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Volcanic deformation and flank instability due to magmatic sources and frictional rheology: the case of Mount Etna



The overall picture of Mount Etna deformation emerging since a couple of decades of geodetic surveys shows effects of magma accumulation, characterized by inflation/deflation cycle, accompanied by a sliding instability of the southeast flank, whose manifestation is an increase in the horizontal deformation away from the volcano summit. This is a very interesting case to test whether advanced models, taking into account topography, internal structure and frictional rheology, may contribute to a better understanding of the complex interplay among mechanical response, magmatic activity and gravitational load occurring in a volcanic system. Using finite element numerical models we make predictions of surface displacements associated with a simple expansion source and with a dike-like vertical discontinuity. A new methodology is developed to initialize the lithostatic stress field according to the material and geometrical complexities of the models considered. Our results show that, while an amplification of the horizontal displacement can be easily obtained up to a maximum distance of 10 km from the source, we have not been able to find any configuration to extend further this signal. For the case of Mount Etna this suggests that the large horizontal displacements observed in the east flank along the coast cannot be directly related to magma accumulation below the volcano’s summit.