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Report on Etna (Italy) — February 1996


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 21, no. 2 (February 1996)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Etna (Italy) Two additional significant eruptive episodes during January-February

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1996. Report on Etna (Italy) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 21:2. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199602-211060



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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

After the sixth eruptive episode at Northeast Crater (NEC) on 23 December 1995 (BGVN 20:11/12), continuous steam emission was observed at the other summit craters in early January. After sunrise on 4 January, ash puffs were observed at Bocca Nuova crater (BN). The abundant black ash emissions were apparently not linked to explosive activity; the frequency of ash puffs ranged between 2 and 5/minute and slowly declined during the afternoon. The next day only a white plume was present. A few small ash puffs observed on 5 and 9 January came from BN and NEC.

In the early morning of 17 January, a strong explosion from NEC ejected lithic material. Intermittent blasts (up to 15 minutes apart) were heard during the day, but no ejections were observed. Fieldwork two days later revealed that Strombolian explosions with ash puffs had occurred from two vents in the NW part of the Bocca Nuova crater floor, in the same place where activity resumed at the end of July 1995 (BGVN 20:08). The Voragine crater produced unusually strong gas blasts, but no sign of eruptive activity was observed. NEC produced a strong explosion at 1010, but then remained quiet without any gas emission. A 20 January explosion at NEC had similar characteristics. Explosive activity on 21 January was more intense and caused ash emission mainly from BN, but some strong blasts also came from NEC during the day.

Seventh eruptive episode. During the night of 24 January, red glows were intermittently observed at NEC, and after 0600 on 25 January lava jets inside a dense ash cloud were observed by the surveillance video camera at La Montagnola (3.5 km from the summit). This seventh eruptive episode, 33 days after the start of the previous one, probably began around 0130 when a strong increase in tremor amplitude was recorded by the summit stations of the IIV seismic network. A pulsating ash column developed around 0430 and was flattened down to the ground by strong winds. The lava jets were fairly low (~100 m above the crater rim) so the spatter deposit mantled only the upper part of the NEC cone, whereas fine material was blown onto the NE flank. Lapilli fallout ended around 1045, but the explosive activity continued for several hours. The lapilli-fall deposit covered a sector of the volcano >20 km long and 3.5 km wide at 12 km from the vent, where the thickness of the deposit was 1-2 mm. The volume of the pyroclastic material erupted during this episode was estimated at ~500,000 m3.

During the night of 26-27 January several strong blasts from the summit were heard in the nearest villages and strong red glows were sometimes observed at the summit. This activity was marked by short periods of high tremor amplitude. At sunrise two intense ash emissions from NEC were observed by the video surveillance system. Aerial observations revealed that one or more short lava-fountaining episodes occurred at NEC during the night. A hot spatter deposit covered a wide band on the upper SE flank down to 2,500 m elevation; no fine distal deposit was observed. Ash puffs and blasts were observed and heard from BN and NEC in the following days (in particular on the morning of 28 January) up to around 1000 on 30 January when tremor amplitude increased and ashfall was reported by skiers on the S flank. However, these phenomena vanished in the afternoon.

The summit craters remained quiet in early February, showing continuous steam emission sporadically darkened by minor ash. However, tremor amplitude fluctuated above background levels. On 8 February copious ash emitted by BN thinly covered the snow on the S flank.

Eigth eruptive episode. Another fire fountaining episode at NEC began at 2335 on 9 February and ended around 0115 the next day. Pulsating lava jets reached 200 m above the crater rim. Lapilli fallout covered a narrow band (1-3 km wide) from the vent to the shoreline (25 km away) on the SE flank (figure 63). A light ash fallout reached the town of Catania. However, the estimated volume of eruptive products was the estimated volume of eruptive products was < 300,000 m3.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 63. Map of the Etna area showing zones affected by ashfall in November-December 1995, 21 January 1996, and 9 February 1996. Coordinates are UTM. Courtesy of IIV.

Minor eruptive activity continued until 0145-0200 on 10 February. A strong explosion at 1022 ejected a large amount of material from NEC. Several ash puffs occurred during the day at NEC and BN craters. In the late evening the ash emission at BN increased and Strombolian activity resumed at NEC, marked by increased tremor amplitude that decreased again during the night. At dawn on 11 February several ash puffs were observed at BN; this activity decreased during the day but around 1700 the tremor amplitude increased again and strong Strombolian activity resumed at NEC. Eruptive activity continued through 2130 and then dropped.

On 12 February numerous ash puffs were observed at both BN and NEC. At 0030 the following day strong Strombolian activity was observed at NEC by the surveillance camera. The intensity of explosions grew up to 0130 when another sharp tremor amplitude increase was recorded. Strombolian explosions often threw incandescent bombs up to 200 m above the crater at a rate of ~5/minute until 0200. Strombolian activity gradually decreased and after 0300 was seldom observed. At sunrise several black ash puffs were observed at both BN and NEC craters and ash emissions became less frequent at 1100.

Ash puffs were next observed on 14 February, becoming more frequent on 17-18 February and during the morning of 19 February when BN produced almost continuous ash emissions for periods of up to tens of minutes. At sunrise on 21 February the snow was covered by a thin ash layer. At 1757 pulsating red glows were visible above NEC; at 1830 the glow became continuous until sunrise the next day (22 February). Higher intensity glow occurred for up to a few tens of minutes when bomb ejections were recognized.

During 22 February activity was apparently low, with only a few ash puffs from NEC. At 0240 on 23 February red glows resumed at NEC and continued through sunrise. Red glow resumed at 1820, alternating between a few tens of minutes of strong activity and longer periods of reduced activity. The same phenomena occurred the following night but poor visibility prevented good observations.

Good visibility on the night of 24-25 February permitted detailed observations of the Strombolian activity at NEC. It was continuous all night and produced by two vents; the rate of explosions ranged between 1 and 5/minute, and ejecta rose to a maximum of 150 m above the crater. During daytime no evidence of this activity was recognizable from the surveillance camera, but the next night (25-26 February) the two vents were often active simultaneously and their frequency of explosions exceeded 5/minute; moreover, the strong explosions at the start of each higher intensity phase threw bombs up to 300 m above the crater.

Poor weather conditions after the morning of 26 February prevented regular observations. Decreasing tremor amplitude in late February suggested that the period of quasi-continuous Strombolian activity at NEC ended during daylight on 27 February.

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