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Report on Etna (Italy) — October 2006


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 31, no. 10 (October 2006)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Etna (Italy) Lava flows from multiple vents during 22 September to 4 November

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2006. Report on Etna (Italy) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 31:10. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN200610-211060



37.748°N, 14.999°E; summit elev. 3357 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

The following Etna report from Sonia Calvari and Boris Behncke is based on daily observations by numerous staff members of the Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia (INGV). As previously reported here (BGVN 31:08), a 10-day-long eruption vented from the base of the Southeast Crater (SEC) in mid-July 2006. Eruptive activity then shifted to the crater's summit vent during 31 August-15 September, leading to lava overflows and repeated collapse on the SEC cone (BGVN 31:08).

This report discusses the time period 22 September to 4 November, an interval with multiple episodes of eruptive activity (roughly eight in all, seven of which involved a return of activity at the SEC summit). The activity typically included lava flows and Strombolian eruptions. In general, the eruptive episodes became increasingly brief and vigorous. Eruptions came from the SEC's summit as well as from multiple vents along fractures on the SEC's sides or adjacent to it that developed during the reporting interval.

As mentioned above, in general, during the reporting interval, the renowned SEC summit area was only episodically active. Since the SEC's collapse of September 2006, it has had a breached E wall. During this reporting interval, lava flows escaped the crater through the breach to form narrow rivulets down the steep upper SE flank. Ash from SEC fell on Catania on 30 October.

On 12 October a fissure opened at ~ 2,800-m elevation on the ESE base of the SEC cone, ~ 1 km from SEC's summit. Lava from this vent traveled SE, and a map showing the vents and pattern of flows through 20 November indicated lava extending ~ 2 km from the 2,800-m vent (Behncke and Neri, 2006). The 2,800-m vent also sits along the path of some of the SEC lavas from the summit crater. By late November, a complex flow field from both SEC summit and the 2,800-m vents lay on the SE side of the SEC. The field extended from the summit ~ 3 km, and its distal ends reached the W wall of the Valle del Bove.

Two other important vents began erupting in late October. One was on the SEC's upper S flank. The other, at 3,050 m elevation, stood ~ 1 km SW of the SEC's crater and at a spot ~ 0.5 km from the nearest margin of Bocca Nuova's crater. Although lava emissions from this vent at 3050-m elevation stopped, they later restarted and by 20 November the vent had created a large SW-trending field of lava flows roughly the size of those from the SEC summit and 2800-m vent.

Eruptive behavior 22 September-4 November. During this time interval, the seven episodes determined by eruptive activity at the SEC occurred as follows.

The first episode, which was five days long, started late 22 September from the summit of the SEC. Activity during the first two days was limited to mild Strombolian explosions, but lava began to overflow the SEC's crater on 24 September, spilling onto the cone's SE flank. This activity ceased sometime on 27 September.

The 2nd episode began late the afternoon of 3 October with Strombolian explosions from the SEC summit, which increased in vigor during the following hours. Late that evening lava began to spill down the SE side of the SEC cone adjacent to flows of the previous two episodes. Following a sharp decline in tremor amplitude on the afternoon of 5 October, the activity ended sometime between midnight and the early morning of 6 October.

The 3rd eruptive episode occurred between the evening of 10 October and the evening of the following day. The SEC's summit produced vigorous Strombolian activity and lava again descended the SEC cone's SE flank. A sharp drop in tremor amplitude on the afternoon of 11 October indicated the eruptions imminent cessation.

At the tail end of the 3rd episode, a short eruptive fissure opened with vents at ~ 2,800-m elevation. Monitoring cameras fixed the start of this activity at 2328 on 12 October. The SEC's summit was quiet throughout the following eight days, leaving this burst to be considered as activity late in the 3rd episode, rather than representing the start of the 4th episode in the SEC's sporadic on-and-off behavior.

Trending N90°E-N100°E, the new fissure resided on the ESE flank at the base of SEC, a spot also on the Valle del Bove's W wall. For the first few days, lava was emitted non-explosively, quietly spreading in the upper Valle del Bove and advancing a few hundred meters downslope. Mild spattering on 17 October resulted in the growth of three hornitos on the upper end of the eruptive fissure.

Summit SEC activity marked the 4th episode since 22 September. As lava effusion continued from the fissure vents at 2,800 m elevation, the SEC started a powerful eruption at 0600 on 20 October. Accompanied by a rapid increase in tremor amplitude, vigorous Strombolian eruptions occurred in the central portion of the SEC's summit. A vent near the E rim of the SEC's crater, in the notch created by the collapse events of early September, produced large explosions every few minutes and quickly built a new pyroclastic cone. Lava once more flowed down the SEC's SE side, stopping N of the 2,800-m fissure. At that fissure vent, lava emission continued but appeared reduced compared to the previous days. The SEC ceased issuing lava the same day it began, 20 October.

