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Uneasy coexistence

A lava flow issuing from Etna's New Southeast Crater on the early morning of 9 February 2012 seems to reach out for the church of Milo, a little village lying on the eastern flank of the volcano. What seems like an imminent disaster in this view is actually not all that dramatic. The village lies way out of the range of lava flows produced by eruptions like this, which we call summit eruptions.


The 20th paroxysmal eruptive episode at the New Southeast Crater since January 2011 had been announced by more than 12 days of mild Strombolian activity, and finally on the late afternoon of 8 February 2012, the activity began to show a marked increase, and a few hours later, lava began to overflow the crater rim, as in all previous episodes. Shortly before midnight GMT (01 h local time), lava fountains began to rise into the clear, moonlit night, and for the next five-and-a-half hours, we once more had The Greatest Show On Earth. This latest lava fountain was not the most violent of the series, but it occurred during a clear night with the nearly full moon, and it lasted into daybreak.


In this view you can see the main lava fountains from two vents within the New Southeast Crater and the lava flow issuing through the breach in the southeastern crater rim. The short streaks shooting out at low angles from the base of the main fountains are huge lava bombs shot out by the bursting of a huge magma blister; such explosions occurred frequently during the late stage of this paroxysm, and loud detonations continued for about two hours after the end of continuous lava fountaining.


I think I took some of my best ever Etna eruption photos this night. This is the first, and you ain't seen nothin' yet.

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Taken on February 9, 2012