The Sicilian Affair

This of course was our April 1 story, bringing volcanoes up-to-date with the modern world of ‘alternative facts’. We hope you enjoyed it and that it brought a smile to your face. Any resemblance to any person anywhere in the world is purely intentional. Tune in next year when we will be revealing the volcano vaccination program which can prevent any eruption but that Iceland has banned all exports of it.

 

It is with a heavy heart I have to expose a case of international fraud within the volcanic community. The scope of it is so vast that I have been putting off writing about it since 2011, but now I can hold back no more. 

But before dealing with the scandal at hand, I need to set the stage, and take you the reader through every painful step. So, back to the beginning in the late summer of 2001.  

In 2001 I had a very intricate problem, I had left my employer in Toronto and I was stuck with more mementos and artifacts than I cared to admit to owning, and a 52 fot ketch designed by Sparkman & Stephen’s that I had picked up from a Drug Enforcement Agency auction. 

So, quite naturally I filled the boat up with my earthly belongings and set sail and cast off my illegal mooring at Governor’s Island in New York in the dark. As the sun rose, I passed the Statue of Liberty and left that part of my life forever. 

Back in Europe I ended up cavorting around in the Mediterranean as a vacation while I pondered what to do with the rest of my life. In the end there is just so much partying that a man can do, and I started to look for a suitable harbour for long-time mooring of the ketch so that I could start working again. 

I had been advised that Catania would be a good place to put the ship in, so I set sail from Christiana Island in the Greek Cycladic archipelago for Sicily. 

As I slowly neared the island, I watched the low rolling mountain plateau made out of uplifted seabed by Africa. To my surprise I noticed the black ash cloud rising towards the sky up in these mountains, but did not think more of it. 

 

In the end I got my mooring after talking to the Mayor, Pier-Angelo Montalbano, and an elderly gentleman in a crème-coloured suit who was holding court near the harbour. The latter found me to be completely crazy, so I got a good price for the spot where my ketch rested for the next few years until I sold it. 

The years passed and I got ever more involved with volcanoes, after all, what else can one do in life? This is where I started to notice pictures of a volcanic mountain that I could not recollect from my quite frequent travels back to Sicily for sailing, and from my own shaky pictures that I had taken. 

Where did all of those images come from of an imposing volcanic mountain with a ridiculous number of volcanic vents with silly names? Seriously? Puttusidduu? Pull me a wee gnome will you! 

 

The Sicilian Affair 

During the first few years I did not think a lot about it, but as more and more people become famous for their photographs, videos and ashtrays, I felt that I had to go and check for myself, in case my memory was pranking me.  

As I drove into Catania from the airport, I quickly noticed that I saw the same low mountains and hills, and the same black smoke that I remembered from my younger years.  

As I fortified myself at Trattoria U Fucularu with a light meal (well, light for being a Sicilian dinner) and a glass of wine, I started chatting to the waiter about the mysterious volcano. He shrugged and just said “oh, that one”. When I showed him pictures of it on my laptop he walked away. 

 

 

As I walked around in Catania I spoke to a number of locals that was equally bemused by my horrendous Italian and the question about where the volcano was at. An elderly gentleman looking like Enzo Molinari winked at me and said “Ecco laggiú!” and walked away laughing. 

Disheartened I walked back to Palace Catania where I had checked into a suite that had both an award-winning photograph of the imposing mountain known as Etna, oddly enough it had an oil painting on the other side of lounge showing the low mountains that was amply visible from the terrazza of the hotel, where I fortified myself with an espresso and a glass of the nectar of the gods, Malvasia delle Lipari. 

Even without the view of Mount Etna the terrazza has a stunning view, I quite recommend it for a romantic drink. 

 

 

In the morning after a breakfast consisting of excellent coffee and assorted cheeses, I decided that it was time to go to the bottom of the ridiculously invisible volcano of Sicily. As I legged it towards those responsible for the volcano, at least according to the technorati of InternetSezioni di Catania Osservatorio Etneo Instituto Nazionale Geophisica e Vulcanologia. Never trust anything with that wordy a title, turned out to be the truth of the day. 

As I arrived at Piazza Roma number 2, I was not entirely surprised to not find any loftily named Italian authority. Instead, I found a large garish sign stating that the building was occupied by Boritzky Studios. 

