University of Leicester
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Stress, strain and mass changes at Mt. Etna during the period between the 1991-93 and 2001 flank eruptions

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journal contribution
posted on 2017-01-11, 12:12 authored by D. Carbone, M. Aloisi, S. Vinciguerra, G. Puglisi
During the ~8-year period between the 1991–93 and 2001 flank eruptions, the eruptive activity of Mt. Etna was confined to the summit craters. Deformation and tomography studies indicate that this activity was fed by a magma accumulation zone centered NE of the summit, at a depth of 5 to 9 km below sea level. The most significant gravity changes measured during the same period were induced by mass redistributions at shallower depth below the southeastern flank of the volcano, where minor ground deformation was observed (i.e., vertical displacements within 2 cm). The mismatch between the position of pressure and mass sources is difficult to explain under the assumption that both are directly related to magma dynamics. Past studies have suggested that the gravity changes observed during 1994–2001 may primarily reflect changes in the rate of microfracturing along the NNW–SSE fracture/weakness zone (FWZ) that crosses the SE slope of Etna. We use the finite element method to shed new light on the complex relations between stress, strain and mass changes that occurred at Etna during the studied period. In particular, following previous results on the degradation of the mechanical properties of rocks, we perform a set of simulations assuming that the part of the medium containing the FWZ is characterized by a lower Young's modulus than would be expected from interpolation of tomographic data. We find that the presence of the FWZ creates a distortion of the displacement field induced by the deeper pressure source, locally resulting in a weak extensional regime. This finding supports the hypothesis of a cause–effect relationship between pressurization beneath the NW flank and tensile extension beneath the SE slope of the volcano. We propose that this extensional regime enhanced the propagation of pressurized gas, that, in turn, amplified the tensile strain across the FWZ. We also find that decreasing the value of Young's modulus in the FWZ allows for a larger amount of extension at depth, with no change in the magnitude of surface displacements. This result provides an indication of how the changes in the rate of microfracturing at depth, which are needed to induce the observed gravity changes, might have occurred without large ground deformation.


This work was financed through the project “MED-SUV” that received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement No 308665.



Earth-Science Reviews, 2014, 138, pp. 454-468 (15)

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/Organisation/COLLEGE OF SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING/Department of Geology


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