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Another volcanologist Q&A at Eruptions: Boris Behncke 30 October 2009

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Following on from the fascinating Chaitén question and answer session he set up at Eruptions with Dr Jonathan Castro, Erik Klemetti has organized a second volcanologist Q&A session, this time with Boris Behncke of the Italian National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Catania.

Boris is a long-established and very good friend of this blog and of Eruptions, and volcano-followers here and elsewhere know him well as someone who is always ready to answer questions and share his expertise both on Etna and Italian volcanoes and on volcanological issues, both scientific and cultural, more widely. So, get your questions together for Boris Behncke and head over to Eruptions!

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Saturday Volcano Art: Tivadar Kosztka Csontváry, ‘Ruins of the Greek Theatre at Taormina’ (1904-5) 24 October 2009

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Tivadar Kosztka Csontvary, 'Ruins of the Greek Theatre at Taormina' (1904-5)

The view of Mount Etna from the Greek Theatre at Taormina is one which has featured in Saturday Volcano Art before: back in March I wrote about ‘Mount Etna from Taormina, Sicily’, painted by the American artist Thomas Cole in 1843. The painting above was completed some sixty years later by a very different artist, and conveys a very different mood.

‘Ruins of the Greek Theatre at Taormina’ was painted by the Hungarian artist Tivadar Kosztka Csontváry (1853-1919). Csontváry was a painter of visionary, mystical temperament who claimed that his vocation as an artist was revealed to him by God. Before this he had worked as a pharmacist. The revelation of his artistic destiny came to him in 1880; he spent the next fourteen years preparing himself by travelling, visiting artists and galleries, and earning enough money to pay for formal training in painting, which he began in 1894. He studied with artists in Germany and in Paris, and began producing his own paintings from 1895.

Csontváry painted intensely visionary religious scenes, mystically-charged landscapes both urban and rural, and some remarkable pictures based on his Italian travels, including views of Pompeii and the Bay of Naples. ‘Ruins of the Greek Theatre at Taormina’, which he painted in 1904-5, combines themes that recur repeatedly in his work: the way the past haunts the landscapes of the present, the tension between transience and timelessness, the scale and grandeur of nature. Csontváry’s highly developed theory of colour can be seen in the carefully balanced relationships between blue and yellow in the sea and the lower sky, and the dark reds and greens of the ruins and the landscape. The gradations of colour in the bay beneath the volcano and the bold diagonal of the cloud that reaches out from its slopes give the picture a quality of restlessness, while the snow-capped summit of Etna, white and ethereal, seems to possess an almost spiritual intensity. Yet there is an air of inhuman desolation about Csontváry’s vision that contrasts with Thomas Cole’s lush and harmonious classicism. For Csontváry the volcano is the presiding spirit of a beautiful landscape, but a spirit that remains bleak, remote, and indifferent.

[My attention was drawn to Csontváry’s work by some comments left by Hungarian readers of this blog. My thanks to them for providing the topic for this week’s Saturday Volcano Art, and for making me aware of the work of this remarkable and extraordinary Hungarian painter.]

For all ‘Saturday volcano art’ articles: Saturday volcano art « The Volcanism Blog.

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Saturday Volcano Art: Thomas Cole, ‘Mount Etna from Taormina, Sicily’ (1843) 21 March 2009

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Thomas Cole, 'Mount Etna from Taormina, Sicily' (1843)

‘What a magnificent site! Etna with its eternal snows towering in the heavens — the ranges of nearer mountains — the deep romantic valley … I have never seen anything like it’. So wrote the American artist Thomas Cole (1801-48) of Taormina in Sicily, which he visited in April 1842. While staying at Taormina he climbed Mount Etna, and made many sketches of the landscape and the Greek and Roman remains that were to be found there. When he returned to the United States he produced several large paintings based on his time in Sicily, of which ‘Mount Etna from Taormina’ is one of the most notable.

