Context. EX Lupi is the prototype of EXor variables. After 50 years of mild variability and smaller outbursts, the object again experienced a large outburst in 2008.Aims. We explore the accretion mechanisms in EX Lupi during its pre-outburst, outburst, and post-outburst phases.Methods. We analyze 10 high-resolution optical spectra of EX Lupi, taken before, during, and after the 2008 outburst. In both quiescence and outburst, the star presents many permitted emission lines. These include lines typical of accreting T Tauri stars, plus a large number of neutral and ionized metallic lines (mostly Fe I and Fe II). During the outburst, the number of emission lines increases to about a thousand, and their structure shows a narrow and a broad component (NC and BC). We study the structure of the BC, which is highly variable on short timescales (24-72 h).Results. An active chromosphere can explain the metallic lines in quiescence and the outburst NC. The dynamics of the BC line profiles suggest that these profiles originate in a hot, dense, non-axisymmetric, and non-uniform accretion column that suffers velocity variations along the line-of-sight on timescales of days. Assuming Keplerian rotation, the emitting region would be located at similar to 0.1-0.2 AU, which is consistent with the location of the inner disk rim, but the velocity profiles of the lines reveal a combination of rotation and infall. Line ratios of ions and neutrals can be reproduced assuming a temperature of T similar to 6500 K for electron densities of a few times 10(12) cm(-3) in the line-emitting region. The line profiles also indicate that there is an accretion-related inner disk wind.Conclusions. The data confirm that the 2008 outburst was an episode of increased accretion, albeit much stronger than previous EX Lupi and typical EXors outbursts. The line profiles are consistent with the infall/rotation of a non-axisymmetric structure that could be produced by clumpy accretion during the outburst phase. A strong inner disk wind appears in the epochs of higher accretion. The rapid recovery of the system after the outburst and the similarity between the pre-outburst and post-outburst states suggest that the accretion channels are similar during the whole period, and only the accretion rate varies, providing a superb environment for studying the accretion processes.
- line: profiles stars: variables: T Tauri, Herbig Ae/Be stars: individual: EX Lupi stars: pre-main sequence protoplanetary disks stars: low-mass T-TAURI-STARS EMISSION-LINE DIAGNOSTICS 2008 EXTREME OUTBURST MAGNETOSPHERIC ACCRETION YOUNG STARS PHYSICAL CONDITIONS CIRCUMSTELLAR GAS DISK ACCRETION ORIONIS PROFILES