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Report on Etna (Italy) — October 1995


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 20, no. 10 (October 1995)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Etna (Italy) Frequent Strombolian explosions and ash emissions from Northeast Crater and Bocca Nuova

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1995. Report on Etna (Italy) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 20:10. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199510-211060



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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

The Istituto Internazionale di Vulcanologia (IIV) report below provides an overview of activity during October. IIV reports generally summarize the temporal evolution of volcanic phenomena during the whole month, skipping some trivial details, and frame the ongoing activity in the context of phenomena over a period of years.

Reports detailing activity during short visits made by visiting volcanologists provide a different perspective on the volcanism. One such report for some days in October was provided by a team led by Open University (OU) volcanologists conducting routine deformation measurements during 9 September-14 October. Short visits to the summit craters on 7, 12, and 14 October were also made by Boris Behncke, with additional observations from Carmelo Monaco and Marcello Bianca (University of Catania), Maria Felicia Monaco (Bari University), and others.

Review of July-September 1995 activity. Strombolian activity resumed at Bocca Nuova on 30 July and in Northeast Crater on 2 August (BGVN 20:08). On 30 July spatter was observed inside Bocca Nuova from a new pit crater on the N part of the crater floor. The activity climaxed on 2 and 3 August, when lava jets rose above the crater rim, then stopped on the night of 4 August. Strombolian explosions during 2-3 August issued from a small vent in the lowest part of the crater. Two more Strombolian episodes occurred on 18 and 29 August. A strong explosion from Northeast Crater on 13 September sent an ash plume 100 m above the rim. Ash emissions from Bocca Nuova and Northeast Crater continued until about 20 September, but explosions were heard throughout the month (BGVN 20:09). The OU team noted light ashfall 2-3 km away in the third week of September, and heavier ashfall 50 m from the Bocca Nuova rim on 27 September.

Overview of October 1995 activity from IIV. After a short period of Strombolian activity at Bocca Nuova and Northeast Crater at the beginning of October, alternating mild Strombolian activity and ash emission characterized their activity for the rest of the month. On 8 October almost continuous rumbling noises (like roaring jets) were heard from both craters. On the morning of 12 October intense ash emissions took place from both craters. Bocca Nuova displayed small short-lived ash puffs (5-7/hour), while from the Northeast Crater a dense ash column rising as high as 900 m developed repeatedly (2/hour). IIV field parties working in the summit area reported that the ash emission were accompanied by falling rock noises. However, successive surveys observed neither juvenile nor lithic blocks on the crater rims.

After 12 October Strombolian activity progressively resumed at Northeast Crater and continued with variable intensity until the end of the month. On 19 October Strombolian activity was relatively vigorous and the scoria ejections, up to few tens of meters from the crater rim, were almost continuous. A survey on 25 October revealed an appreciable decrease of the explosion frequency. Bocca Nuova exhibited intermittent ash emissions after 12 October. As during previous activity, they originated in a depressed area of the NW crater floor. Explosions observed on 19 October were accompanied by ejection of a black (lithic?) block to a few tens of meters above the crater floor, but neither glowing at the vent or ejection of incandescent bombs were observed. After 19 October intermittent ash emission progressively decreased, and in the last week of the month weak Strombolian activity resumed at Bocca Nuova. Significant eruptions on 9 and 14 November will be reported in the next Bulletin.

Deformation measurements. Preliminary results from the OU team indicate little ground deformation since October 1994 over most of the network. Summit levelling showed insignificant movement (-5 mm near the summit, +7 mm on the N flank) apart from the area above the 1991-93 dike, which between the W side of Cisternazza and Belvedere showed a fairly consistent subsidence of 17-24 mm. Preliminary GPS computations suggested a radial expansion about the summit of ~15 mm. Dry-tilt stations showed no large tilts.

Details of 1-7 October activity. Observations from the Northeast Crater rim on the afternoon of 1 October by the OU team revealed two faintly glowing vents, ~3-5 m across, on the crater floor. The following night, bright summit glow was seen from Nicolosi (15 km S), and on the morning of 3 October loud explosions from Northeast Crater were heard from the trail 800 m W, which had been covered with a thin layer of red ash overnight. Explosions were again heard late in the afternoon from ~7 km away, and light ash fell near Monte Corbara (5 km NW). While approaching the crater at 1815 on 3 October, two guides and an Italian TV camera crew returning from the rim warned of bombs falling outside the crater. As the OU team moved towards the high ground behind the crater, a large explosion sent brightly-glowing juvenile bombs just over the rim, rolling toward them. A few seconds later a single bomb ~20 cm across landed 10 m away, 100-200 m from the rim. Similar bomb ejections to smaller distances occurred about every 2 minutes until the team descended at 1845. On 7 October, Behncke noted a dense steam-and-gas plume from Northeast Crater. Most of the plume and occasionally some ash rose from the SSE part of the crater floor; falling stones were frequently heard.