Cole is perhaps chiefly known and celebrated today as an artist of the American landscape, and particularly of the Hudson River Valley and the Catskill Mountains. He sought in his art to represent the American landscape as an unspoilt Eden, steeped in natural rather than cultural antiquity, yet the spirit of the Italian landscape, shaped by the hand of man and haunted by history, is always present in his work. He was an artist with a deep sense of the past and a moralizing vision: he was profoundly attracted by the tranquility and harmony of the Italian landscapes he saw and painted during his two visits to Italy in 1830-32 and 1841-2, and which he continued to recreate throughout his career, but just as his American landscape views are haunted by the cycle of natural destruction and renewal, so his Italian views are deeply imbued with the presence of antiquity and the lessons of human pride and folly.

Cole’s view of Etna is structured into three zones, following established classical landscape tradition: foreground, middle ground and distance. The foreground represents the past, in the form of the ancient Teatro Greco, the Greek theatre (although most of the presently visible structure is Roman), one of the celebrated sights of Taormina. Beyond the ruined arches and broken columns of the theatre lies the present, in the form of the cultivated valley in which man and nature exist in pastoral harmony. Still further beyond, and dominating the canvas, is Mount Etna, representing the eternal. Cole thus imbues his landscape with a narrative meaning, reflecting on the long history of human civilization and yet its relative insigificance and fragility compared with the eternal forces of divinely-ordered nature.

Two versions of ‘Mount Etna from Taormina, Sicily’ exist: one (1843) in the collection of the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, and the other (1844) at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum, New London.

References

Brigitte Bailey, ‘The panoptic sublime and the formation of the American citizen in Cooper’s Wing-and-Wing and Vole’s Mount Etna from Taormina, Sicily‘ (1997) [online here]

Cedar Grove: The Thomas Cole National Historic Site

Louis L. Noble, The Life and Works of Thomas Cole, N.A. (New York, 1853)

Barbara Novak, American Painting of the Nineteenth Century: Realism, Idealism, and the American Experience (1980; 3rd edn., New York: Oxford University Press, 2007)

Thomas Cole Online (Artcyclopedia)

Wilderness Art of the 1800s (Idaho State University)

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Simulating volcanic seismicity in the lab 10 October 2008

Posted by admin in current research, Etna, geoscience, Italy.
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Scientists from Britain, Canada and Italy have recreated the processes of deformation and fracture which affect the rock that makes up volcanoes inside the laboratory, monitoring and analyzing the stress signals produced when the rock reacts to pressure. The resulting data can be used to understand what is happening in full-size volcanoes, improving the accuracy with which volcanic seismicity can be analyzed and used to forecast eruptions. Reuters reports:

Active volcanoes produce a mix of seismic signals or small earthquakes that can indicate an eruption, but interpreting their significance is notoriously difficult. So the capacity to analyze these signals under laboratory conditions and understand how they are caused by water, steam, gas or magma rushing through cracks in rock is a significant step forward.

The rock used was basalt from Mount Etna. Water was forced through under pressure to simulate the conditions within an erupting volcano. The resulting report, ‘Laboratory simulation of volcanic seismicity’, can be found in the 10 October 2008 edition of Science (link is to abstract only, subscription required for full access).

News
Volcano in lab may help predict real eruptions – Reuters, 9 October 2008
Sounds of volcanic eruption recreated – MSNBC, 9 October 2008
Simulata in laboratorio l’eruzione di un vulcanoIl Messaggero, 9 October 2008 (Italian)

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Etna update, 28 May 2008 28 May 2008

Posted by admin in activity reports, eruptions, Etna, Italy, volcanoes.
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Things appear to be quiet at Etna right now, after some weeks of occasionally spectacular activity. The last week has seen episodes of strong tremor and strombolian activity with ash emission and small lava flows associated with the new eruptive fissures that have been the focus of the eruptions that have been taking place since April. The latest activity report (PDF) from the Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia – Sezione di Catania indicate that only a single new lava flow, some 5.75km in length, could be observed from an overflight that took place this morning, and that activity at the summit craters was limited to degassing and fumaroles. Geochemical analysis (PDF) indicates that no new eruptive phase is currently under way: ‘The geochemical data acquired during the last week of observations do not give evidence of any variations in activity of particular importance … The slight decrease in helium isotopes in peripheral gas samples and the constant level of CO2 emissions from the soil would seem to indicate the absence of new phases of the recharging of deep magma (5-13 km below sea level)’. Toulouse VAAC reports indicate no current ash emissions.