 

 

By now I had been completely enthralled by this mystery, so I stepped inside the building and was greeted by a lady of such an immense Italian beauty that it was practically a handicap. She asked me what business I required of the Studio. 

As I explained my conundrum, she asked me to sit down and wait for the Direttore Benny Boritzky, and without asking I was given the mandatory ristretto. 

In the lobby where I sat there where two large oil paintings, one of the mayor Pier-Angelo Montalbano, and the second was of my cream-colour suited friend Signore Andrea Caggianella (I must admit that he looked quite striking in his Armani tailored suit. Above their portraits was a fresco sign painted with the phrase Saviours of Sicily. 

 

A most Universal Man 

Immaculately dressed in the latest fashion of Milano (yet another creation by Armani), Direttore Boritzky wafted in and asked me to follow him. He took me on a tour of the immense set of studios hidden in the old building. Some of the studios was accessed by walk-ways, and the spacious green painted rooms for animatronix was in the basement. 

As we walked around an army of assistants and actors worked hard at producing photographs and video clips of the erupting Etna.  

The man himself had a surprisingly lofty head of rambunctious white hair and his Italian betrayed him quickly as a non-native of the region. Infact it was heavily russo-germanic, so I ventured out and started to talk to him in German, after all my Russian has become quite rustic since I was declared persona non-grata in Russia. 

I all of a sudden remembered him from a famous clip shown on the BBC where photographers, scientists and Boritzky himself (playing the chief scientist), had to flee and take cover in an action riddled sequence. I felt queasy as I understood that all of them had been hired actors and studio assistants. 

As we sat down in his spacious office, we started talking about how he came to Berlin from the Soviet Union in the early eighties to study photography and cinematography and how he had fled the iron curtain after a fling with a relative to Honecker, ending up down and out in Sicily. 

Now that the scam had come out Benny Boritzky was quite happy to talk about everything and he started to explain the humble origins of the scam. As with so many things in Italy, it started with garbage. 

 

 

Back in the waning days of the previous millennium Sicily had a big pile of a problem caused by the garbage becoming a literal mountain. Recycling and waste management would be a very costly affair, but it had to be done even if it bankrupted Sicily again. 

A tender was put out for a contract, and it was then that Pier-Angelo Montalbano was contacted by Signore Andrea with a proposal. Instead of building costly recycling plants they could just cart of the garbage into the mountains, burn it all and then blame a fictitious volcano, while splitting the profit between them. 

 

 

Pier-Angelo wrestled with his consciousness for a full second before shaking Signore Andrea’s hand. Only problem was that they needed a most universal man to pull of the largest fake in human history. And who better to transform a burning mountain of garbage through light and magic into Europes largest volcano, than the out of luck Benny Boritzky. 

The few gullible tourists that turned up were diligently either arrested by police controlled by Montalbano, or kidnapped by men in cream-coloured suits employed by Caggianella. A bit of quick drugging, a camera filled by Boritzky Studios, and the unwitting tourist was sent home believing that they had climbed Faux Etna. 

After leaving Boritzky Studios I knew that my days were numbered, so I beat a hasty retreat to the airport and left Sicily for good. Since I landed yesterday, I have read about the tragic accident involving Boritzky. I am quite certain that before Saturday Signore Andrea himself will come and knock on my door. 

I can though meet my fate, knowing that the truth is out there. There is no such volcano as Etna. It was all faked in the name of burning garbage for profit 

CARL REHNBERG 

262 thoughts on “The Sicilian Affair

    • Im surprised there isnt a lot more, its exactly the sort of eruption that you expect to create a lot of it. Holuhraun created a lot of Peles Hair, so its apparently not a climate thing do do with Iceland being about freezing. Maybe this lava has lower silica so its a bit less sticky, has a lower surface tension.

      • And Nyiragongo haves No peles hairs at all
        Almost none .. low sillica perhaps ?

  1. Disturbance in the hot tub where the fixed gas/bubbling site is, next to the spatter cone.

    • And a nice break-out that has reached the grass below the mbl camera. It seems to be robbing lava from the hot tub.
      There has been a flow east out of the hot tub. I don’t know when it started yet.

    • Officials said up to 18 days in the first week of the eruption if the lava output says around 5 m3/s, so probably sometime next week if nothing changes.

