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Report on Etna (Italy) — July 1996

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 21, no. 7 (July 1996)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Etna (Italy) Crater glows, Strombolian eruptions, and two fire fountaining episodes

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1996. Report on Etna (Italy). In: Wunderman, R (ed.), Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 21:7. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199607-211060.

Volcano Profile |  Complete Bulletin



37.748°N, 14.999°E; summit elev. 3295 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

During June eruptive activity was very strong. Two episodes of fire fountaining occurred at Northeast Crater (NEC), the first on 6 June and the second on 25 June.

On 2-3 June there were many Strombolian explosions at NEC. After two days of quiescence, the 9th episode of fire fountaining since November 1995 was recorded at 2015-2110 on 6 June by the seismic network and surveillance video camera. Poor weather conditions prohibited clear observations. Volcanic tremors increased after 0550 on 6 June, with tremor amplitude reaching a maximum at 1944 and returning to normal around 2300. Lapilli and ash dispersed NW up to a few kilometers from the vent (figure 64).

Figure (see Caption) Figure 64. Areas covered by lapilli and ashfall deposits formed by the 9th (6 June) and 10th (25 June) lava fountaining episodes. Coordinates are UTM. Courtesy of IIV.

Red glow appeared above NEC around midnight on 7 June. From 0200 to 0400 on 8 June, there were almost continuous strong Strombolian eruptions. Between 2240 on 8 June and 0355 on 9 June, and on the evening of 9 June (2020-2200), the "La Montagnola" surveillance video camera recorded red glow above NEC and weak Strombolian activity inside the crater. On the nights of 10 and 11 June, red glows lasted a few minutes. During 0400-1200 on 12 June, ash explosions took place at NEC at intervals of 10-20 minutes. On the early morning of 13 June Strombolian activity at NEC resumed for ~20 minutes, and during 1755-1900 on 13 June there was almost continuous ash emission. The video camera system was not operational during 14-17 June. Explosions took place at NEC during 2317-2350 on 17 June, and during 0004-0300 on 18 June strong and continuous Strombolian activity was recorded. From 18 to 24 June Strombolian activity was low and sporadic.

At 2347 on 25 June, the 10th episode of fire fountaining began. The paroxysmal phase lasted for 35 minutes (0015 to 0050), and at 0055 on 26 June the episode ended. The fire fountains rose ~300 m, and a column of lapilli and ash reached several kilometers above the summit. The lapilli fell on the NE flank of the volcano (figure 64) and extended as far as Taormina, 28 km from the vent. Ashfall was also observed in Messina, 70 km away. An increase of volcanic tremors with oscillation of amplitude was recorded after 2200 on 24 June. The maximum amplitude of volcanic tremors was reached at 2230 on 25 June and lasted for more than one hour.

After the 10th eruptive episode, NEC remained quiescent until the morning of 28 June. At around 1700 that day, strong ash explosions opened a new vent on the W side of the crater floor that had been sealed by fire-fountain spatter. In the last week of June, Strombolian activity also resumed at Bocca Nuova crater (BN). Several red bombs were thrown up to the crater rim.

Beginning on 2 July, the surveillance camera recorded continuous red glow during all the nights in July, indicating persistent Strombolian activity inside NEC. During the first ten days of July, explosive activity at NEC was relatively low, then gradually increased and became vigorous on the early morning of the 14th. On 16 July Strombolian activity abruptly decreased. The next day several black ash puffs were observed, eruption intensity increased again, and a second vent inside the crater began to erupt. During 18-20 July, Strombolian activity was very strong and the magma level inside the vents was high. Jets of magma rising up to 200 m resulted in the fast growth of two cinder cones.

Two eruptive fissures formed on the W and S flanks of the cone at NEC on the morning of 21 July. The fissure on the W flank (N70°W, 40 m long, ~3,220 m elevation) issued a lava flow that was active until that afternoon and produced a small lava tongue, which was 100 m long, 10 m wide, and 2 m thick. The W lava flow continued until 22 July. A lava flow from the S fissure moved on the flank of NEC that borders the Voragine crater at ~3,230 m elevation.

On the morning of 23 July, lava spilled from an ephemeral vent on the lowest portion of the E rim at NEC (at an elevation of ~3,250 m). The vent drained a crusted lava flow field that had formed in the previous days and covered the E side of the crater floor. The lava overflow traveled E for more than 1 km inside the Valle del Bove, and its front reached an elevation of ~2,650 m, above the hornitos chain from the 1986 eruption. Close to the vent, the lava flow was ~2 m deep and ~1 m wide, but at a few tens of meters away from the vent, it was up to 10 m in width. On the morning of 25 July, a preliminary estimate of the lava output rate was 0.3 m3/s. Direct thermocouple measurements of the lava flow temperature gave a maximum value of 1,080°C. On 28 July the lava issuing from the E side of NEC crater rim stopped, resumed a few hours later, then stopped on the morning of 29 July.

The lava erupting inside the Voragine crater stopped on the morning of 30 July, and resumed a few hours later. On 31 July the lava flow and gas emission continued, and lava filled the degassing vent of the Voragine crater at a rate of ~0.5 m3/s.

On 1 August eruptive activity increased very quickly, and on the night of 3 August three lava flows poured from the NEC crater rim and moved down the E slope of the summit cone into the Valle del Bove. Explosive activity continued at NEC and threw large bombs up to 300 m above the crater rim.

Geologic Background. Mount Etna, towering above Catania, Sicily's second largest city, has one of the world's longest documented records of historical volcanism, dating back to 1500 BCE. Historical lava flows of basaltic composition cover much of the surface of this massive volcano, whose edifice is the highest and most voluminous in Italy. The Mongibello stratovolcano, truncated by several small calderas, was constructed during the late Pleistocene and Holocene over an older shield volcano. The most prominent morphological feature of Etna is the Valle del Bove, a 5 x 10 km horseshoe-shaped caldera open to the east. Two styles of eruptive activity typically occur, sometimes simultaneously. Persistent explosive eruptions, sometimes with minor lava emissions, take place from one or more summit craters. Flank vents, typically with higher effusion rates, are less frequently active and originate from fissures that open progressively downward from near the summit (usually accompanied by Strombolian eruptions at the upper end). Cinder cones are commonly constructed over the vents of lower-flank lava flows. Lava flows extend to the foot of the volcano on all sides and have reached the sea over a broad area on the SE flank.

Information Contacts: Mauro Coltelli and Paola Del Carlo, CNR Istituto Internazionale di Vulcanologia (IIV), Piazza Roma 2, Catania, Italy (URL: http://www.ingv.it/en/).