Information
Global Volcanism Program: Etna – summary information for Etna (0101-06=)
Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia – Sezione di Catania – INGV-CT is the volcanological authority responsible for Etna; current activity reports are here
Toulouse Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre – volcanic ash advisories for the area that includes Etna

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Etna: May 2008 eruption pictures at Stromboli Online 27 May 2008

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Pictures of the current fissure eruption at Etna, taken over the past few days, have just been added to the already vast collection of Etna images and resources at Stromboli Online. The new pictures show spectacular views of the activity at the new fissure, and cover the period from 16 to 24 May.

16-24 May 2008: Fissure eruption in Valle de Bove

Information
Global Volcanism Program: Etna – summary information for Etna (0101-06=)
Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia – Sezione di Catania – INGV-CT is the volcanological authority responsible for Etna; current activity reports are here

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Activity at Etna: an update 18 May 2008

Posted by admin in activity reports, eruptions, Etna, Italy.
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The ongoing eruption at Chaitén has tended to exercise a near-monopoly over the attention of volcano-watchers lately, but there has been much of volcanological interest going on elsewhere. Mount Etna, for a start, has been having an active time of it over the last few weeks.

After a quiet period of some seven months, Etna resumed activity with increased seismic activity and intermittent explosive activity of strombolian character between 21 and 28 April from a fissure on the eastern flank of the South East Crater at the summit.

From 21:00 local time on 1 May swarms of earthquakes were recorded along the north-eastern rift zone, and significant degassing took place at the South East Crater and North East Crater.

On 10 May between 13:00 and 14:00 UTC an increase in the intensity of tremors at the volcano indicated resumption of eruptive activity, although poor visibility prevented direct observation. The eruption involved strong strombolian activity at the South East Crater and lava emission (lava flows advanced about 6.4km along the western side of the Valle de Bove), and lasted to the early evening when seismic activity returned to normal background levels and the eruption ceased. Ashfall was reported from multiple locations during 10-11 May.

13 May saw powerful seismic signals and explosive activity in the early morning. Several powerful earthquakes were recorded and a significant thermal anomaly was recorded at the summit. A plume of ash was emitted around 11:30 which was blown towards the north-east of Sicily and Calabria: ashfall was reported in several villages in north-eastern Sicily. A significant eruptive fissure opened north-east of the South East Crater, between 2700 and 2900 metres above sea level. Sustained strombolian activity and the emission of a plume of ash was observed during the afternoon, although visibility remained poor. Repeated earthquakes on the north-eastern flank of the volcano indicated the migration of magma to this area.

Fumarolic activity continued into 14 May, with evidence of some effusive lava eruption from the new fissure. Visual observations on 14 May confirmed the appearance of not one but two new eruptive fissures, one just east of the summit craters and the other to the north-east of the South East Crater. From this latter opening lava flows were emerging, eventually extending for approximately 5 km.

The latest reports (17 May 2008) indicate that Etna is currently at low levels of seismicity and is producing strombolian activity and effusive lava flows from the two new fissures. Small ash-laden eruption plumes are reaching several hundred metres in altitude.

The current eruptive activity has posed no danger to life or property.

Sources for the above summary: Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia – Sezione di Catania, current activity bulletins; Global Volcanism Program, weekly volcanic activity reports for Etna; Activolcans, volcanic activity reports; news sources as listed below.

Information
Global Volcanism Program: Etna – summary information for Etna (0101-06=)
Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia – Sezione di Catania – INGV-CT is the volcanological authority responsible for Etna; current activity reports are here
Toulouse Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre – volcanic ash advisories for the area that includes Etna

News
Eruptions subside at Sicily’s Mount Etna – AFP, 11 May 2008
Etna volcano rumbles back to life in Sicily – AFP, 13 May 2008
Etna: INGV, vulcano ‘buono’ ma attenti a meccanismi inediti – AGI News, 13 May 2008 (Italian)
Mount Etna flows back to life – BBC News (video), 14 May 2008
Eruzione Etna: continua l’attività eruttiva, le colate sono ancora alimentateTempo Stretto, 15 May 2008 (Italian)

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