Lava from a volcano

Strong Etna eruptions seen by Meteosat

21 December 2020 09:00-22 December 03:00 UTC and 18 January 2021 21:15 UTC

Lava from a volcano
Lava from a volcano

Mount Etna erupted several times in December 2020 and January 2021. The strongest in 2020 was captured in Meteosat imagery.

Last Updated

06 May 2022

Published on

25 January 2021

By Jochen Kerkmann (EUMETSAT)

Mount Etna, or Etna is an active stratovolcano on the east coast of Sicily. It is one of the world's most active volcanoes and is in an almost constant state of activity.

In December 2020 there were several paroxysms from the volcano from 12 December onwards. The strongest paroxysm seen on satellite imagery was on 21 December, which started around 09:00 UTC. As is typical for a short Etna paroxysm, the event lasted less than two hours. The 15-minute Meteosat-11 24-hour Microphysics RGB animation, from 09:00-16:00 UTC (Figure 1), shows the initial movement of the volcanic (SO2) cloud.

Figure 1: 15-minute Meteosat-11 24-hour Microphysics RGB animation, 21 December 09:00-16:00 UTC.

The longer animation in Figure 2 shows the extended movement of the SO2 cloud, from initial paroxym to travelling from Greece towards Turkey in the early hours of 22 December.

Figure 2: Three-hourly Meteosat-11 24-hour Microphysics RGB animation, 21 December 09:00-22 December 03:00 UTC. Credit: EUMeTrain ePort.

Sporadic eruptions continued into January 2021, although with smaller paroxyms, so much weaker signals made it difficult for satellite products to pick up. On 18 January 2021, the weak volcanic plume was only faintly visible in Meteosat-11 Ash RGB imagery (Figure 3, top left) and not detected at all in CIMSS-derived products as signal was to weak for the algorithm (Figure 3).

ASh RGB and CIMSS product
Figure 3: Meteosat-11 Ash RGB (top left) and CIMSS-derived ash products, 18 January 21:15 UTC. Credit: CIMSS/NOAA


A series of earthquakes, occurred from the afternoon of 31 December 2020 until the morning of 2 January, mainly under the southern flank of the volcano. Forty quakes of magnitudes of up to 3.8 were recorded. Later in the month, on 24 January, following more sporadic eruptions, at least 50 small quakes were recorded.

Related content

Volcanoes of the world database (Smithsonian's Global Volcanism Program)
Etna's current activity (Volcano Discovery)
Etna eruption on 16 Feb 2021, seen in Meteosat-11 24h Microphysics RGB