Volcano case study - Mount Etna (2002-2003), Italy



Can you describe the location of Mount Etna? Could you draw a sketch map to locate Mount Etna?

Eruption of Mount Etna - October 27, 2002
The eruption of Mount Etna on October 27, 2002, as seen by a NASA satellite. [Source]



Case study task

Use the resources and links that can be found on this page to produce a detailed case study of the 2002-2003 eruption of Mount Etna. You should use the 'Five W's" subheadings to give your case study structure.


What happened?


The Guardian - Sicilian city blanketed in ash [28 October 2002]


When did it happen?

Immediately before midnight 26 October 2002 (local time=GMT+1), a new flank eruption began on Mount Etna. The eruption ended after three months and two days, on 28 January 2003.


Where did it happen?

The eruption occurred from fissures on two sides of the volcano: at about 2750 m on the southern flank, and at elevations between 2500 and 1850 m on the northeastern flank.

Major volcanoes of Italy
Map of the lava flows of October 2002 to January 2003

Why did it happen?

Mount Etna is a volcano. The reasons why Mount Etna is located where it is are complex. Here are some of the theories:

  • One theory envisages a hot-spot or mantle-plume origin for this volcano, like those that produce the volcanoes in Hawaii.
  • Another theory involves the subduction of the African plate under the Eurasian plate.
  • Another group of scientists believes that rifting along the eastern coast of Sicily allows the uprise of magma.

Who was affected by it happening?

  • The Italian Government declared a state of emergency in parts of Sicily, after a series of earthquakes accompanying the eruption of forced about 1,000 people flee their homes.
  • A ship equipped with a medical clinic aboard was positioned off Catania - to the south of the volcano - to be ready in case of emergency.
  • Emergency workers dug channels in the earth in an attempt to divert the northern flow away from the town of Linguaglossa.
  • Schools in the town have been shut down, although the church has remained open for people to pray.
  • Villagers also continued their tradition of parading their patron saint through the streets to the railway station, to try to ward off the lava flow.
  • Civil protection officials in Catania, Sicily's second-biggest city, which sits in the shadow of Etna, surveyed the mountain by helicopter and were ready to send water-carrying planes into the skies to fight the fires.
  • The tourist complex and skiing areas of Piano Provenzana were nearly completely devastated by the lava flows that issued from the NE Rift vents on the first day of the eruption.
  • Heavy tephra falls caused by the activity on the southern flank occurred mostly in areas to the south of the volcano and nearly paralyzed public life in Catania and nearby towns.
  • For more than two weeks the International Airport of Catania, Fontanarossa, had to be closed due to ash on the runways.
  • Strong seismicity and ground deformation accompanied the eruption; a particularly strong shock (magnitude 4.4) on 29 October destroyed and damaged numerous buildings on the lower southeastern flank, in the area of Santa Venerina.
  • Lava flows from the southern flank vents seriously threatened the tourist facilities around the Rifugio Sapienza between 23 and 25 November, and a few days later destroyed a section of forest on the southwestern flank.
  • The eruption brought a heightened awareness of volcanic and seismic hazards to the Sicilian public, especially because it occurred only one year and three months after the previous eruption that was strongly featured in the information media.


Look at this video clip from an eruption on Mount Etna in November 2007. What sort of eruption is it?

There is no commentary on the video - could you add your own explaining what is happening and why?

You should be able to use the knowledge and understanding you have gained about 2002-2003 eruption of Mount Etna to answer the following exam style question:

In many parts of the world the natural environment presents hazards to people. Choose an example of one of the following: a volcanic eruption, an earthquake, a drought. For a named area, describe the causes of the example which you have chosen and its impacts on the people living there. [7 marks]