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 Explosive column from the november eruptive phase. 2002 Photo by Ben Kennedy.


Etna has the longest history of documented eruptions of any volcano. The first reported eruption was in 1,500 BC.

Close up view of the effusive vent taken on June 4, 1998. 

Photo by Boris Behncke.


June 4, 1998 eruption of the southwestern vent of Voragine

Photo by Boris Behncke.

Eruptive activity at the intracrater cone on August 5, 1997.

Lights of the urban center on the Eastern flank of Etna can be seen to the right.

Photo by Boris Behncke.

Intense Strombolian activity at SE Crater on July 11, 1997. Photo by Boris Behncke.


Mt. Etna, April 29, 1993. Photograph by Steve O'Meara.

Additional Sources of Information:

Check out Italy's Volcanoes: The Cradle of Volcanology Online for more great information and images of Etna

Mauro Coltelli and Massimo Pompilio, Istituto Internazionale di Vulcanologia-Catania (Italy), email communication posted on Volcano ListServ

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 1995, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., v. 20, no. 8, p. 2.

McClelland, L., Simkin, T., Summers, M., Nielson, E., Stein, T.C., 1989, Global volcanism 1975-1985: Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, and American Geophysical Union, Washington DC, 655 p.

Simkin, T., and Siebert, L., 1994, Volcanoes of the world: Geoscience Press, Tucson, Arizona, 349 p.

More about Etna





Etna's history is long and complex.

The oldest lavas, exposed on the lowermost flanks of the volcano, erupted 300,000 years ago. Some of these are pillow lavas, indicating Etna started as a submarine volcano and grew above sea level. 

Between 150,000-100,000 several volcanic centers coalesced and calderas formed and filled. Between 65,000-25,000 years ago a major vent grew to the southeast of the present summit. Phreatomagmatic eruptions were common during this period.

Most of the summit of this volcano was removed by subsequent caldera collapse. Between 18,000-5,000 years ago four major volcanic centers continued to construct Etna and three calderas formed.

Photograph by Chuck Wood, 1971.







Valle del Bove is a depression that formed about 5,000 years ago by gravity sliding on the east flank of the volcano. 

Photograph looking east down Valle del Bove by Chuck Wood, 1984.

Most of the cones, craters, and pre-historic lava flows and tephra deposits at the summit of Etna formed within the last 5,000 years.   Summit of Mt. Etna, 1971. Photograph copyrighted by Robert Decker. 

 Etna's first recorded eruption was in 1500 B.C. Since then Etna has erupted at least 190 times. Most of these eruptions have a volcanic explosivity index of 1 or 2 and activity consists of gently effusion of lava or Strombolian explosions.

Photograph of 'a'a during the 1984 eruption by Chuck Wood.

One of the most dramatic eruptions of Etna was in 1669. Earthquakes began on February 25 and caused great damage in Nicolosi, about 6 miles (10 km) South and East of Catania. The eruption began on March 11 as a 7 mile (12 km) fissure opened from near Nicolosi to Mt. Frumento Supino, 1 mile (2 km) from the summit. Several more vents formed. On April 12 flows arrived at the walls of Catania. Lava rose to the top of the wall and cascaded over. Lava also knocked over a section of was 120 feet (40 m) long. Large parts of the town were destroyed. Lava reached the sea on April 23. The eruption stopped on July 15.

Fatalities are rare at Etna and reported for only 7 eruptions. Typically, people visiting the summit are too close when explosions throw blocks through the air. In 1843, 36 people were killed by a phreatic explosion at the front of a lava flow. Nine people were killed and 23 were injured (150 tourist were in the area) on September 12, 1979, by a 30-second explosion that threw large blocks near the crater rim. Blocks 10 inches (25 cm) in diameter fell 1,300 feet (400 m) away. Two people were killed and 7 others injured by falling volcanic material 1,600 feet (500 m) from the crater in the 1987 phreatic eruption.

Nearly 100 cinder cones dot the surface of Etna.

The cinder cone in this photo was constructed by the 1974 eruption of Etna. 

Photograph by Peter Mouginis-Mark.

Northeast crater is a pyroclastic cone at the summit of Etna. The vent that formed the cone became active in 1911. The cone is made of pyroclasts ranging in size from ash to bombs up to 3 feet (1 m) in length. Strombolian eruptions are common at this vent. Photograph by Chuck Wood.

The first attempt to divert lava took place at Etna in 1669. The citizens of Paterno protested to the proposed diversion of lava away from Catania and towards their city. The attempt was largely unsuccessful.

Lava diversion was successful during the 1983 eruption. 

Photograph of the Sapienza barrier by Jack Lockwood, U.S. Geological Survey, May 29, 1983.

Visitors to the active front of an aa flows, 1984. Photograph by Chuck Wood.




Even More About Etna


Looking south along the coast of Sicily to Etna. Taormina is in the foreground. 
Photograph by Mike Lyvers taking during the 1993 eruption.

In mythology, Etna was identified as the location of the forge of Volcan, home of the Cyclopses, and where the giant

Enceladus laid (eruptions being his breath and earthquakes his motion). Etna's beauty, frequent eruptions, and long record of eruptions makes it one of the world's best known volcanoes. With hundreds of papers published on nearly every aspect of Etna's geology it is probably one of the world's most studied volcanoes.

NASA Sir-C image of Etna. Summit craters are near the center of the image. Valle del Bove is east (right) of the summit. Cinder cones are abundant on Etna and most visible in this image on the southwest flank. The right photo is a Skylab False color image. The red color reflects the vegetation present.

Photo from the Space Shuttle, April 1981. Photo no. STS 1-13-444.


Etna is one of the largest continental volcanoes. The base of the volcano is about 36 by 24 miles (60 x 40 km). Below an elevation of about 9,500 feet (2,900 m) Etna is a shield. The upper 1,200 feet (400 m) is a stratovolcano made of several coalesced vents. Much of the surface of the volcano is covered by historic lava flows. Most eruptive products are made of andesite. The eruption rate of Etna is about one-sixth that of Kilauea.