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We had written about it last week, and South East Crater – SEC – is the protagonist once again. It has a new unique record, today: it is the highest top of Mt Etna. This happened at the beginning of August, in the middle of the warmest and most tiring Sicilian summer. Mount Etna produced a great show, a violent and long paroxysm … and in the end, “little SEC” exceeded its big brother North East Crater. Mt Etna’s top is not 3340 meters anymore, it is 3357 above sea level.

South East Crater, a record life

Young SEC formed between 1971 and 1978 at the foot of the four big craters: Central, Bocca Nuova, Voragine, North East. The latter had been for decades the highest top. Thanks to it, Etna is the “Highest Active Volcano in Europe”. During 40 years, the South East Crater was just “the baby son”, “young brother”, a nice and funny cone, not really interesting.

It took a few years, however, to completely change things. The SEC has had a record life and is not done surprising yet. Very active since its birth, it has increased its power between 1998 and 2013 by rising, shortening, splitting, opening new vents … . Between 2020 and 2021 it was the undisputed protagonist of spectacular and powerful paroxysms, rising gradually over the landscape. On 9 August 2021 it reached an altitude of 3357 meters, becoming the highest peak on Etna.

What happened on the South East Crater

The Institute of Volcanology of Catania carefully evaluated all the measurements of the case and informed the population with a detailed statement. It  explains what has happened in recent days on top of the volcano. Here are parts of the INGV announcement:

SEC record height02
paroxysms made SEC  the highest top

Etna surpasses itself. New record of height at 3357 meters
With about 50 paroxysmal episodes that have affected the South-East Crater of the volcano since 16 February 2021, Mount Etna has increased its height reaching 3357 meters above sea level.
The events that took place in 2021 have accumulated significant quantities of pyroclastic material and layers of lava on the cone of the Southeast Crater – the youngest and most active of the four summit craters of Etna -, leading to a conspicuous transformation of the volcano’s silhouette.
Thanks to the analysis and processing of satellite images, the South-East Crater has reached an altitude of 3357 m and is now far higher than its “big brother”, the North-East Crater, which for 40 years has undisputed peak of Etna.

This historical data, which has an uncertainty of 3 meters, was obtained through the processing of two triplets of images of the Pléiades satellites acquired on 13 and 25 July 2021, as part of the international partnership Geohazard Supersites and Natural Laboratories (http : //, allowing to update the digital model of the surface (DSM) of Etna. From the digital model obtained of the terrain it emerges, as a preliminary, that the highest point of the volcano is now located on the northern edge of the Southeast Crater at an altitude of 3357 (± 3 m).

A record also for Zafferana Etnea

The new elevation of Etna, obtained thanks to the South East Crater, also gives a record to the municipality of Zafferana Etnea, in whose municipality the territory of the crater falls. In fact, the record of “Sicilian municipality with the highest elevation above sea level” passes to this municipality.

This result until then was held by the municipality of Castiglione di Sicilia (where lies the North East). The new event actually does not change anything in the real geography of the places, but adds charm to the already famous tourist charm that Zafferana has always had on Etnean tourism.

The “Gate to Etna” as the town likes to be called – a tourist reference point in every season – today has an extra motivation to become a destination for excursions, stays and adventures. All obviously in the name of passion for this great volcano in constant change.

From where to admire the “giant”

Now the great South East can be admired from almost all Etna sides. Its huge black bulk looks almost like a ghost in the balance. And in fact some further collapse of the ground would be enough to dampen its height again. But as long as the record remains, it is good to admire it. Rely on our  guides to find the viewpoint you like best.

You can do it very well from the square of Trecastagni, from the center of Nicolosi, from Rifugio Santa Barbara (south side of Etna), from the square of Zafferana Etnea and from that of Milo. If you manage to go up to the Pizzi Deneri observatory on the north-east side, you can have an almost global and certainly exciting vision. But nothing is as exciting as looking at the South East and how it has changed from the summit of the Schiena dell’Asino route. (photos by G Musumeci)

Autore: Grazia Musumeci

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