The 5th episode involving the SEC was preceded on 22 October with a few isolated bursts of ash from the SEC. The episode began with strong activity at 0700 the next day, when the SEC's summit generated vigorous Strombolian discharges and pulsating lava fountains from two vents. The new pyroclastic cone grew rapidly. Lava spilled down the ESE flank of the cone, to the N of the flows formed in the previous episodes.

Coincident with the above eruptions, INGV researchers noted an increased lava emission from the 2,800-m vents. This led to several lava overflows (in an area adjacent to the hornitos formed 17 October).

Although Strombolian activity and fountaining at the SEC diminished on the afternoon of 23 October, strong ash emissions began at around 1700, producing an ESE-drifting plume. Pulsating ash emissions and occasional bursts of glowing tephra continued and, at about 1750, the SEC cone's S flank fractured. Lava escaped from the fracture's lower end, forming two small lobes. The longer lobe reached the base of the cone and then traveled SE, ultimately to reach ~ 1 km from their source at the new fissure. The smaller lobe took a path down the cone slightly to the W, but halted before reaching the base of the cone. The new fissure's lava supply diminished early on 24 October, stopping around noon.

Coincident with the above events, effusive activity continued without significant variations at the 2,800-m vents. The farthest flow fronts reached an elevation of ~ 2,000 m to the NW of Monte Centenari, and extended ~ 2.5 km from their source.

Field observations made on 24 October revealed that part of the new pyroclastic cone had subsided and a new collapse pit, ~ 50 m wide, had opened on the SE flank of the SEC cone, roughly in the center of the largely obliterated collapse pit of 2004-2005.

The 6th episode of SEC activity began in the late afternoon on 25 October. Initially there was an increase in tremor amplitude, as well as both ash emissions and weak Strombolian activity from the SEC's summit. Both the tremor and Strombolian discharges decreased late that evening, but at 0054 on 26 November lava was emitted from a new fissure. This fissure, on the SEC cone's SSE flank, was active only for a few hours and produced a very small lava flow. As has often been the case during the reporting interval, the 2800-m vents continued to discharge lava toward the Valle del Bove.

What was to later become another important effusive vent opened at 0231 on 26 October. The vent developed at ~ 3,050 m elevation in an area ~ 700 m S of the center of Bocca Nuova's crater and ~ 500 m SW of the center of SEC's crater. This spot sits at the S base of the central summit cone below the Bocca Nuova, and ~ 700 m to the W of the fissure that had erupted 2 hours earlier.

Fieldwork carried out on 26 October by INGV researchers revealed that the vent at 3,050 m elevation had formed at the southern end of a fracture field. That field extended across the SE flank of Etna's central summit cone to the W flank of the SEC cone. Lava extruding at the 3050-m vent poured out at a decreasing rate before a pause began on the evening of 26 October.

The 7th episode, 27 October and into early November, was first associated with a new increase in tremor amplitude and corresponding SEC ash emissions on the afternoon of the 27th. These emissions were followed at 0206 on the 28th by the reactivation of the vent at 3050-m elevation. Ash emissions and Strombolian activity occurred from the SEC between 0830 and 1100, but no lava overflows were produced. On the evening of 28 October, both effusive vents at 3,050 and 2,800 m were active.

29 October ash emissions from the SEC became more vigorous during the early morning of the 30th and fine ash fell over inhabited areas to the S, including Catania (27 km from the SEC). Intermittent bursts of glowing tephra were recorded by INGV-CT surveillance cameras, although later analysis revealed that most of the tephra was lithic rather than juvenile. Ash emissions gradually diminished and ceased at around 0800 on 29 October.

Ash was again emitted from the SEC shortly before 1300 on 31 October, and in minor quantities at least once per day through 5 November. No incandescent ejections occurred from this crater after 28 October until the evening of 4 November (during 1830-2005) when weak Strombolian explosions were recorded by the INGV-CT surveillance cameras.

The vent at 3050-m elevation continued to emit lava on 29 October. The effusion rate was estimated as 1 to 5 m3 per second. Emitted lava descended SW to ~ 2,400 m elevation.

Lava also continued to flow from the 2,800-m vents on the 29th, but the associated lava flow front advancing from these vents had moved little since 24 October. Lava continued to flow from both vents during the first days of November, but the effusion rate had clearly dropped by the 3rd when active flows had retreated upslope from the distal fronts. Similarly, a helicopter overflight on the morning of 5 November disclosed actively flowing lava confined to the uppermost parts of the lava flow fields.

References. Behncke, B., and Neri, M., 2006, Mappa delle colate laviche aggiornata al 20 Novembre 2006 (PDF file on the INGV website).

Geological Summary. Mount Etna, towering above Catania on the island of Sicily, has one of the world's longest documented records of 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 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: Sonia Calvari and Boris Behncke, Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia (INGV), Sezione di Catania, Piazza Roma 2, 95123 Catania, Italy (URL: http://www.ct.ingv.it/).