      • Its so erratic that it may well start climbing the walls before it breaks out.
        A bit like a cornered rat facing a terrier.

  2. If the rotational armchair theory is correct, the next side slump may cut the hot tub of surface supply. It might be possible to see if there’s any sub surface lava feeding to the east.

  3. Curious general question. Videos from several days ago gave some sense of scale when people were shown close to the cone (no comment on how smart this was). there’s nothing to really give a sense of scale any more, but I was wondering if anyone has an estimate/guess at how wide the discharge flow at the south vent is (i think it’s the south vent-i get disoriented a lot).

    • The Suðri/south/Smeagol higher vent is on the right as you are viewing the RUV live stream.
      The Norðri/north/Gollum vent is the lower one on the left.

      • At the risk of further confusion, my son suggested that the superior, weedier vent on the right is Blackadder, because he keeps getting entrapped and is “triying to get out of here.”

        The shorter, more vigorous hard-working vent is Baldrick, because he keeps going boom boom boom boom…

    • i agree with the disorientation and i’d like to know how far the cams are from the vents… watch long enough and it seems they could fit in my back yard… think that might be related to brain (non) funtioning related to being unable to precieve a motionless preditor after a while… which lets You know which end of the menu we are on. Mesmerizing.

  4. You guys wonder why I am conspiracy theorist when you do stuff like this!
    Taal isn’t producing a lot of fracturing earthquakes, it would seem that at this moment that the magma is having an easy time moving around, more low frequency earthquakes and inflation probably means the volcano is pressurizing, could Taal have a plug? No phreatic eruptions or magma eruptions despite a decent amount activity currently supports this but gas emission are still kind of high.

    • Now that’s an ugly thought. Taal with a plug. Let’s hope it isn’t the case. It could have a dreadful potential.

  5. are there ant recent photos of the lava field on the backside/east side of the cones ??

  6. so what we’ve got here for maybe w.e. show? a large pizza oven with a huge faulty fabrication crack and another vent that try to go under cover sneaky under an instable pile of volcanic hay……I’ll go for my popcorn NOW

  7. North (Gollum) vent wall (left side) coming apart at 1614. Impressive!

    • 1636+ South (R) wall coming down….but not the area that is venting/depressed at top (R), not *yet*, anyway 🙂

    • Interesting….@ 1702:58, there’s some well dried splatter coming down from Gollum (R) side, near the top. Wonder when that large piece might come down…?

  8. On the south cone, there appears to be a little movement or slippage on the fracture at the top of the cone.

  9. I think the quality of the lava has changed. When it explodes it breaks into a lot fewer drops than before. i.e. it looks more like treacle whereas before it resembled water 🙂 Because of less gas or is it cooler?

    [Hey Philip, I rescued your comment from the dungeons, our wtachdog Akismet ran off with it… /Lugh]

    • For me, just look like a much heavier bubbling…is moore let say agregate, glueish but in my opinion is due to basin volume reported to push up pressure

    • Look at the lava pool of the left vent, got heavy weaves…actually a lot of lava volume for the vent mouth…and for the right vent….I do consider that actually got a bigger lava volume that is hidden into that pizza oven i like to say

  10. Intermittent wet signals/tremor? per the FAL drumplot at this time. The periodicity in the last few hours has significantly increased.
    The bursts all seem around 1-2 minutes long.
    Not sure if this may be from new magma moving up, or if magma is migrating into cracks within the dyke? Not a lot of rock-fracturing events.

    • The general noise is weather (it is probably getting windier), the burst are most likely human traffic – people walking past.

  11. 17:40 MASSIVE collapse in left vent WHILE ZOOMED IN.

    Edit: fixed time. admin

  12. Excellent timing, the collapse coincided with a zooming in on the vent.
    And then…

    *!$!*&$% ^$%#*$ MOVE OUT OF THE WAY YOU TROLLOPS

  13. Something happening with left vent..after collapse first got a pulsating inflation in volume and after explode…could be an increase in lava volume?

  14. Seems to me that lava erupting has become less fluid. I had that impression last evening also, but was blaming the zooming of the image. I think the spattering is “coarser” too.

    Any measured changes known?

    • Hmmmmm mmm coughing Gollum!!!! Gollum!!!
      Shhhhhhäääääääääässshhhhh cough Gollum!!!

