Around Etna

Etna’s Enigmatic Smoke Rings: Nature’s Spectacular Display

Mount Etna never ceases to fascinate us. Its powerful and majestic eruptions have always attracted our attention with their typical display of fiery lava and billowing ash, but in recent days a new and intriguing phenomenon has captivated scientists and spectators alike: smoke rings.
These rings, scientifically known as “volcanic vortex rings“, are formed by a combination of atmospheric conditions and the volcano’s unique venting processes, and have attracted worldwide attention for their beauty and intrigue.
What exactly causes these smoke rings to form? The answer lies in the complex interplay of volcanic gases, wind patterns and the shape of Etna’s crater. When magma rises to the surface and encounters pockets of gas, it can cause a sudden release of pressure, similar to the popping of a champagne cork. This rapid expulsion of gas through the volcano’s vent can sometimes result in the formation of a coherent ring of vortex, visible as a swirling column of smoke against the sky.
Etna's smoke rings
Etna’s recent smoke rings – Photo credits: Roberto Coppolino
The size and frequency of these smoke rings can vary greatly, depending on factors such as the intensity of the eruption and the prevailing wind conditions. Some rings are small and ephemeral, dissipating within moments of their formation, while others can remain in the air for several minutes, slowly drifting away from the volcano’s summit.
While the smoke rings themselves pose no direct threat to nearby communities, their presence serves as a reminder of Etna’s ongoing volcanic activity and the need for continued monitoring and research. Scientists are keen to study these phenomena further, hoping to gain insights into the inner workings of the volcano and improve our understanding of volcanic processes.
For those lucky enough to see Etna’s smoke rings first-hand, the experience is nothing short of magical. Set against the backdrop of the volcano’s towering slopes and the rugged Sicilian landscape, these ephemeral rings serve as a poignant reminder of nature’s power and beauty. It comes as no surprise that many have started addressing our volcano as the “Lady of the Rings” (let’s not forget that Etna is a female entity for Sicilians).
People observing Etna's smoke rings.
People observing Etna’s smoke rings. – Photo credits: Roberto Coppolino

As Etna continues to captivate and inspire, its smoke rings are a testament to the enduring appeal of one of the world’s most remarkable natural wonders.

For a closer look at these enigmatic rings, consider joining one of our Etna tours: as you hike between extinct craters and past lava flows, you may spot the live formation of one of these rings, while learning more about Etna and its phenomena from an expert local guide. Contact us to find out more!