Nested zones of instability in the Mount Etna volcanic edifice, Italy

Derek Rust, B. Behncke, M. Neri, A. Ciocanel

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    Large-scale flank instability on Mount Etna is associated with a distinct set of faults radiating generally from the summit area and restricted to the volcanic edifice itself. New observations and mapping of very recent and continuing deformation along these faults and related structures have been analysed in combination with published information, including recent seismic and eruption data, enabling the faults to be placed in three groups. Two of these, the Pernicana fault system (PFS) and the Ragalna fault system (RFS) bound, respectively, the northern and south-western margins of instability. Their activity responds to cycles of magma pressure associated with flank eruptions, together with subsequent deflation as gravity dominates. These cycles may operate at different depths, with the RFS bordering deep-seated instability. Their positions appear governed by the contact, in the substrate of the volcano, between relatively weak early Quaternary clays and stronger rocks of the Apennine–Maghrebian Chain that rise towards the north and west in the subsurface, buttressing the edifice in these directions. The unstable mass to the un-buttressed south and east is thus defined by its weak substrate and displays structures similar to those produced in model experiments. The third fault group, the Mascaluci–-Trecastagni fault system, borders a rather faster-moving zone of instability in the eastern part of the large unstable mass, outlining one element in a nested pattern in map view. Low-angle detachments below the unstable zones are thought to occur at different levels above a deep and laterally extensive detachment associated with the RFS, producing a nested pattern in section as well. This is illustrated by the PFS where the long-recognised western half of the fault borders a fast moving zone of instability riding above a detachment that daylights as a thrusted deformation front marked by recurring landsliding at an approximate mid-slope position on the volcano. Downslope, the newly recognised eastern extension of the PFS, exhibiting slip-rates an-order-of-magnitude lower than the western segment, is thought to border a deeper slow-moving detachment that daylights offshore. Windows of deformed sub-Etnean clays at anomalously high altitudes may indicate where similar detachments, no longer mechanically favoured and now inactive, have daylighted. As a result, the edifice can be considered, overall, as consisting of multiple unstable areas, nested in plan view and with basal detachments occurring at different levels in section. This model of edifice behaviour is regarded as an evolving one, with detachments waxing and waning in their activity as flank movement progresses.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)137-153
    Number of pages17
    JournalJournal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
    Issue number1-4
    Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2005


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