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Mount Etna Case Study 2002 Jeep

Earth Sciences, Natural Disasters

Etna’s Changing Landscape

At 11,000 feet, Mount Etna is tall enough and cold enough to preserve snow in its ash. Credit: Meg Reitz.

Boris and Alfio, geologists at Sicily’s National Institute of Geophyscis and Volcanology picked us up in their four-wheel drive jeeps. Etna is a stunning image. She rises 3,300 meters right from the seafloor, towering over the towns located around her flanks, providing fertile land for farming and beautiful hiking and skiing. Alfio calls her their “Sicilian Mother”: bountiful and beautiful, but able to flare up at a moments notice.
We drive up the base of Etna studying the lava flows visible on the road cuts. Lava from a 1690 eruption traveled 45 km to Catania, destroying much of the city, before pouring into the Ionian Sea. As we make our way up the lava gets younger: 1700s, 1983, 1991-2, until we finally reach the tourist center where lavas in 2001 and 2002 lavas destroyed several buildings. There is a cable car that takes people from the tourist camp to 2,500 meters. The cable car was first built in the 1970s so people could more easily reach the summit. Periodic lava flows have destroyed it four times in 40 years. The current one was rebuilt after the 2002 eruption.
At base camp, we stop to pick up Doug and Diane, two videographers accompanying us up the mountain. Boris and Alfio also grab a caffé (an Italian staple). We pass through the gates for authorized personnel only, getting annoyed looks from the tourists who have to pay to ride the cable car or trudge up themselves.

We’ve driven about halfway up, when we notice two large hills covered with ash towering over us. In 2000, the area was a flat expanse of ash without these features. Within a year, magma beneath Etna had generated these two massive cones.

Boris says that every time he comes up to Etna he takes dozens of photos and that in the seven years has accumulated hundreds of photos of features that are no longer part the landscape. We so often think of mountains as slowly growing features that may set off an earthquake every few decades, but rarely change within our lifetime. And here is Etna that, like all active volcanoes, changes completely every few years, even without a major eruption.

We park the jeeps around 2,800 meters and begin to hike across thick deposits of windblown ash. We can see traces of snow that fell this year or several years ago, preserved under the ash. The walking gets tough as the ground turns to lava called A’a (for its Hawaiian counterpart).

A’a is crumbly, sharp, and painful to grab onto if you lose your balance.

Further up we start to see rocks of hydrothermal origin. These are composed of minerals that crystallize from water heated inside Etna (sulfur is the most common mineral). We’re still far from Etna’s active caldera, so these are rocks that were ejected from the caldera during Etna’s numerous explosions, or burps as Nano calls them.

We make the last scramble across a 40 degree slope to edge of the Etna’s most active caldera, where enormous fountains of lava erupted in 2008.

Over a period of eight months, 66 lava fountains gushed into the air. (Compare this to Mauna Loa’s 46 lava fountains in three years.)

So here we are, standing right next to it.

The rocks are coated in soft ash from explosions earlier this year, in April. They are warm to the touch from the magma just beneath the surface. Walking around, we come across vents of hydrogen sulfide under our feet. If the breeze blows the wrong way for too long, the smell of rotten eggs is overwhelming, burning your eyes, nose, and throat. Boris said he’s breathed in so much hydrogen sulfide, he has destroyed much of his sense of smell.

The trek back down Etna is treacherous, but beautiful. It’s a relief to finally make it back to the soft ash and our jeeps. Those of us here for the first time – myself, my parents who are visiting from Massachusetts, Doug, and Diane are nearly speechless with awe and wonder.

The next morning Boris calls to tell us that the caldera edge we were hiking along had collapsed into the caldera. The powerful, scary Etna had changed the landscape once again. I agree with Alfio: a Sicilian Mother after all.


Tags:

Calabrian Arc ProjectEarthquakesLamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

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Etna Excursions: Discover the volcano Etna on our exciting jeep tour

Mount Etna Tours, Etna Excursions, Daily 4×4 Etna Tour

Daily Etna Tours to the highest volcano in Europe. We will pick you up at your accommodation in Sicily with our off-road vehicles (among others the popular Land Rover 110) and head in direction Mount Etna. During our adventurous, partially off-road, drive up to the volcano, we will cross old lava fields as well as hundred-years old forests. We will make several stops to visit some of the most beautiful sites on Mount Etna by foot, accompanied by our English-speaking guide at all time.

