity shows fluctuating but very vigrous eruptive activity through late June 1996.
Photos taken by Marco Fulle on 9-12 June 1996 show that activity was concentrated on two vents, 1/2 and 3/2, with no eruptions occurring from other vents. While no major morphologic changes (since April 1995) are evident in Craters 2 and 3, the two large explosions of 1 and 6 June 1996 have significantly modified Crater 1. Of the three largest cones formed in the summer of 1994, only part of the southern "Twin" cone remains. No new cones appear to have formed, but the crater floor of Crater 1 seems elevated. Accumulation of pyroclastics on the Sciara side of the crater has led to notable growth of the northwestern crater rim since the mid-1980's.
Vigorous activity continued through late August, and included a brief episode of lava effusion from vent 3/1 into the depression of Crater 3 on 16-17 August. Just a few days after that event, a tourist was injured on his head by a falling bomb while sleeping only about 80 m from the rim of Crater 3. Appartently, the tourist group to which the unfortunate man was belonging had been guided to the summit by a guide from Roma who had chosen the site for sleeping. While many sources reported that he died as a consequence of his injuries, it is confirmed that he survived after surgery.
During the last days of August, the eruptive activity of Stromboli declined abruptly. Another look on the plot of 1996 seismicity of Stromboli On-Line shows a dramatic decrease in the number of seismically recorded events. While activity was still at very low levels, a powerful explosion occurred without any warning at 1345 GMT (1545 local summer time) on 4 September, launching incandescent tephra towards the northern side of the summit area. The source of the explosion may have been Crater 1 although no details are available up to now. Tourists staying at the crater lookout on the upper N flank were caught in a shower of tephra, and six or seven of them were injured. The fall of incandescent tephra onto the outer slopes of the volcano caused bushfires in some places (see photo below), but these fires were extinguished soon after. Access to the volcano was closed by the mayor of the town of Lipari (of which Stromboli is a part) on the following day, after a recommendation by the provincial authorities of Messina. Volcanologists of the Istituto Internazionale di Vulcanologia, Catania, had previously declared that the volcanic activity did not present any danger to the inhabitants of the island.
Stromboli was active when my wife and I passed the island while travelling on the ferry ship from Lipari to Napoli on the evening of 10 October. While approaching the island from south, two lava fountains shot up from Crater 3 during a 5 minute interval, reaching 80-100 m above the vent (to the height of Pizzo sopra la Fossa). Each fountain lasted about 20 seconds. About 10 minutes after the second fountain, an eruption apparently occurred at Crater 1 (or Crater 2, but this is unlikely). When travelling north after stopping at Stromboli village, a faint red glow could be seen once but clouds had begun to cover the summit, and no details were visible.
Roberto Carniel reports the lowest levels of activity recorded in a long time on 25 October with only 27 recorded seismic events, and a 7-hour period without any seismically recorded eruption. Overall, the seismic graph shows that Stromboli's activity was at very low levels during all of October. The levels of activity remained relatively low throughout 1997 but increased somewhat towards the end of the year.


Stromboli produced three larger-than-normal explosions during 1998, one during the winter (on 16 January) and two during the tourist season, on 23 August and on 8 September. The first of these events did not harm anybody, but the later two caused much apprehension among the local population and tourists, and incandescent pyroclastics caused local bush fires. Several further strong explosions occurred towards the end of the year. More detail with photos is available at Stromboli On-line (January event, August event, September event, November event, December event) .


