Volcanic eruptions are always exciting news for us here at VIPS, but the start of 2021 has held some particularly spectacular activity! Join us as we look back on some of the most breathtaking eruptions of the year so far.
Fire Fountains from Mt Etna
Towering above the city of Catania on the Island of Sicily is Mt Etna, an incredibly active stratovolcano. Etna’s restless behaviour has earned it the title of one of Europe’s most active volcanoes.
The eruptions here are characterised by a combination of explosive strombolian activity from one or more of the volcano’s four prominent summit craters and more effusive lava flows from the volcano’s flanks. Etna is also well known for its paroxysm eruptions – eruptions that occur in typically short and irregular bursts, building to a short but powerful explosive peak.
In February the volcanic activity from Mt Etna intensified dramatically; a powerful lava fountain exploded from Etna’s New South East crater in the late afternoon of February 16th 2021, marking the onset of a series of extraordinary paroxysm eruptions. Since then, there have been seventeen more remarkable fire fountaining episodes, the last of which took place on March 31st.
These paroxysms occurred on average every 2-3 days, almost like clockwork, and although short-lived, the lava fountains reached staggering heights of up to 1500m! Alongside significant lava flows covering several kilometres, this activity led to the partial collapse of the eastern flank and subsequent pyroclastic density currents (PDCs). Lapilli and ash also rained down on the surrounding area, blanketing local towns and cities as the eruption columns rose to over 10km high.
Now after almost four weeks of calm behaviour, the New South East crater is starting to show signs of life again. It’s still too early to tell whether this activity will continue to intensify and form the next series of impressive paroxysm eruptions, but keep an eye out!
Mt Etna is actively monitored by the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV). For all up-to-date information on Mt Etna’s eruptions please visit the INGV website by clicking here.
Window to the Mantle in the Reykjanes Peninsular
Have you been following Iceland’s ongoing eruption from the Reykjanes Peninsular?
On March 19th 2021, following a three week long seismic crisis, magma finally breached the surface near Fagradalsfall in the Geldingadular region. This exciting activity marked the first eruption in the Reykjanes Peninsular in almost 800 years!
The eruption began as a 500m long meandering fissure, but quickly became focused on a single vent leading to the production of a steep-sided cone. Since then, two more fissure segments have opened up and the lava shows little signs of stopping. Recent estimates from the University of Iceland’s Institute of Earth Sciences suggest that lava now covers an area of 1.13km2 and is flowing at an average discharge rate of 5.3m3/s.
Through analysing samples of lava, we now know that the erupting basalt is rich in magnesium oxide, indicating the magma likely originated from within the mantle at depths of 17-20km. Its composition is also very primitive, similar to that of Iceland’s other shield volcanoes – unlike the more evolved magmas of Iceland’s recent historical eruptions.
Although currently the Reykjanes Peninsular eruption is still relatively small, it likely indicates the onset of something much larger. Historical data suggests this style of eruption could last for months to even years, marking the beginning of a new era of activity and the potential production of a new shield volcano! It also holds an unprecedented opportunity for volcanologists to study southwest Iceland’s long-term volcanic activity.
The Icelandic Met Office is currently monitoring this eruption. To stay up-to-date with the ongoing activity, news and alerts please visit their website here.
Want to know more about the creation of eruptive fissures?
Has Iceland’s latest fissure eruption left you wanting to know more? Join us on 17.05.2021 (10AM CET), where Professor Eleonara Rivalta will be presenting: What pathways for ascending magma? Implications for geophysics and petrology, as part of our continuing VIPS Virtual Seminar Series. Click here to register for this exciting talk!
La Soufrière Breaks its Silence
The Caribbean island of Saint Vincent is home to La Soufrière – a particularly dangerous active stratovolcano in close proximity to the homes of the island’s residents. La Soufrière is the island’s youngest and northernmost volcano, and despite its destructive reputation it has been silent for the last 42 years.
However, this all changed in early April when La Soufrière began violently erupting…
It all started back in late December 2020 when the volcano began showing signs of reawakening; seismic and fumarolic activity began increasing and a new lava dome began growing within La Soufrière’s crater-lake. This caused local authorities to raise the island’s alert level and initiate preparations for an impending dangerous eruption.
Seismic activity continued to increase dramatically in the days leading up to the first eruption, and on the morning of April 8th, six distinct episodes of seismic tremors of increasing magnitudes were detected. Five long-period earthquakes and two brief swarms of volcano-tectonic earthquakes were also recorded by the seismic network, all of which were indicative of magma rising the the surface.
At 08:41 on April 9th, La Soufrière underwent an intense explosion, sending an eruption column 8-10km into the sky. This was followed by a continued series of explosions and seismic swarms, venting significant amounts of ash into the atmosphere. Since then there have been at least 30 other explosions, completely covering the surrounding areas in ash and sending PDCs and lahars racing down the volcano’s valleys. Tens of thousands of residents were evacuated from their homes, and there have been no reported deaths or injuries.
La Soufrière is still currently in a state of unrest and the island still remains on red alert. At the time of writing, around 15% of the St Vincent’s population remain in temporary accommodation, and the island has a long way to go to recover from the volcano’s devastating effects.
The University of The West Indies (UWI) Seismic Research Centre, which is assisted by the Soufrière Monitoring Unit (SMU) from the Ministry of Agriculture in Kingstown, is actively monitoring this eruption. Recent predictions suggest this activity could continue for days and possibly weeks, with the next explosion potentially occurring with little warning. To remain up-to-date with this eruption and any hazard advisements please visit the UWI Seismic Research Centre’s website or Instagram. More information on dealing with volcanic ash and gases can also be found on the International Volcanic Health Hazard Network’s (IVHHN) website.
A fundraiser has been set up by the UK Saint Vincent and Grenadines Friendship Trust to help those affected by the eruption, which you can contribute to here.
First of the Year for Piton de la Fournaise
Located on the French island of La Réunion is the extremely active basaltic shield volcano of Piton de la Fournaise. It’s one of the world’s most active volcanoes, with the majority of historical eruptions originating from the summit and flanks of Dolomieu, a 400m tall lava shield found within the youngest of the Piton de la Fournaise’s three calderas. The eruptions here are typically short-lived, begin with moderate lava fountains and go on to produce significant flows of lava.
The volcano’s latest activity began on the evening of April 9th from a new fissure on Dolomieu’s southern flank, marking its very first eruption of 2021. However, it did not come without warning, as the eruption was preceded by more than 700 shallow volcanic earthquakes and rapid ground deformation – both indicating the movement of magma towards the surface.
The eruption fissure is still active and has been producing mild lava fountains between 30-60m tall. Lava discharge rates are estimated to be around 8m3/s and steep-sided cinder cones have begun building around the three emission vents. Fortunately, the active areas of the volcano are uninhabited and therefore pose little threat.
Fun fact: Piton de la Fournaise is also the favourite volcano of Catherine Annen, one of the founding members of VIPS! Recently the VIPS blog team sat down with Catherine to discuss her research and role within the committee, as well as her love for this volcano. You can now read all about it here.