The large and destructive 1669 AD eruption at Etna volcano: reconstruction of the lava flow field evolution and effusion rate trend

Abstract

The 1669 AD flank eruption was the most destructive event on Etna volcano in historical times (∼700 BC) and provided, because of the presence of numerous quarries and subsurface data, the opportunity for a unique case study in which we directly measured the thickness of the lava field. Moreover, analysis of historical documents allowed reconstruction of the temporal evolution of the lava field and estimation of the average effusion rate. One hundred and thirty-eight thickness measurements, acquired from field surveys and subsurface data, allowed us to divide the lava field into 12 zones of homogenous mean thickness and to calculate a total lava volume of (607 ± 105) × 106 m3, corresponding to an average effusion rate of 58 ± 10 m3/s. This new volume differs by −24 % up to +64 %, from previously published values. The temporal evolution of the cumulative volume and average effusion rate were reconstructed for the first fourteen days, from field data and analysis of historical records. A short initial phase was characterized by a rapid increase in effusion rate, which reached a peak of ∼640 m3/s after 3 days. This was followed by a longer phase in which the flow rate decreased. The first 14 days were crucial for the development of the lava field, and in this time it covered 72 % of its final area and produced most of the damage. Thereafter, the growth of a complex lava tube network promoted lava field lengthening to the city of Catania, 17 km away from the vent. Effusion rate trends like those of the 1669 eruption can be adopted for future investigations aimed at assessing the effects of similar events on Etna’s most highly urbanized area and at other effusive basaltic volcanoes.

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Acknowledgements

We are very grateful to F. Fallico for furnishing the stratigraphy of the wells, G. Scamarda for the borehole data inside Catania urban area, M. Grasso, R. De Pietro and B. Rossi for the working-faces data of the new Catania underground. We also thank G. Santi and N. Barone for helping us in the measurements in the old Sanctuary of Mompilieri, and A. Bonaccorso for the suggestions during the analyses of the lava field and had helped us to solve the problem of errors estimation. A special acknowledgement is due to those who kindly accompained us inside the quarries and to R. Maugeri for helping us locate caves and tubes. An early version of the manuscript has been very significantly improved thanks to critical comments and revisions by C. Kilburn, S. Rowland and S. Calvari. The paper benefited from reviews by K. Cashman and C. Hamilton, as well as by the Associated Editor M.R. Patrick and the Executive Editor J. White. The research was financially supported by INGV-Osservatorio Etneo grants. The paper is dedicated to the newborns Alessandro and Gabriele.

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Correspondence to Stefano Branca.

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Branca, S., De Beni, E. & Proietti, C. The large and destructive 1669 AD eruption at Etna volcano: reconstruction of the lava flow field evolution and effusion rate trend. Bull Volcanol 75, 694 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00445-013-0694-5

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Keywords

  • Mount Etna
  • 1669
  • Lava flow field
  • Lava volume
  • Effusion rate trend