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Report on Etna (Italy) — July 1997

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 22, no. 7 (July 1997)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Etna (Italy) Continued activity from three craters through mid-July; crater descriptions

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1997. Report on Etna (Italy) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 22:7. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199707-211060.

Volcano Profile |  Complete Bulletin



37.748°N, 14.999°E; summit elev. 3295 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

The following summarizes observations, organized by crater (figure 67), made by Boris Behncke of the activity and morphology of Etna's summit craters during visits on 14 June, 11 July, and 16 July 1997. Additional observations of activity through 18 July are reported.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 67. Sketch map of Etna's summit craters as of July 1997. Locations of eruptive vents and recent lava flows are indicated. Courtesy of Boris Behncke.

Voragine. This crater was degassing from a central pit during visits in October 1995 and September 1996. Lava effusion from nearby Northeast Crater into Voragine in July-August 1996 did not fill the pit. However, during 14 June the pit was obstructed, with only wisps of steam escaping from its E rim. The 1996 lava flows from Northeast Crater had been almost completely removed by collapse. On 13 July the crater reopened. Mountain guides reported ejections of ash and possibly fresh scoria.

Northeast Crater. After the activity of late 1995 to late 1996, Northeast Crater became Etna's highest summit, surpassing the remains of a 1964 cone on the SE rim of Bocca Nuova. The 1995-96 activity and subsequent collapse completely altered the crater, which had a deep pit with vertical walls in early October 1995. The SW part of the crater contained a cluster of small cones and partially overlapping craters; none were active on 14 June. The N part of the crater was occupied by a lava platform which filled the crater in June-July 1996. The W edge of this platform was made of large tilted slabs. A lower platform covered by a lava flow from the cone cluster partially encircled a deep ~100-m-wide pit that was the site of Strombolian activity. Loud roaring from the pit on 14 June preceded emissions of dense yellowish ash-bearing gas plumes at intervals of 1-2 minutes. Activity on 11 July (when viewed from Bocca Nuova) appeared similar; there were no incandescent ejections after sunset.

Bocca Nuova. Since the resumption of magmatic activity in July 1995, two principal eruptive centers have been active in the ~150-m-deep pit: one vent at the base of the SE crater wall, and a group of vents in the NW sector of the crater. The former only emitted gas during the past two years; the latter exhibited periodic Strombolian activity and lava effusion. On 14 June the SE vent had Strombolian explosions every 10-15 minutes, with fragments rising 50-70 m; on 11 July explosions reached the crater rim (>100 m above the vent) and fresh bombs were found to the SE outside of the crater. The NW vent cluster consisted of three boccas aligned NW-SE on 14 June that generated nearly continuous small Strombolian bursts and lava emission from an area to their E. At times the northern vent filled with bubbling lava. On 11 July three vents were aligned E-W; lava effusion occurred from vents to their E or SE.

During a visit on 16 July, a large spatter cone with a crater 20-30 m wide had formed in the NW area of activity, where there had been three small vents only five days earlier. The crater of this new cone was filled with vigorously boiling and spattering lava. Explosions from the SE eruptive vent occurred about every 3-5 minutes, at times ejecting bombs high above the SE rim (~150 m above the vent). Similar activity continued through 18 July.

Southeast Crater (SEC). On 14 June noises characteristic of Strombolian activity were heard ~2 km S of the crater, but no ejections rose above the crater rim. Daily observations from Catania (~30 km S of the summit) began on 7 July, coinciding with a slight intensification of activity from SEC. At night, nearly continuous Strombolian bursts were visible. During the following evenings activity appeared more discontinuous, with periods of activity up to 20 minutes separated by up to several hours. A visit to the crater on the evening of 11 July found that a cinder cone in the N part of SEC had almost risen as high as the crater rim. Strombolian activity, in cycles lasting ~15-20 minutes separated by intervals up to 20 minutes, sent bursts as high as 150 m above the vent. An incandescent lava flow from a vent ~20 m below the cone's summit moved down the S flank of the cone, extending ~200 m to the S base of the inner wall of SEC. Slightly older flows around the active lobe still had incandescent spots. Despite the episodic explosive activity, effusive activity appeared reasonably constant. Night observations from Catania during the following days disclosed continuing explosive activity from SEC.

The floor of Southeast Crater, gradually being filled by a growing cone and lava flows, had risen to within <10 m of a low point on the SE crater rim by 16 July. As of 18 July the cone in SEC's N half was as high as the crater rim (~50-70 m above the lowest part of the crater floor). Lava flows issued more or less continuously from boccas on the upper S and SE flanks of the cone, forming a complex lava field to the S, SE, and E. At night, explosive activity from the cone's summit is visible from Catania.

Geologic Background. 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: Boris Behncke, Istituto di Geologia e Geofisica, Palazzo delle Scienze, Corso Italia 55, 95129 Catania, Italy.