Structural analysis of the eruptive fissures at Mount Etna (Italy)

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Marco Neri
Valerio Acocella
Boris Behncke
Salvatore Giammanco
Francesco Mazzarini
Derek Rust


Mount Etna produces frequent eruptions from its summit craters and from fissures on its flanks. The flank fissures trend approximately radially to the summit, and are mainly concentrated in three rift zones that are located on the NE, S and W flanks. Many flank eruptions result from lateral magma transfer from the central conduit into fractures intersecting the flanks, although some eruptions are fed through newly formed conduits that are not directly linked to the central conduit. We analyzed the structural features of eruptions from 1900 to the present, one of the most active periods in the documented eruptive history of Etna, which comprised 35 summit and 33 flank events. Except for a small eruption on the W flank in 1974, all of the flank eruptions in this interval occurred on or near the NE and S rifts. Eruptions in the NE sector were generally shorter, but their fissure systems developed more rapidly and were longer than those in the S sector. In contrast, summit eruptions had longer mean durations, but generally lower effusion rates (excluding paroxysmal events characterized by very high effusion rates that lasted only a few hours). This database was examined considering the main parameters (frequency and strike) of the eruptive fissures that were active over the last ~2 ka. The distribution in time and space of summit and flank eruptions appears to be closely linked to the dynamics of the unstable E to S flank sector of Etna, which is undergoing periodic displacements induced by subvolcanic magma accumulation and gravitational pull. In this framework, magma accumulation below Etna exerts pressure against the unbuttressed E and S flanks, which have moved away from the rest of the volcano. This has caused an extension to the detachment zones, and has facilitated magma transfer from the central conduit into the flanks.

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Neri, M., Acocella, V., Behncke, B., Giammanco, S., Mazzarini, F. and Rust, D. (2011) “Structural analysis of the eruptive fissures at Mount Etna (Italy)”, Annals of Geophysics, 54(5). doi: 10.4401/ag-5332.

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