Huge eruption of Italian volcano sends ash hundreds of feet into the air

The Stromboli volcano in Italy erupted with a stronger-than-usual explosion on Nov. 16, 2020.
The Stromboli volcano in Italy erupted with a stronger-than-usual explosion on Nov. 16, 2020. (Image credit: Il Mondo dei Terremoti)

An explosion on the slopes of Stromboli sent an avalanche of pyroclastic flow rushing down the side of the Italian volcano on Monday (Nov. 16). 

The stronger-than-usual explosion was captured on cameras operated by the Istituto Nazionale Geofisica e Vulcanologia (INGV). Imagery shared by Il Mondo dei Terremoti on Twitter shows the eruption in real-time; video captured by infrared cameras that shows the ultra-hot initial eruption and the slightly cooler cloud of ash and gases careening downslope. This avalanche of hot ash and gases is known as pyroclastic flow. 

Stromboli is a volcanic island 3 miles (2 kilometers) in diameter and 3,038 feet (926 meters) tall. It's regularly active, belching little bombs of lava and ash from its summit craters on nearly an hourly basis. Monday's eruption, which occurred at 10:17 a.m. local time, according to Volcano Discovery, was larger than the volcano's usual fare. It sent a cloud of ash towering several hundred feet into the air. A light rain of ash and pumice then fell on the surrounding area, according to Volcano Discovery. The pyroclastic flow sped down a slope of broken rock, or talus scree, called Sciara del Fuoco. Though a few hundred residents call Stromboli home, the eruption did not affect any homes or buildings. 

This is the second above-average explosion on Stromboli in the past two weeks. On the evening of Nov. 10, INGV's cameras captured another large eruption at the volcano.

It's not clear whether these explosions indicate a long-term trend toward more activity at the volcano. According to the Smithsonian Institution's Global Volcanism Project, Stromboli's northernmost vent area and its south-central vent area were also active as of late October, throwing fine air and rock up to 820 feet (250 m) in the air multiple times an hour over the course of a week. 

According to Oregon State University, the volcano rarely causes loss of life. Its most dramatic eruption in recent history occurred in 1930, when pyroclastic flows and scalding seawater killed four people. The most recent death on the volcano was in 2019, when a 35-year-old hiker from Sicily was struck by erupting rock and killed.

Originally published on Live Science.

Stephanie Pappas
Live Science Contributor

Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.