      Smeeeagoool will try to explain … sssshhh cough Gollum!!!

      Weee thiiiinks the lava spattering is lower now… and that means less fragmentation and cooling.
      Larger lava ribbons cool less and appears more plastic and fluid
      Low fountain bubbling can almost look like bubbling glowing paint. Days before with higher fountains meant lots of cooler lava clasts..

      My opinion on this
      *slowly crawls away*

      • Defenitly more toothpaste like now. Looks like flow produces about half compared to some days ago.

        • Looking at it more theres actually two vents inside the left crater, the old middle vent that was on fire a lot has reformed and that is where most of the fountaining is coming from. Its probably for the most part a buried gas vent blowing through the lava. The right vent is unchanged and still looks very fluid, even with higher output than before.

          Still about the same overall.

    • The pizza oven ( the right vent ) is beautyful.. must be hot and insulated inside there.. beautyful glow cave. I woud not want to walk on the roof… imagine If it breaks

  15. @ 1906:44 Gollum (L) partial collapse. Attention-seeker at camera unaffected 🙁

    • @ 1940:25 Seems Gollum might have coughed up a furball, quite a surge in lava….the ruv camera had just started it’s roaming program.

  16. Why is the cam so zoomed in now? I want to enjoy a panoramic view and see where the compost is floating off to.

    • I am not sure, but the Icelanders, are thankfully level headed in volcano cam ops, It won’t be just random Mr Blobby playing with the keys. The locals are looking and measuring and the the like I’d expect.

    • There were too many people with political signs/tee shirts. Someone attempted to stake one in the ground according to visir. Hopefully they will zoom back once the Tourist leave for the night.
      The irony is one of them actually posted an interesting photo to twitter showing the tuft being scraped up by the lava.

  17. I wonder is the fissure out gassing at the vents, like it does under the ocean.
    Black smokers, gassy bubbly stuff, lol’s

  18. That was a significant piece of rock crumbling of Junior. Fireworks are more impressive than ever!

  19. Is anyone else seeing an on-and-off but persistent glow up on the top right, between the top of edge of the southern vent and the map? Would that be part of the smoking crack? Oh dear, sounds a bit illegal…

  20. its almost like the two vents are degassing their magma differently; the north (left) vent bubbles and fountains furiously, often encouraged by the falling cone walls. The south (right) vent, seems to be releasing the gas somewhere under the cone, where it escapes as the dark clouds we are seeing now. That vent’s fountains have ben far less vigorous. perhaps there is a chamber in the cone where the flames we occasionally see at the surface are burning, and the discharge the smoke through the maze of cracks in the cone.

    This has been a session of idle speculation by click

    • The difference in fountaining may have to do with the size of the conduit and lava surface. A narrow conduit, like a narrow hose, will give high speed fountains while a broader lava pond will give much smaller fountains.

      • I like your explanation very much! thank you!

        As an aside, the cracks the smoke was coming out of have opened a little wider, and sure enough i’m pretty sure i’m seeing the “flames” popping out of them!

    • That looked massive – even huge from the mbl camera perspective! There’s been a huge amount of activity today – can’t wait till I get up tomorrow morning to see the changes!

      Thanks for the heads up! 🙂

  21. I’m getting frustrated waiting for that ‘bridge’ in the right cone (the upper one RUV cam – Gollum/Fred/ConeMcConeface whatever name is the current) to collapse. There must be a lot of stress on it right now!

  22. OK, who screwed up the stream? Just came back from something and there’s nothing on ruv but an orange blur where a volcano used to be. :/

    • Somebody let the cat sleep on the keyboard.

      The mbl cam has water droplets on the lens, so perhaps it’s water related? Or the focus is messed up.

      • I’d go with the focus….we’ve all seen that camera come out of heavy fog and wind-blown snow just fine.

      • (Third time’s the charm…)

        @0039:05 Another chunk fell from Gollum (L)

  23. RUV looks like it’s starting to clear up a bit close to the cam. must be clouds/fog. interesting the difference in cloudiness between the two locations.

    • “They burned down the vikings grave, it fried with an awful sound”

      Earwormed with that classic riff now. Loudest gig I’ve ever been to.

  24. Well, I am sitting here enjoying this fairly ‘safe’ Icelandic eruption and thinking that we are coming up to two weeks. I had originally expected the process to show signs of fading out by now.

