Logo link to homepage

Report on Etna (Italy) — October 1990


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 15, no. 10 (October 1990)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Etna (Italy) Strombolian activity and lava fountaining from central craters; earthquakes and tremor; deformation

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1990. Report on Etna (Italy) (McClelland, L., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 15:10. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199010-211060



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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

The following, from IIV, covers April-September 1990.

Summit crater activity. Eruptive activity was at Bocca Nuova and La Voragine, while only degassing was observed at the SE and NE subterminal craters. At the beginning of July, the mild degassing that had characterized the central vents during previous months evolved to Strombolian activity, sporadically ejecting juvenile products that reached the rim of Bocca Nuova. An intense eruptive episode began at Bocca Nuova on 7 August at about 1130, lasting for ~ 40 minutes. Strong Strombolian activity alternated with lava fountaining, producing a thick deposit (~10 cm maximum) of vesiculated scoria and Pele's Hair that accumulated on the N and NW sides of the crater rim. Wind carried lighter tephra 10 km NE, where it reached the villages of Vena and Presa (figure 38). Weak Strombolian activity followed, stopping early the next day. During the same period, La Voragine was limited to moderate Strombolian activity that stopped on 8 August. Increased tremor amplitude was recorded during the night of 7-8 August (see below), then tremor declined to low levels.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 38. Sketch map of Etna, showing tephra dispersal during the 7 August Strombolian activity and lava fountaining.

Collapse of part of the wall between Bocca Nuova and La Voragine 9-10 August produced a landslide deposit that covered pre-existing vents on Bocca Nuova's floor. This deposit was soon penetrated by explosive activity, which formed two new vents characterized by weak Strombolian activity.

Throughout this period, activity at the SE subterminal crater remained limited to degassing. However, a considerable enlargement of the vent was observed in June, accompanied by strong incandescence of the inner walls. The temperature of the fumarolic gas, measured 8 August, reached 615°C. By the end of August, a larger degassing vent (~ 10 m across) had formed on the crater floor where fumarolic activity had previously been most intense. This vent produced only strong gas emission, without explosive episodes. Activity at the summit craters was limited to degassing of variable intensity in September.

Fault seismicity. Seismicity alternated between phases of relative quiet (April-June, September) and moderate to intense activity (July-August).

Moderate activity April-June was broken by four seismic sequences that occurred 25 April, 17-18 May, and 1-2 and 30 June (figure 39b). Seismic energy release (figure 39a) was also moderate (maximum M 3.0 on 17 May) and a total of 101 shocks of M >= 1 were recorded. The April-May seismicity mainly affected the W sector of the volcano, with seismic activity moving to the E (Valle del Bove) and NE flanks in June (figure 40). Average focal depths were ~15 km, except for the 1 June sequence, which had a focal zone at a depth of <=10 km (figure 41).

Figure (see Caption) Figure 39. Top a): cumulative seismic energy release at Etna's S flank ESP station (figure 38) in the square-root of ergs (solid line) and radial component of ground tilt at nearby borehole station SPC (dashed line with squares). Bottom b): number of earthquakes (M³1) recorded at ESP station; April-September 1990.
Figure (see Caption) Figure 40. Epicenters of earthquakes (M >= 2.5) at Etna, April-September 1990.
Figure (see Caption) Figure 41. Foci of earthquakes shown in figure 40, projected onto a N-S cross-section passing through Etna's summit.

During the next two months, the most significant seismic episodes took place on 3 and 8 July, and 27 August. These sequences plus a general increase in background activity caused a significant change in the slope of the cumulative strain release curve. Energy associated with single events remained moderate, never exceeding M 3.1. The total of 148 events recorded in July decreased to 97 in August. The upper NE flank (10-25 km depth) and the Valle del Bove (6-12 km depth) were the areas most affected.

Another seismic sequence (78 events of M >= 1) occurred on the NW flank on 3 September; the average calculated focal depth was about 24 ± 4 km. Seismic activity then returned to moderate levels for the rest of the month.

Volcanic tremor. During April, May, and the first part of June, volcanic tremor amplitude recorded at a reference station (ESP) on the S flank fluctuated from low to moderate values (7-20 mV/_Hz). Beginning in the second half of June, an amplitude increase was observed (20-30 mV/_Hz) that lasted until 7 August. During the night of 7-8 August, a sudden further increase in tremor amplitude coincided with the violent Strombolian activity from Bocca Nuova (see above). After this episode, tremor amplitude returned to low levels (5-8 mV/_Hz), remaining at similar values until the end of September.

Ground deformation. EDM measurements were performed on two geodimeter networks, on the S and SW flanks. The southern network was measured in June, about a year after the last measurement in May 1989. The area covered by the network includes part of the main fracture system that affected the SE flank during the September-October 1989 eruption (14:8-10). Comparisons between May 1989 and June 1990 data showed significant distance variations, mostly for lines in the higher altitude sector of the network. The resulting deformation pattern was characterized by a significant areal contraction. The deformation ellipse was strongly polarized with the minimum extension axis (contraction) trending approximately N29°E. The southwestern EDM network was reoccupied in July, showing only minor slope distance variations from the previous measurements in June 1989. A weak areal contraction was observed. The calculated deformation ellipse had a minimum extension axis (contraction) striking approximately N7°E.

Tilt data were collected at a biaxial borehole station (SPC) on the S flank, close to the ESP seismic station. Recording was interrupted early April-early June by vandalism. The radial component indicated continuous inflation of the volcanic edifice from the beginning of July until early September, closely paralleling the seismic strain release (figure 39a). During the same period, the tangential component remained nearly flat, showing fluctuations within the confidence limit of about ± 2 µrads.

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: IIV.