A pair of strong explosions was reported on 8 (or 9?) April, but no direct observations of these events were possible due to cloud cover (Stromboli On-line). Shortly after midnight on 26 August, Stromboli again surprised tourists who were in the summit area with a powerful explosion that launched incandescent pyroclastics onto the Pizzo sopra la Fossa. It appears that there were several people injured, most - as usual - because they started running away in an unfamiliar and chaotic terrain and fell. Minor bushfires on the high slopes of the volcano were reported. As usual, Stromboli On-line has the details (see also an eyewitness report at the same site).
I was on the summit of Stromboli on 15 September and found numerous scoriaceous bombs on and around the Pizzo sopra la Fossa that had flattened upon impact; many had diameters of 20 cm or more. In one case, a bomb had fallen on the rim of one of the primitive shelters made by tourists in the summit area, and remains of what may have been a sleeping bag were found. That day, the eruptive activity was at relatively low levels, and I was able to look inside Crater 3 for a period of about 10 minutes. The situation was very similar to that observed in August 1991: the floor of the crater was covered with debris - a mixture of previously ejected scoriae and partially altered blocks that had fallen off the crater walls. Explosions pierced this mixture in at least two locations, and incandescent scoriae sprayed 15-20 m above the crater floor, which lay about 30 m below the observation point on the S crater rim. During three hours of observation explosions occurred from up to three vents in Craters 1 and 3, and a persistent, though fluctuating glow was visible after nightfall in the northermost part of Crater 1. This glow had been visible already in August, when I passed Stromboli island twice on the ferry ship connecting the Aeolian Islands with Naples.
On 29 August, when the ferry ship passed south of the island during the early morning, a violent thunderstorm raged in the area, and a dense cloud capped the summit of the volcano. It was amazing to see a chain of tiny flickering lights slowly moving down the SE flank, and many tourists on the ferry believed they saw a lava flow - but the lights were actually flashlights carried by a large group of tourists who had been surprised by the bad weather and who were struggling to find the path back to the village at the base of the volcano. As a matter of fact, the thunderstorm had been forecast days before, and an area of bad weather had been advancing southwards over Italy. In the same period one man was killed being stricken by lightning on a cone on Etna, at less than 2000 m elevation.
The third stronger-than-usual explosion of 1999 occurred on 10 October; fortunately there were few tourists on the summit and no one was injured (Stromboli On-line).


Stromboli produced one strong explosion during that year, on 6 September. This occurred during a period of generally low activity and showed that such events may occur at Stromboli at any time, no matter whether the volcano is in a state of elevated or low activity (Stromboli On-line). Two months later a German man who suffered from a grave form of diabetes committed suicide by jumping into one of the active craters (see newspaper article at Stromboli On-line).


The most serious accident on Stromboli in the past 15 years occurred on 20 October 2001, when the volcano launched another of its "stronger-than-normal" explosions. The explosion occurred at about 0235 h and seems to have originated at the crater formerly named "Crater 2" (now more commonly named "central crater"). Incandescent bombs fell all over the summit area and onto the upper slopes of the volcano, causing small bush fires. A tourist party staying on the Pizzo sopra la Fossa was surprised by the rain of pyroclastics, and a 41 years-old (other sources say she was 52 years old) woman from Munich (Germany), named Beatrice Steffin, was seriously injured on the back of her head and fell in coma. A rescue helicopter brought her to a hospital in Messina where she died of her injuries two days later. Her family permitted that her (still fully functional) organs were made available for donation.
Mrs. Steffin was the first person to be killed by eruptive activity at Stromboli since 1986, when a Spanish biologist was killed while venturing near the active craters. Most accidents on this volcano occur due to people losing track on the volcano in darkness or fog; several people have lost their lives that way in recent years.
More information on the 20 October 2001 accident can be found at Stromboli On-line (go also here for further information, including a seismic graph).


2002 marks a significant change in the recent eruptive dynamics of Stromboli, although this occurred only at the very end of the year. Before the major eruption that started on 28 December 2002 (and is continuing as of mid-January 2003), the volcano behaved much in the same manner as during the previous years. Two powerful explosions occurred during the year, on 23 January and 24 July. I had the privilege to witness the latter of these from the harbor of Stromboli island, only eight hours after having been at the summit together with a group of French excursionists and local mountain guides. Later visits to the summit of the volcano revealed that several large lithic blocks had fallen beyond the usual observation point (the "Pizzo"), along the descent route on the southeastern "back side" of the volcano. Juvenile ash fell in minor quantities in the harbor area and onto boats anchoring nearby. The explosion occurred during a period when the "normal" persistent activity of the volcano showed a gradual increase from very low levels experienced during the spring of 2002.
Throughout the summer and autumn of 2002, Stromboli became more and more vigorously active. In late October, at the time when Mt. Etna began a major flank eruption, eruptive activity occurred from all three craters, which contained a total of six active vents. High levels of activity continued in November and December, and on several occasions there were rumors of a lava flow descending the Sciara del Fuoco. As a matter of fact these were unfounded, but nonetheless prophetic, because on 28 December Stromboli did produce its first major effusive eruption since 1985-1986.

