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Report on Etna (Italy) — August 1979


Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, vol. 4, no. 8 (August 1979)
Managing Editor: David Squires.

Etna (Italy) Lava extrusion from several SE flank vents; ashfall to 70 km away

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1979. Report on Etna (Italy) (Squires, D., ed.). Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, 4:8. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.SEAN197908-211060



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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

The following report was prepared by John Guest and Romolo Romano from observations by E. LoGiudice, D. Condarelli, and A. Pellegrino.

"In the afternoon of 3 August, lava fountaining up to a height of 300 m started in the 1978 crater, which we are now calling the Southeast Crater. This crater has been active since the middle of July. Ash from this explosive activity fell over the E flank of the volcano, then later that day fell over the SW flank as far as Syracusa, some 80 km away. During the evening of 3 August, an eruptive fissure opened near the 1819 Crater. Lava erupted that night reached Monte Centenari, some 2 km away. Fifty-four earthquakes were recorded with magnitudes up to 3.5-4.

"At 0545 on 4 August, another fissure opened in the Valle del Bove, SE of Monte Simone from 1,800 m to about 1,700 m elevation, 1 km long. Two flows were erupted quietly from the fissure. The flow from the top of the fissure moved SE (towards Rocca Musar-ra). The second, from the lower part of the fissure, traveled along the N wall of the Valle del Bove past Rocca Caora and reached the Torrente Fontanelle by midday. At 1430 the flow front was advancing at 100 m/hour and cut the Rifugio Citelli-Fornazzo road. The flow continued to advance, stopping in the evening 50 m from the N-S road through Fornazzo, just N of the town at 870 m above sea level.

"In the central crater area, large explosions had occurred from the Chasm during the end of July. At 1000 on 4 August, the magma level in the Chasm dropped, and in the Southeast Crater explosive activity was greatly diminished. At 1130 on 5 August there were again large explosions from the Southeast Crater and fountaining resumed at 1345 with heights of up to 400 m.

"At 1615 on 5 August, a new fissure opened just NW of the 1819 Crater, with fountaining. A lava flow from this fissure reached the foot of the wall of the Valle del Bove. At 1715, another eruptive fissure opened SE of the 1819 Crater, again with fountaining, and a flow moved into the Valle del Bove. Ash from this eruption also fell in the region of Catania and Syracusa. At 1730, a fissure with a NE trend opened at 2,500 m above sea level in the Valle del Leone. During the night of 5-6 August, lava from this fissure traveled 3 km.

"Early in the morning of 6 August, many earthquakes of up to M 3.5-4 were recorded until about 1218. In the afternoon, activity increased from the fissure near Monte Simone, which had been active on 4 August, and lava flows overlapped the earlier ones from this vent. The 6 August flow traveled some 1.5 km. At 2030, yet another fissure opened, with an ENE trend, at an altitude of 2,150 m, coinciding almost exactly with the 1928 fissure on the outer flank of the Valle del Bove. A sluggish flow followed the path of the 1928 lava, stopping on 8 August, 50 m from the Rifugio Citelli road, having traveled 1 km. Flows from vents in the Valle del Bove stopped on 9 August."

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: J. Guest, Univ. of London; R. Romano, IIV.