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Report on Etna (Italy) — March 1983


Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, vol. 8, no. 3 (March 1983)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Etna (Italy) Lava from S-flank fissure; central crater enlarged

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1983. Report on Etna (Italy) (McClelland, L., ed.). Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, 8:3. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.SEAN198303-211060



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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

A destructive S-flank fissure eruption began on 28 March, preceded by a series of strong earthquakes first felt during the night of 26-27 March. At about noon on the 27th, a strong smell of H2S was noted from an old cone (Monte Silvestri) roughly 2 km S of the initial eruption, although H2S is not normally present in that area. Seismicity continued through the following night. At about 0845 on 28 March a NNE-SSW-trending eruptive fissure opened from about 2,450 to 2,250 m altitude, roughly 4 km S (bearing ~170°) of the central crater (between the eruption fissure of 1910 and La Montagnola). The base and E side of this fissure fed several lava flows that initially moved to the SSE and SSW then turned S. Weak explosive activity along the entire fissure ejected modest quantities of lava fragments. By evening, the main flow had cut a road and overrun several buildings.

During the morning of 1 April, vigorous emission of gas, ash, and old lava, accompanied by occasional phreatic explosions, began from two explosion craters upslope at 2,700 m altitude. At the end of the day, explosions from the southern vent ejected lava fragments. On 2 April, nearly constant lava production fed numerous superposed flows that formed a 500-m-wide lava field extending to 1,900 m altitude. As of 3 April, the lava had not advanced below 1,450 m altitude, 3.5 km from the fissure. At least four principal effusive vents were active along the 750-m fissure, and from its upper part strong gas emission with sporadic explosions occurred at about 30 hornitos.

Bands of open fractures, oriented about N-S, extended from the central crater area to the eruptive fissure. A substantial widening was noted at the S rim of Bocca Nuova, site of frequent collapse activity since Etna's last eruption (from N flank fissures in March 1981). Strong vapor emissions from Bocca Nuova sometimes included abundant ash. There was no activity from the Northeast and Southeast craters.

The temperature of the lava was less than 1,100°C and its chemistry (alkali basalt) [corrected from phonolitic tephrite] was similar to that from some of the more recent eruptions. An area of more than 1 km2 was covered by lava and the volume emitted was estimated at about 8-10 x 106 m3. The IIV considered the eruption to be a typical slow subterminal type. The last activity of this type on the S flank was in 1780. As of 8 April, effusive activity had diminished, but the eruption had not yet ended.

The lava destroyed ski lifts [the cable car system originally reported destroyed survived until March 1985] and destroyed or seriously damaged nine privately-owned huts and 11 small buildings owned by local authorities, including restaurants, chalets, mountain refuges, and a first aid station. Lava remained 8 km from the village of Nicolosi, its closest approach to a village or town.

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: R. Romano, IIV; M. Krafft, Cernay, France; UPI.