The half-day excursion includes an easy walk to the impressive “Monte Fontana” and a visit of the famous valley “Valle del Bove”. Wandering through old and new lava flows, walking on extinct craters and equipped with helmets and flashlights you will enjoy an unforgettable experience visiting a real lava cave, where ice was produced centuries ago.

Our English-speaking guide will show you the great variety of flora and fauna: plants and animals that populate our active volcano. While walking through ancient forests you will learn a lot about Mount Etna vegetation and wildlife. Our last stop of the half-day tour will be around the cold lava streams of Piano Provenzana, which has been destroyed during the last big eruption of 2002.

If you book a full day trip, you will have the same morning program as for the half-day tour but you will also enjoy typical Sicilian food at a chalet and visit the famous Alcantara Gorges, which were formed millions of years ago on the north side of the volcano. Between the cold lava flows runs a small mountain river. Here you can walk barefoot in the crystal clear and ice cold water of the canyon or (during summer) have a refreshing swim.

On the way to the canyon we will pass by the idyllic Sicilian mountain village Castiglione di Sicilia and from a distance, situated on a slope, we will see Motta Camastra.

At the end of the tour we will drive you back to your accommodation.

Payment Options

Cash to
the driver

In advance by
Bank transfer

In advance by
Credit card

Upon requestwe also offer “private” trips. Vehicle and guide are exclusively available to you. You also have the possibility to book a tour by minivan. Contact us


  • During the tour an English-speaking guide will explain you the most interesting phenomena of the eruptive Volcano and will inform you about plants and animals.
  • Tours are easy and accessible to everyone.
  • We recommend sturdy shoes, adequate clothes according to the weather, bathing suit (if you have booked the full day tour and want to swim in Alcantara river)a bottle of water and do not forget your camera, of course!
  • Upon request we can provide a child safety seat or booster seat (free)
  • In the area around of Taormina and Catania pick up and drop-off at your hotel, camping, pension, holiday house, railway station, port, etc. is included. Possibility to meet us at the highway exit (in case you travel with your own car).
  • Entrance fee to the Alcantara Gorges included (in full-day tour)
  • 1 small bottle of water per person included and if scheduled: equipment like trekking poles, helmet and torch
  • Children under 12 years pay 10 euro less.
  • Rental of trekking shoes upon request. €5,00
  • Give this as a gift

    Gift this tour!
    After purchasing the tour you will receive a gift certificate that can be used within 12 months

  • We are open all year, except: 25.12 and 01.01

ETNA 4×4 HALF-DAY TOUR


  • € 59,00 p.p. with pick up at our meeting point motorway exit GIARRE

    Meeting point (Free Parking):
    Motorway Catania-Messina motorway exit GIARRE
    Coordinates: 37°42’15.8″N 15°10’10.0″E

  • € 68,00 p.p. with pick up at your hotel in Catania / Taormina area 

    Pickup and drop-off service:
    In the area of Catania and Taormina pick up and drop-off at your hotel/address

Duration: 5 hours (approx. 09:00 am – 02:30 pm).
Prices are inclusive of taxes and insurance
No hidden fees – All inclusive
FREE Cancellation until 3pm one day before tour begin

Book Now!click here


ETNA 4×4 FULL-DAY TOUR


  • € 89,00 p.p. with pick up at our meeting point motorway exit GIARRE

    Meeting point (Free Parking):
    Motorway Catania-Messina motorway exit GIARRE
    Coordinates: 37°42’15.8″N 15°10’10.0″E

  • € 95,00 p.p. with pick up at your hotel in Catania / Taormina area

    Pickup and drop-off service:
    In the area of Catania and Taormina pick up and drop-off at your hotel/address

Duration: 8 hours (approx 9:00 am – 6:00 pm).
Prices are inclusive of taxes and insurance
No hidden fees – All inclusive
FREE Cancellation until 3pm one day before the tour begin
Including typical Sicilian lunch

Sicilian specialities will be served:
Typical Sicilian appetizer, Main course Pasta, dessert, Water, bread, wine and coffee.
If you have any food requests ( vegetarians) or health problems (allergy etc), please let us know.

Book Now!click here

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