Abstract

Mt Etna is cut by numerous fractures (fissures and faults) of very different origin and orientation. They have been used to define the activity and the tectonic setting of the volcano. After a discussion of the proposed tectonic models for Etna, an examination of the fractures, which are linked to the high flank eruptions, was carried out based on the geological and geophysical studies of the recent eruptions (1983, 1989, 1991-93). All of these surface breaks are of strictly volcanic origin; they open and advance very slowly, in relation to the propagation of the dyke, as well as its width and depth from the volcano surface. If the dyke summit is not too far from the surface (about 200-300 m), fissures and normal faults, arranged in a graben, appear. When the dyke intersects the slope of the volcano, a flank eruption follows. Therefore, these fractures do not have a tectonic or volcano-tectonic origin: they do not cut the entire volcanic edifice, and thus cannot be used to define the rift-zones nor to characterise the tectonic regime controlling the functioning of Etna. They give information on the dyke orientation on the slopes of the volcanic edifice and cannot be used as significative markers of extension [Frazzetta and Villari, 1981; Kieffer 1983a and b; Monaco et al., 1997]. The simultaneous opening of radial fractures, according to various azimuths, is frequent and clearly indicates that, in these cases, the regional stress field is not implicated. But high on Etna, the concentration of flank eruptions, on the eastern side, and the orientation change of the fractures (fig. 6), when they travel away from the summit, have been repeatedly indicated. The repetition of flank eruptions and the azimuth changes can be explained, simply, by the closeness of the Valle del Bove [Murray, 1994], which induces a decrease of the confinement pressure. The dyke emplacements of the summit eruptions cause an eastward displacement of the higher part of Etna. Marine geophysical data indicate that this volcano is, however, not the site of a large scale lateral spreading to the Ionian sea. Consequently, an eastward detachment is present only on the superior part of the volcano (figs. 1B and 7C). In fact, an up to 100 m high and oversteepened east-facing scarp, between the towns of Vena and Presa, extends towards the south for some kilometers [Lanzafame et al., 2000]. It is made up of volcanic rocks affected by strong brecciation. Inverse faults are found in front of the scarp. The base of this one is found at the level of the pre-Etnean clays, which would have helped the displacement of the volcanics. The studies on the tectonic setting in which Etna is located has called the attention of numerous researchers. From the earliest studies, the presence of numerous normal faults has supported the idea that this volcano, as many others, is active in an extensional regime. The most recent geological and geophysical data show a more complex situation. Deep under Etna (more than 10 km), a compressive field (sigma 1 N-S) is present according to focal mechanisms [Cardaci et al.; 1990; Ferrucci et al., 1993; Cocina et al., 1997]. More superficially, instead, extension is usual. The importance of the weight of the volcanic edifice, in the spatial (horizontal and vertical) modification of the compressive stress field, must still be clarified. It is very clear, in any case, that Etna cannot be explained by an extensional regime or kinematics in extension [Monaco et al., 1997] using normal faults, which form during the flank eruptions.

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