Between 1989 and 2001, five eruptions at Etna displayed a regular alternation between repose periods and episodes rich in gas, termed quasi-fire fountains and consisting of a series of Strombolian explosions sometimes leading to a fire fountain. This behaviour results from the coalescence of a foam layer trapped at the top of the reservoir which was periodically rebuilt prior to each episode (Vergniolle and Jaupart, J Geophys Res 95:2793-2809, 1990). Visual observations of fire fountains are combined with the foam dynamics to estimate the five degassing parameters characteristic of the degassing reservoir, i.e. the number of bubbles, gas volume fraction, bubble diameter, reservoir thickness and reservoir volume. The study of decadal cycles of eruptive patterns (Allard et al., Earth Sci Rev 78:85-114, 2006) suggests that the first eruption with fire fountains occurred in 1995 while the last one happened in 2001. The number of bubbles and the gas volume fraction increase smoothly from the beginning of the cycle (1995) to its end (2001). The increasing number of bubbles per cubic metre, from 0.61-20x10(5) to 0.1-3.4x10(9), results from cooling of the magma within the reservoir. The simultaneously decreasing bubble diameter, from 0.67-0.43 to 0.30-0.19 mm, is related to the decreasing amount of dissolved volatiles. Meanwhile, the thickness and the volume of the degassing reservoir diminish, from values typical of the magma reservoir to values characteristic of a very thin bubbly layer, marking the quasi-exhaustion of volatiles. The magma reservoir has a slender vertical shape, with a maximum thickness of 3,300-8,200 m and a radius of 240 m (Vergniolle 2008), making its detection from seismic studies difficult. Its volume, at most 0.58-1.4 km(3), is in agreement with geochemical studies (0.5 km(3)) (Le Cloarec and Pennisi, J Volcanol Geotherm Res 108:141-155, 2001). The time evolution of both the total gas volume expelled per eruption, and the inter-eruptive gas flux results from the competition between the increasing number of bubbles and the decreasing bubble diameter. The smooth temporal evolution of the five degassing parameters also points towards bubbles being produced by a self-induced mechanism within the magma reservoir rather than by a magmatic reinjection prior to each eruption. The decadal cycles are therefore initiated by a magmatic reinjection, in agreement with a typical return time of 14-80 years (AlbarSde 1993). Hence, the 1995 eruption results from a fresh magma being newly emplaced while the magma from the following eruptions is progressively depleted in volatiles species until reaching a state of quasi-exhaustion in 2001. A magmatic reinjection of 0.13-0.6 km(3) every few decades is sufficient to explain the expelled gas volume, including SO2. A scenario is also proposed for the alternation between gas-rich summit eruptions and gas-poor flank eruptions which are observed during decadal cycles. The scenario proposed for Etna could also be at work at Piton de la Fournaise and Erta 'Ale volcanoes.
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