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The Sedimentology and Optical Microscopy Laboratory of the INGV Etna Observatory aims to analyze the eruptive products of the main active volcanoes present in Sicily, namely Etna and Stromboli. We asked the manager Daniele Andronico to tell us about the activities they carry out within this historic Lab.

Daniele, when was the Sedimentology and Optical Microscopy Lab of Catania born?

LabWell we can say that our Lab was born before INGV! The Laboratory of Sedimentology and Optical Microscopy, in fact, already existed before the birth of the Etna Observatory Section (INGV-OE), in Catania, i.e. before 2001. Until then, all the laboratories of the Observatory were managed by researchers from the International Institute of Volcanology of the CNR (later merged into our institution).

What has changed since then?

Since then the Laboratory has undergone numerous implementations and has changed various contacts, even though I have been dealing with the purchase of more or less complex equipment and consumables for several years now, while for the maintenance of the equipment a fundamental contribution is given by my colleague Antonio Cristaldi. 

What do you do in the Lab?

It's easy to imagine which one it is "Mission" of the Laboratory: our fundamental purpose is to analyze the eruptive products of the main active volcanoes present in Sicily, namely Etna and Stromboli, volcanoes that in Catania we have the burden and the honor of monitoring from numerous points of view.

The Lab mainly supports the activities of the AO4 Operational Area (Explosive Activity Surveys): in fact, we analyze and characterize the explosive activity samples collected on these volcanoes. These samples are studied with the aim of obtaining quantitative and qualitative data, ie physical and morphological parameters and textural observations of the pyroclastics.

But of course, other colleagues belonging to other operational areas of the INGV-OE can also take advantage of our laboratory and our tools. 

What other activities do you do?

I would like to underline that as a Laboratory we do not limit ourselves only to the analyzes conducted as part of monitoring activities or exclusively on samples from Etna and Stromboli: on the contrary, we also try to do research in various ways, above all when the Sicilian volcanoes do not they are too busy (in 2021 it was more difficult, with Etna keeping us busy with its approximately 60 paroxysmal episodes). This activity takes place both through direct collaborations with researchers from other structures, and in the context of research projects involving topics relevant to the Volcano Department and the Environment Department. 

In fact, ever since the Laboratory was born, numerous Italian and foreign students have been hosted who have used the Lab to conduct internships, internships, or to elaborate degree theses.

Unfortunately in the last two years the pandemic has temporarily canceled these collaborations, which we hope to resume as soon as it is possible to do so safely and without too much fear.

Can you tell us about any collaborations of this kind?

Of course, I think of when, thanks to research activities carried out by INGV researchers abroad, the pyroclastics collected on volcanoes present in other countries were studied, starting with the ashes emitted in 2010 by the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull, continuing with the pyroclastics from the volcanoes of Guatemala and with the products emitted more recently during the eruption of the Cumbre Vieja volcano which affected the island of La Palma (Canary Islands) between last September and December.

Precisely following the formalized collaboration between INGV and INVOLCAN (the Volcanological Institute of the Canary Islands), we recently hosted a Spanish doctoral student who came to Catania to study the explosive products of this eruption.

What future projects do you have planned for the Lab?

In recent months we have acquired new equipment with which we will try to study the potential impact of volcanic ash on human health, in particular on the populations living on the flanks of Etna, which are continuously affected by the fall products of the paroxysmal activities of this volcano ( almost 250 episodes in the last 25 years and weeks-months of continuous explosive activity during the 2001 and 2002-03 eruptions).

Finally, within the scope of the PNRR funds, we hope to acquire new instruments with which to enhance and implement the instruments already present, thus improving the characterization of the products studied and our ability to analyze and interpret.