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Report on Etna (Italy) — March 1991


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 16, no. 3 (March 1991)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Etna (Italy) Periodic summit explosions; brief earthquake swarms; deformation

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1991. Report on Etna (Italy) (McClelland, L., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 16:3. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199103-211060



37.748°N, 14.999°E; summit elev. 3320 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

The following, from IIV, describes activity October 1990-March 1991. Explosive and/or Strombolian activity with strong degassing characterized Bocca Nuova, while the other summit craters generally showed almost continuous mild degassing.

Bocca Nuova. Intense Strombolian activity occurred from 4 or 5 vents that formed on the crater floor between 10 and 15 November. Ejecta only sporadically reached or went beyond the crater rim; most of the pyroclasts were ejected to moderate height, falling within the crater, where they accumulated with minor intracrater lava flows. The activity stopped abruptly on 24 December (associated with a deformation change; see below), and was succeeded that afternoon by strong continuous ash emission that lasted until the beginning of January. Weak Strombolian activity resumed for a few days in early January, ending by the 12th.

Southeast Crater. Typically mild, sometimes pulsating, gas emission was accompanied in December by weak ash ejection during times of the most intense similar activity at Bocca Nuova. A short period of mild Strombolian activity 4-7 January was the first significant eruptive event since the opening of a vent on the crater floor in April 1990.

La Voragine. Only discontinuous Strombolian activity 4-12 January was reported.

Northeast Crater. Frequent explosions occurred, but did not eject any juvenile tephra. Gas emission became intense in October and November, producing continuous incandescence of the degassing vent's inner walls that persisted through the report period.

Only sporadic summit observations were possible during February. These were limited to Southeast Crater, which was characterized by vapor emission. No information about March summit activity is available.

Seismic activity. Seismicity was moderate during October and November. On 7 December, a sequence of 26 events was recorded in a few hours. All were centered on the N flank at 7-24 km depth. Energy release was low, with no shocks exceeding M 2.2. Seven events on 9 January, at ~9 km depth on the SSW flank, were followed by a second swarm (42 events) on 26 January, which was deeper (14-20 km) and distributed over a wider area on the same part of the volcano. A deformation episode was recorded the same day by a nearby tiltmeter (see below). Another, shallower sequence occurred on the SSW flank on 2 February, in the same area as a sharp deformation episode on 24 December. Instrument problems prevented accurate location of a swarm on 8-9 February. A series of moderate earthquakes, on the N flank at ~ 21 km depth, was recorded 19-20 February. Seismicity declined in March.

Tremor amplitude was low in October, but increased 5-6 November, followed by a period of frequent amplitude fluctuations. On 27 November, tremor was strong enough to be detected for a few hours at seismic stations far from the summit craters. It then declined but remained at slightly elevated amplitude. No change in eruptive activity was reported on 27 November. Tremor continued to fluctuate into early December, then remained at low amplitude through March.

Ground deformation. Tilt data were collected at three borehole biaxial stations (SPC, CDV, and MDZ) on the S and SSW flanks. Summit inflation continued from previous months (at SPC), but slowed in November, and had nearly stopped by December. At nearby CDV, no significant radial tilt was detected, but the tangential component showed inflation toward the SW in October that reversed in November and continued on that trend until 24 December. A sharp deformation event was recorded that day on all three tilt stations, and a sudden change from Strombolian activity to continuous ash emission occurred at Bocca Nuova (see above). The pre-24 December trend then resumed at CDV, continuing through January, while similar behavior was shown by the tangential component at SPC.

Another sharp deformation event was recorded 26 January at station MDZ during a seismic swarm centered nearby (see above); a less intense deformation signal was detected at CDV.

Geological Summary. 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: R. Velardita, IIV.