    Instead, the fountaining carries on, fluctuating a bit but, nonetheless, still powering away.
    In these days of web cams, how fantastic it is being able to enjoy our volcanic processes without the need to leave our seats.

    Many thanks to the Icelandic people and organisations that have allowed us this privileged view!

    • D’Oh – and to Volcano Cafe of course. One must not forget our Sicilian task masters in their Armani suits who run our fantastic source of information and chat!

    • I think everyone including the volcanologists would have thought it to be fading out by now. I actually dont know what will stop it in the end, I even submitted an article related to this but never figured out how to stop it.
      I guess possibly a big earthquake could close the dike but by now the deep feeder should be more of a tube, and the vent seems to be more or less right above that point anyway so even that expected 6.5 quake to the east I dont think can close the pipe now. It might squeeze all the magma out of the dike and induce a short but intense surge in eruption though, but really who knows, and it might still be years before Brennisteinsfjoll wakes up to set off that quake.

      • One way for it to stop is for the volcano to grow so large it bends the crust down under its weight, like a bowling ball on a mattress. Right now there’s an inverted valley at the base of the crust under Fagradallsfjall with a pocket of magma in it. That valley would flatten and become a hill, and the magma would spill off to the sides. The conduit feeding our eruption has its bottom end in that valley now, but it would be pushed down eventually through the melt pocket and into contact with solid mantle. The eruption would shut off then.

        This is the mechanism that I think constrains shield sizes. They are smaller on Reykjanes than near Vatnajokull because the crust is thicker at Vatnajokull and can withstand more weight before the above process cuts off such a magma supply. The magma pool may be deeper before hitting solid mantle as well, due to the hotspot plume’s proximity.

        The obvious further hypothesis would be that it is MOHO melt pockets like these that produce shield eruptions, and the above mechanism both determines their eventual size and ensures each will be monogenetic, aside from the big central volcanoes sitting right on the plume head (Grimsvotn, for one). If so, this eruption will form a shield and will not shut off until it’s a “typical” size for a Reykjanes shield.

        The “usual” cyclic Reykjanes “fires” eruptions, by contrast, involve shallow storage for a while before eruption, and probably several successive dyke intrusions at each site before an eventual eruption. The Thorbjorn intrusion may be part of such a sequence. The initial dyke intrusion south of Keilir may have been another, until it turned into this instead: perhaps the shield eruptions occur when the process “short-circuits”, or when there’s a sufficiently large melt lens. This intrusion happening in an area where no eruptions had happened in 10,000 years may have meant there was so much accumulated melt at the MOHO as to force its way to the surface immediately. In more frequently erupting parts of Reykjanes there may not be enough pressure from below to push magma clear to the surface in one go, so repeated intrusions are needed before anything eventually erupts, and once it does the MOHO melt is depleted so no sustained shield-building eruption can ensue.

        • I agree with the idea of it having a lot of accumulated magma at this location, but the mechanism is a bit different. There probably isnt an inverted valley under here, or under anywhere, the crust isnt a brittle solid at those depths and it can deform so the rifting is only near the surface, dikes form in cracks in solid rock, magma can move below that point but as sills, not dikes. This is what the Thorbjorn intrusion was, a sill, it will erupt eventually but that might be a long time in the future if the trend holds. Same thing is the case at Vatnajokull, the dikes are all fed at a relatively shallow level, there might be deeper sills that get involved too with big eruptions but something as powerful as Laki was definitely not fed by direct mantle decompression, it was like Holuhraun but a much bigger rift and also Grimsvotn had not at that point had a caldera collapse for millennia, so much more potential.

          I think this eruption isnt actually part of the recurring Reykjanes cycle, but because there is just an inevitable point that the accumulated magma would make for an escape, it might have been like this for decades even centuries and now that the tectonics changed to allow magmatic activity again it took its chance and erupted regardless of the normal trend. I dont think this will be a shield though, something a bit bigger in mind.

        • That bending would be a very slow process. Another effect in this particular location would be the transform motion: as the shear builds, the force may close the conduit. That also would take a long time but perhaps not quite as long.

  25. Very active tonight with big fountains and lots of Lava elves dancing at the feet of their masters. The pond must be getting quite full.

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