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Report on Etna (Italy) — February 2003


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 28, no. 2 (February 2003)
Managing Editor: Edward Venzke.

Etna (Italy) Petrographic and geochemical comparison of 2001 and 2002 lavas

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2003. Report on Etna (Italy) (Venzke, E., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 28:2. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN200302-211060



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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

On 27 October 2002 Mount Etna opened on both its northern and southern sides (BGVN 27:10-27:12), erupting lava from vents about 2,500-1,800 m elevation on the NNE flank and 2,800-2,700 m on the S flank. The N vents emitted two flows that stopped after a few days, the longer of which stretched ~5 km. The S vents erupted lighter intermittent lava flows, but showed much stronger and sustained explosive activity that developed two large cinder cones at 2,750 and 2,850 m elevation.

The northern lavas are similar to the tephra erupted from Northeast Crater during the summer of 2002 and, more generally, to the trachybasalts that characterized Etna's activity during the past centuries (Tanguy and others 1997, and references therein). They are typically porphyritic (30-40% phenocryts), containing numerous millimeter-sized crystals of plagioclase (An 86-65/Or 0.4-2.1), clinopyroxene (En 42.3-37/Fs 11.7-15.5), and fewer ones of olivine (Fo 76-71) and titanomagnetite (Usp 35-43). The silica content is about 47-48% with a "normal" MgO content of about 5% and "low" CaO/Al2O3.

The southern lavas are significantly higher in MgO (~6.5%) and CaO/Al2O3 with fewer phenocrysts that comprise barely 10% of the rock. Olivine crystals are decidedly more magnesian (Fo 82-76), although other minerals are much like those described above, with plagioclase An 80.8-63.8/Or 0.8-1.3, clinopyroxene En 42-34/Fs 12-15.7, and titanomagnetite Usp 37-42.7. It must be pointed out, however, that plagioclase and titanomagnetite are here almost entirely confined within the groundmass, a characteristic that is uncommon in Etnean lavas and characterizes some of the most basaltic samples.

A particularity of the southern 2002 lavas is the presence of destabilized amphibole crystals, together with quartz-bearing inclusions (sandstones) surrounded by a reaction rim of pyroxene and embedded in a rhyolitic matrix. These characteristics are quite similar to those already found in the 2001 lavas emitted at 2,100 m elevation on this same flank (BGVN 26:10). The 2002 amphibole is present in rarer and smaller "megacrysts" that do not exceed 2 cm in length and display a reaction rim composed of rhonite, anorthitic plagioclase, and olivine within a silicic and potassic glass. Its chemical composition is similar to that of the 2001 amphibole.

Orthopyroxene was found in a southern flow emitted at the very beginning of the eruption (27 October). The average of 16 microprobe analyses is as follows (Centre de microanalyse Camparis, University of Paris 6): SiO2, 53.18; TiO2, 0.23; Al2O3, 0.79; Cr2O3, 0.04; FeO, 19.43; MnO, 0.80; MgO, 23.52; CaO, 1.72; Na2O, 0.05; Total, 99.75. The composition is thus hypersthene close to bronzite, typical of basalts or basaltic andesites. Hypersthene here occurs as crystals 0.5-0.7 mm in length, always surrounded by clinopyroxene. The two minerals are not in equilibrium as indicated by their different Mg values (0.69 for Opx, 0.71 to 0.78 for Cpx). This is the first time that such large crystals of orthopyroxene have been observed in lavas of the last tens of thousand years. Orthopyroxene is very rare at Etna, being previously found on only two or three occasions in pre-Etnean basalts about 200,000 years old.

Olivine separates from both N and S lavas (~100 crystals each) were microprobed, showing a single distribution for the N flank of Fo 69-70 for 65% of the crystals. The S lavas have a twofold behavior with Fo 78-81 for 37% of the crystals and Fo 73-75 for 45% of them. These results are similar to what was found between the upper southern 2001 lavas (including the NE flank below Pizzi Deneri) and those emitted at lower elevation (S 2,600 m and S 2,100 m). It is worth noting that the 2,600 m S vent of the 2001 eruption is close (~1 km) to the 2,700 m S vent of the 2002 eruption.

Based on these preliminary results, the low porphyritic index added to the whole rock chemical composition and that of the olivine crystals, a common origin is suggested for the southern 2002 lavas and those emitted low on the S flank during the 2001 eruption.

Reference. Tanguy, J.C., Condomines, M., and Kieffer, G., 1997, Evolution of the Mount Etna magma: Constraints on the present feeding system and eruptive mechanism: Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, v. 75, p. 221-250.

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: Roberto Clocchiatti, CNRS-CEN Saclay, Lab. Pierre Süe, 91191 Gif sur Yvette, France; Jean-Claude Tanguy, Univ. Paris 6 & Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, Observatoire de St. Maur, 94107 St. Maur des Fossés, France.