On the evening of December 2 2015, Sicily’s Mount Etna began to erupt for the first time in over two years, reaching a brief but violent climax in the early hours of December 3 which included lava fountains as well as a column of gas and ash several kilometres high. The event was among the most violent seen at Etna over the last twenty years.
Luckily, good weather meant that the eruption could be monitored with visual and thermal cameras from the Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia (INGV) Etna Observatory. According to INGV reports, activity peaked between 02:20 and 03:10 GMT when a continuous lava fountain reached heights well above 1km; with some jets of volcanic material reaching 3km into the sky. Although the eruption had more or less ceased by dawn, the volcanic cloud had blown northeast, causing ash to be deposited on the nearby towns of Taormina, Milazzo, Messina and Reggio Calabria.
The eruption has so far continued, repeating the behaviour seen earlier with tall lava fountains and eruption columns many kilometers high. Updates can be found on the INGV webpage.
COMET scientists at the University of Oxford have been tracking the volcanic plume’s progress using data from the Infrared Atmospheric Sounding Instruments (IASI) on board ESA’s MetOp-A and MetOp-B satellite platforms. These instruments can detect the presence of volcanic SO2 in the atmosphere, using methods developed by the University’s Earth Observation Data Group.
The results, which can be found on the IASI NRT web page, showed that by Friday 4 December the plume had reached an area between Crete and Iraq, containing 0.06 Tg (1012g) SO2.
By the morning of 7 December, the plume had travelled from Sicily to Asia, reaching as far as Japan and the Pacific Ocean.
Dr Elisa Carboni, a COMET researcher based at the University of Oxford, said: “This is a great example of how we can track volcanic plume using the near real time IASI service. ”
You can follow the volcanic plume on the IASI NRT web page.