What to know - Vulcano

What to know?

The Vulcano island is part of the Aeolian archipelago and represents the emerged part of a volcano that reaches an altitude of 500 meters (Monte Aria), whose base is 900 meters below sea level. The main eruptive centers, which are considered active, are the crater of La Fossa and Vulcanello, which rise within the caldera of La Fossa. It is possible that new fractures will open and eruptive activity will develop in other parts of the caldera. 
The last eruption occurred from 1888 to 1890. Since then, the volcano shows intense activity of high-temperature gas and steam emission from La Fossa crater and in the vicinity of the Porto di Levante. In September 2021, some major changes in the geophysical and geochemical parameters of the volcanic monitoring prompted raising the alert to the yellow level (the second of four: green, yellow, orange and red). The island, which is part of the municipality of Lipari, has about 1,400 residents, but in the summer season it can host several thousands of tourists.

On Vulcano a system of ongoing monitoring of geophysical and geochemical parameters (seismicity, ground deformation, gas composition and temperature, etc.) is active, the variations of which allow the detection of possible changes in the state of activity.

An explosive eruption of Vulcano would be preceded by a series of significant variations in these parameters and already potentially dangerous phenomena, such as increased gas emissions from the crater and soil in various parts of the island and landslides.

However, some dangerous phenomena, such as phreatic explosions, which are emissions of steam, water, ash, lapilli, and volcanic bombs, can occur at any time without precursor signals detectable by the monitoring system, as has already happened in other volcanoes around the world with the presence of hydrothermal systems.

The national warning system for Italian volcanoes provides specific " alert levels " (GREEN, YELLOW, ORANGE, RED) describing the state of activity of the volcano according to the activity parameters of the monitoring system and the ongoing phenomena. Each level corresponds to increasingly important parameter variations and, in general, the possibility of occurrence of dangerous phenomena.   

Some dangerous phenomena, such as phreatic explosions, can occur suddenly, regardless of the declared alert level.

In order to cope with variations in the status of the volcano, the Civil Protection Department sets up different operational phases ( ATTENTION, PRE-ALARM, ALARM) that provide specific civil protection measures for risk mitigation and protection of the population.  The operational phases are not necessarily linked to the level of alert, as they depend not only on the state of the volcano, but by operational choices related to different factors (eg number of people on the island according to the tourist season, etc.).

An eruption of Vulcano would be preceded by a series of important variations of the monitored parameters and by potentially dangerous phenomena, such as earthquakes, landslides or the increase of gas emissions from the crater and from the soil in different part of the island.
The eruptions of Vulcano can have different intensity and occcur cyclically, even for years and are of two types:

  • The effusive eruptions mainly generate lava flows that slide on the surface with a temperature ranging from 700°C to 1200°C and with a speed of propagation that depends on the characteristics of the magma.
  • Explosive eruptions give rise to the expulsion and fallout of coarse materials (bombs and blocks) and fine materials (ash and lapilli). This type of eruption can generate a sustained eruptive column of gas and volcanic material of various sizes, which can reach up to several kilometers in height. High-temperature and high-velocity pyroclastic flows could flow along the slopes of La Fossa cone, and propagate on the sea surface up to hundreds of meters from the coast.

The national civil protection plan provides for the stay on the island only to citizens resident in the island in case of declaration of the pre-alarm phase. The declaration of the alarm phase will be followed by the evacuation of the entire island. 

The population will be removed with ships from porto di Levante or molo di Gelso and molo di Ponente and, if necessary, with helicopters. The operational choices will also depend on the weather and sea conditions. 

Citizens can choose whether to find autonomous accommodation and receive an economic contribution, or receive hospitality in the accommodation provided by the Region and the Municipality. 

In case of rapid changes in the status of the volcano, resulting in a rapid transition to a phase of alarm, without being passed through the pre-alarm phase, the tourists present on the island would also be removed promptly.

On the island are possible several dangerous phenomena related to the volcano activity, as earthquakes, landslides and tsunamis. Tsunamis can originate from the eruptive activity of the volcano, from submarine earthquakes of strong intensity in the Mediterranean Sea or from large landslides in other coastal locations (e.g. Stromboli) or on the island of Vulcano.

The most common phenomenon among the volcano's states of activity is the release of volcanic gases from the subsoil and the fumarole both in the crater area and in areas outside the cone of La Fossa ( for example, the residential areas of Porto di Levante). The gas consists primarily of carbon dioxide (CO2), hydrogen sulfide (H2S), and sulfur dioxide (SO2).

Such gases can be very dangerous to the health of anyone staying on the island even temporarily and, in the case of high concentrations it can become lethal even for short-term periods of exposure. The gases are heavier than air and are influenced by atmospheric conditions and stratify towards the ground.

The dangerous gases can affect the residential areas, especially Vulcano Porto, rising from the ground or coming from the crater and pushed down by the wind.

Access to some areas of the island may be forbidden by Mayor's Ordinances, depending on volcano activity. Check out the website of the City of Lipari.

Volcanic gases emitted on the island, in certain concentrations, can be very dangerous to human health and animals.

Some of these gases are odorless, tasteless and colorless and cannot be perceived.

Earthquakes can also occur on Vulcano: keep in mind the relevant rules of conduct at www.iononrischio.it and at www.protezionecivile.gov.it.

The coasts of Vulcano Island can also be affected by tsunamis: if you see the sea receding from the coast move away immediately and quickly reach the nearest elevated area. If you are in a boat move away towards the open sea.

Bathing in the waters around the island is regulated by Port Authority Ordinances, also depending on the dangers associated with volcanic activity.

The viability of the path to the top of La Fossa crater is regulated by Ordinances of the Mayor depending on the state of volcano activity. The hike presents difficulties and dangers due to total exposure to the sun and the presence of gas.

The triggering of the operational warning phase, and the subsequent evacuation of the island, may not necessarily be followed by a volcanic eruption.

It will not be possible to know immediately if and when you will be allowed to return to your home after evacuation in the warning phase. Please stay informed of the directions provided by civil protection authorities.