, Volume 66, Issue 5, pp 417-430
Date: 05 Nov 2003

The role of the Pernicana Fault System in the spreading of Mt. Etna (Italy) during the 2002–2003 eruption

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Abstract

Flank instability and collapse are observed at many volcanoes. Among these, Mt. Etna is characterized by the spreading of its eastern and southern flanks. The eastern spreading area is bordered to the north by the E–W-trending Pernicana Fault System (PFS). During the 2002–2003 Etna eruption, ground fracturing along the PFS migrated eastward from the NE Rift, to as far as the 18 km distant coastline. The deformation consisted of dextral en-echelon segments, with sinistral and normal kinematics. Both of these components of displacement were one order of magnitude larger (~1 m) in the western, previously known, portion of the PFS with respect to the newly surveyed (~9 km long) eastern section (~0.1 m). This eastern section is located along a pre-existing, but previously unknown, fault, where displaced man-made structures give overall slip rates (1–1.9 cm/year), only slightly lower than those calculated for the western portion (1.4–2.3 cm/year). After an initial rapid motion during the first days of the 2002–2003 eruption, movement of the western portion of the PFS decreased dramatically, while parts of the eastern portion continued to move. These data suggest a model of spreading of the eastern flank of Etna along the PFS, characterized by eruptions along the NE Rift, instantaneous, short-lived, meter-scale displacements along the western PFS and more long-lived centimeter-scale displacements along the eastern PFS. The surface deformation then migrated southwards, reactivating, one after the other, the NNW–SSE-trending Timpe and Trecastagni faults, with displacements of ~0.1 and ~0.04 m, respectively. These structures, along with the PFS, mark the boundaries of two adjacent blocks, moving at different times and rates. The new extent of the PFS and previous activity over its full length indicate that the sliding eastern flank extends well below the Ionian Sea. The clustering of seismic activity above 4 km b.s.l. during the eruption suggests a deep décollement for the moving mass. The collected data thus suggests a significant movement (volume >1,100 km3) of the eastern flank of Etna, both on-shore and off-shore.

Editorial responsibility: R. Cioni