Mount Etna eruption

Mount Etna eruption - May 2016

17 May 2016 03:00–19 May 21:00 UTC

Mount Etna eruption
Mount Etna eruption

Mount Etna, Europe's most active volcano, erupted again in mid-May 2016.

Last Updated

26 January 2022

Published on

17 May 2016

By HansPeter Roesli (Switzerland), Ian Mills and Jochen Kerkmann (EUMETSAT) and Fred Prata (NILU)

 Suomi-NPP, 18 May, 00:49 UTC
Figure 1: Suomi-NPP Volcanic Ash RGB, 18 May, 00:49 UTC
 Suomi-NPP, 18 May, 12:11 UTC
Figure 2: Suomi-NPP Volcanic Ash RGB (zoomed in), 18 May, 12:11 UTC

A paroxysm from Mount Etna sent huge plumes of ash and smoke hundreds of metres into the skies above Sicily on 17/18 May (Figure 1).

 Collage of Meteosat-10 SEVIRI images from 18 May 11:30 UTC. Credit: NOAA
Figure 3: Collage of Meteosat-10 SEVIRI images from 18 May 11:30 UTC. Credit: NOAA

Activity began at the 3350-metre high volcano on 17 May, with emissions from its north-east crater.

While ash and lava settled locally, plumes of SO2 were driven by high-level winds east-southeastward.

A sequence of Ash and SO2 RGB composites from Meteosat-10, 17 May 03:00 UTC–18 May 18:30 UTC shows the SO2 emissions in green.

The emissions varied in intensity over time, culminating with a final larger one on 18 May at around 11:00 UTC (Figure 3).

Suomi-NPP's VIIRS imaging radiometer happened to fly over Etna just over an hour after this last paroxysm.

The Ash and SO2 RGB at 750m spatial resolution (Figure 2) shows the high-level exhaust plume in various colours: green for SO2, red for ash, and yellow for a mixture of SO2 and ash.

 Suomi-NPP VIIRS Natural Color RGB, 18 May 12:11 UTC (zoomed in)
Figure 4: Suomi-NPP VIIRS Natural Color RGB, 18 May 12:11 UTC (zoomed in)

The Suomi-NPP VIIRS Natural Colour RGB at 375m spatial resolution (Figure 4) shows two red pixels just west of the erupting crater, most probably coming from the hot fiery lava flowing down the western flanks of Etna.

The initial evolution of this plume can be followed on five-minute imagery from Meteosat-9.

The sequence of Meteosat-9 Ash and SO2 RGBs, 18 May 10:25 UTC–15:00 UTC demonstrates that the ash was falling out early and only SO2 was left in the plume.

On the SEVIRI SO2 retrievals from Meteosat-10 (Figure 5, animated gif, Credit: Fred Prata) the plume can be followed as it moved east-southeast, driven by winds at a height of around 7km (as confirmed by HYSPLIT trajectories.

 Animated gif of Met-10 SEVIRI SO
Figure 5: Animated gif of Met-10 SEVIRI SO2 retrievals, 18 May 12:00–20:00 UTC

These winds pushed the plume further south east and it crossed the south-eastern corner of the Mediterranean late on 19 May, as can be seen on the Meteosat-10 animation, 18 May 10:00 UTC–19 May 21:00 UTC.

This is confirmed by the AIRS granule of 19 May at 11:29 UTC (Credit: Fred Prata), where the SO2 plume was detected just north of Egypt.

Related content

Etna information on Volcano Discovery
Volcanic Cloud Monitoring website (NOAA/CIMSS)