New paroxysm at Etna volcano showers flanks with ash and lapilli, interrupts operations at Catania Airport, Italy
Activity at Italy’s Etna volcano increased on May 6, 2023, after nearly 2 months of quiescence. The activity further increased on May 21, producing a new paroxysm and resulting in a temporary suspension of flight operations at Catania Airport.
The volcano showed signs of unrest above background levels on May 6, forcing the observatory to raise the Aviation Color Code from Green to Yellow at 21:58 UTC. The activity subsided on May 7 and increased again on May 14 and 18. While no ash was observed during this period, explosive activity was reported at 15:00 UTC on May 18, forcing the observatory to raise the Aviation Color Code to Orange.
Visual observation of this activity was largely unavailable during this period due to bad weather conditions.
A sharp rise in tremor was detected at around 06:00 UTC on May 21, suggesting a new paroxysm was in progress. This activity lasted for about 90 minutes, prompting the observatory to raise the Aviation Color Code to Red. Unfortunately, dense ash clouds prevented visual observations.
At around 07:30 UTC, ashfall was reported in Adrano village, located SW of the volcano at 560 m (1 840 feet) above sea level.
The plume of ash and lapilli reached up to 7.6 km (25 000 feet) above sea level, according to the Toulouse VAAC Volcanic Ash Advisory issued at 10:14 UTC.
“The ‘secret’ paroxysm on May 21 showered the southwest flank of the volcano with ash and lapilli,” INGV’s Boris Behncke reported. Ash was later reported on the volcano’s south flank, interrupting operations at Catania Airport.
“Due to the Etna eruption, it has become necessary to close an airspace sector: there will be delays and inconvenience on incoming and departing flights,” Catania Airport officials announced early May 21, urging passengers to contact the designated airlines for information.
Flight operations were completely suspended at 13:00 LT on May 21.
At 04:01 UTC on May 22, the Aviation Color Code was lowered back to Orange. The lava flow was still observed at summit craters but there were no ash clouds produced, Etna Volcano Observatory said in its latest Volcano Observatory Notice for Aviation (VONA).
Flight operations at Catania Airport resumed at 09:00 UTC on May 22.
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 (5.1 x 6.2 miles) horseshoe-shaped caldera open to the east.
Two styles of eruptive activity typically occur at Etna. Persistent explosive eruptions, sometimes with minor lava emissions, take place from one or more of the three prominent summit craters, the Central Crater, NE Crater, and SE Crater (the latter formed in 1978).
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.
1 VONA – Etna Volcano Observatory – May 6 – 22, 2023
2 Press releases by Catania Airport – May 21 and 22, 2023
3 Etna – Geological summary – GVP
Featured image credit: Boris Behncke/INGV
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