Logo link to homepage

Report on Etna (Italy) — March 1992


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 17, no. 3 (March 1992)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Etna (Italy) Lava production continues from SE-flank vent; town threatened by lava flow

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1992. Report on Etna (Italy) (McClelland, L., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 17:3. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199203-211060



37.748°N, 14.999°E; summit elev. 3357 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Most of the following is from R. Romano.

The fissure eruption ... was continuing in mid-April. Lava production from the main vent at 2,100 m altitude (in the W wall of the Valle del Bove) has remained almost constant, accompanied by degassing of varying intensity. By mid-April, 85 x 106 m3 of lava that had emerged at an average rate of 8 m3/s was estimated to cover an area of >7 km2.

From March through mid-April, lava from the main vent immediately entered a complex tube system, reappearing through ephemeral vents ~ 5 km downslope, below the Valle del Bove. The vents formed on the edge of the Salto della Giumenta, at the head of the Val Calanna a few kilometers from Zafferana Etnea, population ~ 7,000 (see figure 43). No ephemeral vents or lava overflows have been observed since the end of February in the wide lava field that had developed in the S part of the Valle del Bove.

On 14 March, lava reached the base of the barrier constructed in early January at the bottom of the Val Calanna. During the second half of March and the first few days of April, lava from the ephemeral vents gradually filled the area from the base of the Salto della Giumenta to the barrier. On 3 April, vents began to form within the Salto della Giumenta, feeding flows inside the Val Calanna. By the morning of 7 April, lava was only a few meters from the top of the barrier, with an active front along the barrier's entire length. That afternoon, lava flowed around the S side of the barrier and began to advance along the access road in the Val Calanna. The next afternoon, lava spilled over the central part of the barrier, and began to move down the gorge of the neighboring Portella Calanna valley. Lava advanced rapidly, aided by the steep slope, covering 1 km in 5 days. At least six earth barriers were built to contain the lava, but none were successful. By 14 April, lava was overflowing the last barrier, at ~ 780 m elevation, 1.5 km from the inhabited center of Zafferana Etnea and 7.5 km from the main vent.

Efforts were also made to slow or halt the advancing lava by disrupting the feeder tube system. Experiments with directed explosives, designed to blast holes in the lava field and encourage lava breakouts, began on 13 April in the upper Valle del Bove and Val Calanna. Lava destroyed two isolated houses above Zafferana on 14 April and covered nearby orchards, but the lobe threatening the town had virtually stopped by the next day and evacuation plans were postponed. New lava approached Zafferana over earlier flows in the succeeding days, and was again within a kilometer of the town by 20 April.

Degassing from the summit craters has gradually decreased following the collapse episode in Northeast Crater at the end of February (17:02). Additional Northeast Crater collapses 21-29 March triggered ash ejections accompanied by distinctive seismicity. Moderate gas emission from the summit vents observed by B. Behncke on 21 March was punctuated around 0900 by several low-energy ash emissions from Northeast Crater. At 1230 on 24 March, a dark-gray, convoluted ash plume rose to ~ 1 km above the summit within ~ 5 minutes, and also appeared to spread laterally at its base. The plume gradually dissipated during the following 30 minutes, depositing tephra to the E.

Geological Summary. Mount Etna, towering above Catania on the island of Sicily, has one of the world's longest documented records of 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 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: R. Romano, T. Caltabiano, and M. Porto, IIV; P. Carveni and M. Grasso, Univ di Catania; B. Behncke, GEOMAR, Kiel; Il Mattino, Napoli; AP; UPI; Reuters.