Date of Award


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Geology (MS)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences


Simon A Carn


Mt Etna's activity has increased during the last decade with a tendency towards more explosive eruptions that produce paroxysmal lava fountains. From January 2011 to April 2012, 25 lava fountaining episodes took place at Etna's New South-East Crater (NSEC). Improved understanding of the mechanism driving these explosive basaltic eruptions is needed to reduce volcanic hazards. This type of activity produces high sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions, associated with lava flows and ash fall-out, but to date the SO2 emissions associated with Etna's lava fountains have been poorly constrained. The Ultraviolet (UV) Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) on NASA's Aura satellite and the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) on Aqua were used to measure the SO2 loadings. Ground-based data from the Observatoire de Physique du Globe de Clermont-Ferrand (OPGC) L-band Doppler radar, VOLDORAD 2B, used in collaboration with the Italian National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Catania (INGV-CT), also detected the associated ash plumes, giving precise timing and duration for the lava fountains. This study resulted in the first detailed analysis of the OMI and AIRS SO2 data for Etna's lava fountains during the 2011-2012 eruptive cycle. The HYSPLIT trajectory model is used to constrain the altitude of the observed SO2 clouds, and results show that the SO2 emission usually coincided with the lava fountain peak intensity as detected by VOLDORAD. The UV OMI and IR AIRS SO2 retrievals permit quantification of the SO2 loss rate in the volcanic SO2 clouds, many of which were tracked for several days after emission. A first attempt to quantitatively validate AIRS SO2 retrievals with OMI data revealed a good correlation for high altitude SO2 clouds. Using estimates of the emitted SO2 at the time each paroxysm, we observe a correlation with the inter-paroxysm repose time. We therefore suggest that our data set supports the collapsing foam (CF) model [1] as driving mechanism for the paroxysmal events at the NSEC. Using VOLDORAD-based estimates of the erupted magma mass, we observe a large excess of SO2 in the eruption clouds. Satellite measurements indicate that SO2 emissions from Etnean lava fountains can reach the lower stratosphere and hence could pose a hazard to aviation.

[1] Parfitt E.A (2004). A discussion of the mechanisms of explosive basaltic eruptions. J. Volcanol. Geotherm. Res. 134, 77-107.

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