“Gold and blood”, Etna offered us a magnificent spectacle!

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[EN VIDÉO] The profession of volcanologist
Jacques-Marie Bardintzeff, volcanologist and professor at the University of Paris-Saclay, explains the facets of the job of a volcanologist.

May 30, 2022, 7 p.m. We have arrived at our accommodation in Serra la Nave, a small mountain chalet located around 1,750 meters above sea level on the southern slope of the volcano. A glass of wine, Tomme de l’Etna cheese, olives and tomatoes dried, the aperitif has Sicilian flavors, alongside a couple of friends that we find for this stay.

The landscape is volcanic, with some lava flows wash which contrast with the predominant short vegetation at this altitude. View gate to the summit of the volcano and precisely on two of the four craters which make up its summit: the Bocca Nuova which is degassing abundantly at the start of the evening, and the Southeast Crater which has become the highest point of Etna after its intense activity last year!

From here, nothing reveals the eruption in progress, because the lava comes out from the other side of the volcano, but the volcanic tremor, a vibration continues caused by the output of the magma on the surface, the recording of which can be consulted freely on Internetis formal: the eruption keep on going !

Let the show begin !

Around 10 p.m., we take the car to reach a point of view from where we hope to see the eruption. It is located at the edge of the southern rampart of the Valle of the Bove, a steep cliff 100 to 200 meters high that delimits a wide depression on the eastern flank of the volcano. 5 kilometers wide on average for about 7 kilometers long, this large valley hosts many of the lava flows of Etna and as we now notice, this eruption is no exception to the rule.

The show is already superb, red and orange in the dark night. The incandescence of the lava is reflected in the gases exhaled by the flows, creating a kind of bewitching reddish cloud

Although being a little more than 5 kilometers below the eruptive zone, we can quite clearly distinguish the various flows which are active simultaneously and whose fronts have reached the foot of the slope formed by the steep slopes at the top of the Valle del Good.

With the binoculars and the zoom of the camera, we spot perfectly the pieces of lava which, sometimes, detach from the flows and which come to roll, jump, burst into several pieces, to then stop at the bottom of the slope. From here, you can’t see the eruptive vents, but the spectacle is already superb, red and orange in the dark night. L’incandescent lava is reflected in the gas exhaled by the flows, creating a kind of bewitching reddish cloud. How lucky to be there!

The next day, we take the cable car which allows access to the upper part of Etna, still on the southern slope of the volcano. We arrive at an altitude of 2,500 meters, in a lunar landscape, strictly mineral. The view goes very far and in particular to Catania and the associated towns which spread out at the foot of the volcano, about twenty kilometers away. Lava flows have already reached the coast at this place in the historical period and remind us how big Etna is! We climb to the top of the Laghetto, a cone volcanic formed during an eruption in 2001, from which we have a perfect view of the Southeast Crater, the summit crater which has been capturing eruptive activity for several years.

I last came here four years ago and the change is impressive! The many lava fountains intense events of the past year have caused this volcanic cone to grow dramatically and although I have been following these changes since my computer, I am amazed ! We then reach the Piano del Lago, an area that rises gently towards the Southeast Crater composed of ash and lapilli, fine volcanic projections produced by the fountains of the last year. The walk is pleasant on this high beach and takes us to the edge of the upper Valle del Bove. Below, we can make out one of the active lava fronts of the current eruption, betrayed only by the few wisps of gas it emits.

The contemplation of the Sicilian volcano is worth

After enjoying this unique landscape, we descend by cable car and return to the car to reach the northern slope of the volcano, from where the view of the eruption is apparently ideal. We park at the Citelli refuge and set off around 6:30 p.m. The ascent is steep, but after an hour of effort we reach the Serra delle Concazze, on the edge of the northern rampart of the Valle del Bove, opposite the viewpoint of the day before but higher, around 2,100 meters above sea level.

From here, the panorama is perfect, from the Southeast Crater at the top to the bottom of the Valle del Bove. the wind sometimes comes to chase the volcanic gases which stagnate around the eruptive vents that we notice from our point of view. They opened up two days earlier below the Southeast Crater and release a flow of lava which splits into several arms. For the moment, the incandescence of the lava is camouflaged by the brightness from Sun, but the noise of the blocks rolling down the slope is already a pleasure in itself. The most advanced front that we had observed a few hours earlier from the top of the Valle del Bove is perfectly appreciable and clearly corresponds to the flow which seemed to us the most active last night. This flow front would thus have traveled 400 meters in almost a day, which is rather modest. Moreover, his observation with the binoculars reveals that he is not making much progress…

With the sunset the lava flows turn to gold and blood

While waiting for the sunset, we enjoy another Sicilian specialty: arancini! These rice balls stuffed with bolognese and mozzarella, breaded and fried, are a treat all the more appreciable in front of an eruption of the Sicilian volcano! And then, gradually, the luminosity decreases and lets appear some incandescent zones here and there. With my wife, we exchanged the camera and began to photograph and film, while enjoying the spectacle that was beginning to unfold…

Around 9 p.m., the eruptive situation is clearer: there is no more explosive activity at the level of the Southeast Crater: the activity is therefore strictly effusive, from the two mouths located lower, around 2,800 meters above sea level. altitude. They feed a main flow which is divided into several arms in the steep slope which marks the top of the Valle del Bove. At this level, the lava flows are countless, even if three active fronts have clearly arrived at the bottom of this slope, in addition to the most advanced mentioned above.

On this belvedere, we are about ten to contemplate this spectacle of Nature. In silence, we appreciate the moment, trying to capture the moment to share this moment on the way home. As the sun sets, the lava flows turn gold and blood. The black and gray hues of the volcano observed during the day gave way to red, orange and yellow shades, for a unique, magnificent spectacle! The lights towns below and the stars which begin to appear complete the picture… Suddenly, a discreet orange sheaf is projected from the top of the Southeast Crater and forms a plume of ash that the wind will quickly disperse.

Of course, this show pleases us. But we are also attracted to these eruptive vents, especially since headlamps are remarkable nearby and, after various approaches on the Piton of the Fournaise, we have some experience. However, the lack of knowledge of the area and the observation of snowdrifts observed on the slopes of the Valle del Bove earlier in the day, formed in the snowfields protected from the sun by the layers of ash that cover them, bring us back to reason. And then, the rest of the stay also reserves other beautiful discoveries…

Two days later, while visiting the island of Vulcano by scooter, we notice Etna in the distance, yet nearly 70 kilometers away! The emissions of ashes which started the day before are perfectly remarkable… The next day, in the train which brings us back to Catania, these emissions of ashes are still in progress and form a cloud which stretches over about twenty kilometers towards the south. I can’t take my eyes off this living mountain…

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