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Report on Etna (Italy) — December 1989


Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, vol. 14, no. 12 (December 1989)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Etna (Italy) Southeast Crater explosive activity drops tephra on nearby towns

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1989. Report on Etna (Italy) (McClelland, L., ed.). Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, 14:12. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.SEAN198912-211060



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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Summit activity. (S. Calvari, M. Coltelli, O. Consoli, M. Pompilio, V. Scribano.) After only fumarolic emissions from Southeast Crater in November (14:11), renewed activity began on 16 December with continuous ejection of reddish cinders. The activity continued for the following two days, becoming weaker on the 18th. A new vent on the crater bottom, observed 21 December from the rim, exhibited strong explosive activity, but without visible tephra ejection. The activity became somewhat more intense during the following days. Only very small cinders (probably juvenile) reached the crater rim. Strong, deep, explosive activity was noted at Bocca Nuova, but there was no evidence of new tephra on the crater rim. La Voragine was obstructed and characterized by weak fumarolic emissions from the crater bottom. Gas emission from a vent on the floor of Northeast crater continued as before, but reddish cinders and gas were emitted on the 16th.

Seismic activity. (S. Privitera, C. Cardaci, O. Cocina, V. Longo, A. Montalto, D. Patane, A. Pellegrino, S. Spampinato.) Seismic activity in December returned to levels similar to those preceding the July-October seismic and eruptive activity (14:7-11). Five events with M>2 were recorded at 5-10 km depths on the Valle del Bove and the volcano's W sector. The most energetic event (M 2.8) occurred 9 December on the E part of the Valle del Bove at 9 km depth. The number and energy of low-frequency events increased, with maximum activity recorded on 16 December. Tremor amplitude also increased and was characterized by energy fluctuations, especially on the 18th and 19th.

Ground deformation. (A. Bonaccorso, O. Campisi, B. and G. Puglisi, R. Velardita.) Preliminary interpretation of the signal at the SPC borehole tilt station on the S flank showed no significant variation during December. Deformation measured on the NE trilateration network was characterized by shear, with almost equal moduli of the main strain axes. Distance measurements across the fracture on the volcano's S side indicate general stability relative to 7 October and 11 November surveys.

Summit crater SO2 flux. (T. Caltabiano, R. Romano.) Samples collected 7, 20, and 29 December revealed that SO2 flux had stabilized below the mean value of 4,000 t/d. A relatively low value (2,000 t/d) was recorded in late November. December 1989 SO2 flux was slightly higher than the December 1988 trend, probably related to a longer-period flux component.

Early January activity. A seismic phase characterized by fluctuations in the mean amplitude of volcanic tremor began on 4 January at 1950 and was recorded at the ESP station of the permanent Mt. Etna seismic network. Iseismicity;amplitude By 5 January at 0120, the amplitude had stabilized at medium-high values. The most energetic phase was recorded between 0730 and 0922 on several seismic stations. During the following hours, tremor amplitude decreased, but sporadic 1-minute fluctuations brought the tremor amplitude to normal levels. The seismic phase was probably accompanied by lava fountaining at Southeast Crater, but bad weather prevented direct observation. The activity deposited lapilli and small scoria (up to 4 cm) on the NW side of the volcano in the Bronte-Randazzo area, with a dispersion axis oriented toward the town of Maletto (15 km NW of the summit crater). Scoria 13 km from the summit crater was 2-3 cm in diameter. Fieldwork in the following days revealed that a small amount of lava had poured over Southeast Crater's rim, probably due to lava fountaining. The 300-m lava flow, ~ 50 m wide and 1-2 m thick, reached the lowermost 1971 crater. As of 10 January, Southeast Crater showed no explosive activity.

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. Santacroce, IIV.