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Types of eruptions of Etna volcano AD 1670–2003: implications for short-term eruptive behaviour

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Analysis of the historical records of Etna’s eruptive activity for the past three centuries shows that, after the large 1669 eruption, a period of about 60 years of low-level activity followed. Starting from 1727, explosive activity (strombolian, lava fountaining and subplinian) at the summit crater increased exponentially to the present day. Since 1763, the frequency of flank eruptions also increased and this value remained high until 1960; afterward it further increased sharply. In fact, the number of summit and flank eruptions between 1961 and 2003 was four times greater than that of the pre-1960 period. This long-term trend of escalating activity rules out a pattern of cyclic behaviour of the volcano. We propose instead that the 1670–2003 period most likely characterises a single eruptive cycle which began after the large 1669 eruption and which is still continuing.

On the basis of the eruptive style, two distinct types of flank eruptions are recognised: Class A and Class B. Class A eruptions are mostly effusive with associated weak strombolian activity; Class B eruptions are characterised by effusive activity accompanied by intense, long-lasting, strombolian and lava fountaining activity that produces copious tephra fallouts, as during the 2001 and 2002–2003 eruptions. Over the past three centuries, seven Class B eruptions have taken place with vents located mainly on the south-eastern flank, indicating that this sector of the volcano is a preferential zone for the intrusion of volatile-rich magma rising from the deeper region of the Etna plumbing system.

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Special thanks are due to M. Coltelli who greatly supported us during this work with discussion and critical revision of the paper. The authors are grateful to S. Calvari for the critical revision of an earlier version of the manuscript, and to E. Guidoboni for advice concerning the historical sources of the studied period. Review by M.R. Carroll, R.I. Tilling and an anonymous reviewer greatly improved the manuscript. We also thank S. Maugeri of the Library of the Dipartimento di Scienze Geologiche-Sezione Mineralogia e Vulcanologia, Università di Catania. Research was supported by INGV-GNV of Italy.

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Correspondence to Stefano Branca.

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Branca, S., Carlo, P.D. Types of eruptions of Etna volcano AD 1670–2003: implications for short-term eruptive behaviour. Bull Volcanol 67, 732–742 (2005).

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