Detonations from within Bocca Nuova heard by the OU team on 1 October were only audible from the rim. One vent on 4 October was explosively exhaling gas, and the other was collapsing, producing brownish ash clouds. Behncke observed small Strombolian explosions from Bocca Nuova on 6 October, but only ash emissions the next day. On the 7 October visit, Behncke observed frequent ash plumes from Bocca Nuova accompanied by rumbling noises and the sound of falling stones; Strombolian explosions were frequent.

The Chasm (La Voragine) quietly emitted fumes on 1 October. On 4 October the OU team climbed into Southeast Crater to the edge of the vents, which emitted gas quietly and not under pressure, apart from one area just below the S rim. On 7 October, Behncke heard small explosions, but no ejections or incandescence were seen after sunset.

Details of 12-14 October activity. Between 0800 and 0900 on 12 October a series of collapses within Northeast Crater generated a thick ash cloud. Pulses of rapidly rising ash plumes resulted in a vertical column 800-1,000 m above the summit. After 0900, a dilute gas plume rose from Northeast Crater while Bocca Nuova sent frequent ash emissions 200-300 m above the summit. When Behncke reached the crater rim shortly after 1230, there were vigorous steam emission and explosions from Northeast Crater.

Behncke saw incandescent spots in the central Northeast Crater floor that gradually increased in number and intensity. Pyroclastic ejections became more frequent and vigorous, and soon the incandescent areas were hidden by gas and dilute ash plumes. The ash plumes first rose slowly to ~100 m above the crater floor, but gradually rose higher and became more heavily ash-laden. About 5 minutes after the onset of ash venting, dense convoluting ash clouds began to rise above the rim. Bomb and ash emission steadily increased. The high-pressure gas emission noise at the beginning of this activity changed to a dull rumbling connected with the ash emission. Short pulses of bomb emissions every 5-10 seconds were followed by a dark ash puff. After ~10 minutes, the ash puffs merged into a continuous column that rose hundreds of meters above the rim. Around 1345 vigorous emissions ejected black ash plumes ~1 km above the summit. Periodic ash emissions from Northeast Crater gradually became less vigorous before ceasing that evening.

On 12 October (0800-0900), the OU team heard detonations from Bocca Nuova, mainly from a vent on the E side of the floor, but the larger vent on the NW side occasionally threw 20-cm-diameter lithic blocks 30-50 m high. Ash emissions seen by Behncke after 1230 occurred every 2-5 minutes from the pit on the NW crater floor. Each emission began with block and/or bomb ejections followed by a dense ash plume. The bombs and blocks rose out of the ~50-m-deep pit but remained ~100 m below the rim, whereas the ash plumes rose 100-500 m above the summit. An open vent in the SE crater floor displayed continuous gas emission with occasional explosions that ejected dense gas clouds.

Shortly after 1700 on 14 October Behncke saw a central glowing vent in Northeast Crater. Vigorous high-pressure gas emission produced a roaring noise, and the plume was almost vapor-free. During the first 30 minutes of the visit, glowing spatter was occasionally ejected from the vent. As degassing increased, numerous incandescent spots became visible, aligned more or less concentrically around the vent. After the first half hour, Strombolian bursts became more vigorous, ejecting bombs ~50 m above the pit. About 10 minutes later, the explosions again intensified, and the crater floor around the vent, which appeared more funnel-shaped, was covered with incandescent bombs. Ejections rose ~100 m above the vent but remained far below the crater rim.

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: Massimo Pompilio, CNR Istituto Internazionale di Vulcanologia, Piazza Roma 2, 95123 Catania, Italy; John B. Murray and Fiona McGibbon, Dept. of Earth Sciences, The Open University, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, United Kingdom; Nicki Stevens, NUTIS, Reading University, Whiteknights, P.O. Box 227, Reading RG6 2AB, United Kingdom; Phil. Sargent, Sue Elwell, and Sarah Cooper, Civil Engineering Dept., Nottingham Trent University, Burton Street, Nottingham NG1 4BU, United Kingdom; Boris Behncke, Dept. of Volcanology and Petrology, GEOMAR, Wischhofstr. 1-3, 24148 Kiel, Germany.