The 2002-2003 eruption

At the end of 2002, Stromboli showed its violent face in an unprecedented manner, with a multifaceted eruption that lead to the total evacuation of the island and aroused fears of a catastrophic collapse event at the Sciara del Fuoco. A first lava flow occurred on 28 December and was peculiar for the velocity at which it descended to the sea. Renewed lava effusion on 30 December was accompanied by a significant collapse on the unstable scree of the Sciara on 30 December, causing a tsunami (sea wave triggered by seismicity or entrance of collapsing debris into the sea), which damaged structures on the shores of the island. Several persons were injured, but fortunately there were very few tourists on the island at that time, otherwise there would have been probably much more serious consequences.
More detailed information with spectacular photographs is available on the following web sites: INGV-Catania, Stromboli On-line (report and photo pages), and What should be added here is that the Sciara del Fuoco landslides dislodged an estimated 50 million cubic meters of rock (only one-fifth of these above the sea level), and access to the island remained largely closed until the spring of 2003, with only residents being permitted to stay there, although they were rather recommended to keep away. In late February, all residents returned to the island. There was virtually no tourism on the island for the first months of 2003, dropping tourism business on the Aeolian Islands into a deep crisis, from which it recovered gradually over the summer of 2003, when access to Stromboli island was again permitted.
The eruption of lava from a new vent cluster below the northeastern crater of Stromboli continued at a somewhat lower, and fluctuating, effusion rate through the first months of 2003, and lava did no longer reach the ocean. In the spring of 2003, sporadic ejections of spatter from the effusive vents led to the growth of a cluster of steep-sided hornitos, which unfortunately were not visible to the visitors that were allowed to climb to 400 m altitude from mid-April onward, and virtually no photographs of them have been posted anywhere on the web. I had the luck to see these things once during a helicopter overflight (after the end of the effusive eruption), through a gap in the clouds, and therefore did not succeed in obtaining a good photograph of them.
The extended period of lava emission was interrupted, on 5 April 2003, by one of the most powerful explosions ever seen at the summit craters of Stromboli. It was great luck that this explosion occurred in a period when access to the volcano was prohibited and there were few visitors on the island. A group of volcanologists and mountain guides making a routine helicopter overflight at the time of the explosion barely escaped the rapidly expanding eruption column; after that experience one of the mountain guides vowed to never enter a helicopter again in his life. Small pyroclastic flows were generated, which descended the Sciara del Fuoco, and the summit area ("Pizzo"), formerly a popular tourist lookout, was covered with up to 20 cm of fresh pyroclastics. All monitoring equipment located in this area, including the INGV monitoring camera, was destroyed. The explosion occurred with virtually no warning, as all major explosions at Stromboli in the past years. Had it occurred in August 2002, it would have caused hundreds of deaths, for at that time the summit was visited by hundreds of tourists at a time, with still dozens more climbing or descending at the same time.
Effusive activity, accompanied by frequent rockfalls on the Sciara del Fuoco, continued until 22 July 2003, making this one of the longest periods of continuous lava effusion during the past 100 years at Stromboli. During the last weeks of lava outflow, a gradual resumption of Strombolian activity at the summit craters was observed, which led to the return of more "normal" conditions. Since 22 July, the volcano displays its normal Strombolian activity, but visitors are allowed to climb no higher than 400 m (for the last 110 m it is obligatory to be accompanied by an authorized mountain guide). A few visitors do go higher sometimes, but any trespassing is strictly prohibited, and punished with a fee of 250 Euro and possible legal consequences.

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

Page set up on 1 April 1996, last modified on 18 October 2003
Hosted by VolcanoDiscovery