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The July–August 2001 eruption of Mt. Etna (Sicily)

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The July–August 2001 eruption of Mt. Etna stimulated widespread public and media interest, caused significant damage to tourist facilities, and for several days threatened the town of Nicolosi on the S flank of the volcano. Seven eruptive fissures were active, five on the S flank between 3,050 and 2,100 m altitude, and two on the NE flank between 3,080 and 2,600 m elevation. All produced lava flows over various periods during the eruption, the most voluminous of which reached a length of 6.9 km. Mineralogically, the 2001 lavas fall into two distinct groups, indicating that magma was supplied through two different and largely independent pathways, one extending laterally from the central conduit system through radial fissures, the other being a vertically ascending eccentric dike. Furthermore, one of the eccentric vents, at 2,570 m elevation, was the site of vigorous phreatomagmatic activity as the dike cut through a shallow aquifer, during both the initial and closing stages of the eruption. For 6 days the magma column feeding this vent was more or less effectively sealed from the aquifer, permitting powerful explosive and effusive magmatic activity. While the eruption was characterized by a highly dynamic evolution, complex interactions between some of the eruptive fissures, and changing eruptive styles, its total volume (~25×106 m3 of lava and 5–10×106 m3 of pyroclastics) was relatively small in comparison with other recent eruptions of Etna. Effusion rates were calculated on a daily basis and reached peaks of 14–16 m3 s-1, while the average effusion rate at all fissures was about 11 m3 s-1, which is not exceptionally high. The eruption showed a number of peculiar features, but none of these (except the contemporaneous lateral and eccentric activity) represented a significant deviation from Etna's eruptive behavior in the long term. However, the 2001 eruption could be but the first in a series of flank eruptions, some of which might be more voluminous and hazardous. Placed in a long-term context, the eruption confirms a distinct trend, initiated during the past 50 years, toward higher production rates and more frequent eruptions, which might bring Etna back to similar levels of activity as during the early to mid seventeenth century.

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The work has benefited from comments and discussions involving colleagues from the Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia and the Dipartimento di Scienze Geologiche at the University of Catania, the Alpine Guides of Etna, Luigi Tortorici, Peter Ippach, Giovanni Tomarchio, and Giuseppe Scarpinati. The authors are grateful to the pilots and technicians of the Civil Defence helicopters who made our observations possible. Andy Woods and David Pyle are acknowledged for their critical and thoughtful reviews which contributed significantly to the quality of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Marco Neri.

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Editorial responsibility: A. Woods

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Behncke, B., Neri, M. The July–August 2001 eruption of Mt. Etna (Sicily). Bull Volcanol 65, 461–476 (2003).

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