Vortex rings on Mount Etna

Mount Etna volcanic vortex smoke rings

Since April 2nd, a small crater has opened on the summit of Etna which is producing picturesque gas rings with perfect shapes. In this short article I will talk about the physics behind these phenomena, which summit crater is producing them and I will help you understand which of the excursions on Etna is the best to see these gas rings up close.


The south east crater ofMount Etna on April the 6th 2024. Picture by Sicily Active

Observed occasionally emerging from Etna's active craters, gas rings are cyclic phenomena believed to result from gas explosions in a narrow volcanic conduit above the magma chamber. These fascinating rings form as jets of gas rise rapidly towards the volcano's mouth, with the crater walls shaping its distinctive circular structure.

Their sporadic nature makes it difficult to predict their appearance due to the rapid formation process and changing weather conditions. The researchers suggest that replicating this phenomenon through laboratory experiments is within reach.

Since April 2024, a new conduit that has formed on the north-eastern side of the south-east crater has been producing them on an industrial scale, sometimes even seven rings of gas hover in the air at the same time, they bind together forming geometric shapes and symbols that they arouse the amazement of both the locals and the thousands of tourists who arrive on Etna every day on guided excursions. Boris Behncke, a volcanologist at the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Catania, also explained in a post on Facebook that "no volcano on Earth produces as many vapor rings as Etna".

Smoke rings, first documented in 18th century Sicily, continue to fascinate locals and tourists alike, offering a visual representation of Mount Etna's volcanic activity. The National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology of Catania plays a fundamental role in solving the mysteries surrounding these enigmatic smoke rings.



The formation mechanism of volcanic vortex rings on Etna involves gas bubbles exploding in a narrow conduit above the magma chamber. When these gas bubbles explode, they create rapid upward motion toward the volcano's mouth.

The unique shape of the vortex ring is shaped by the resistance of the crater walls, which slows the gas jets, contributing to the circular formation. Thanks to this process, the distinctive smoke rings emerge from the mouth of the southeast crater and are visible to the naked eye even from Taormina and the Etna villages.

The speed of gas rise and environmental conditions play crucial roles in the formation of these intriguing volcanic phenomena. Understanding this mechanism provides valuable insights into the dynamics of Etna's volcanic activity and highlights the complexity of the natural processes occurring within the volcano.


Numerous important findings and discoveries have shed light on the enigmatic phenomenon of the smoke rings produced by the summit apparatus of Etna. Sir William Thomson, also known as Lord Kelvin, studied smoke rings in the late 19th century. The first observations of volcanic vortex rings on Mount Etna date back to 1724, with documentation in 1755.

Smoke rings have also been identified on Stromboli in the Aeolian Islands. The cyclical nature of smoke rings has been highlighted by the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology of Catania. Scientific research has traced the origins of smoke rings to 18th century Sicily.

These discoveries have contributed significantly to the understanding of the formation and characteristics of these fascinating smoke rings that dance above Mount Etna.


To visit Etna ideally you need to understand which side is closest to your accommodation, I recommend you read a guide especially if you decide to visit Etna independently, to be prepared and get to know this wonderful volcano as best as possible. Any trekking excursion on Etna will give you the opportunity to get close to the active craters and be able to observe this phenomenon of the formation of gas rings. Even a half-day tour departing from Taormina along the path of the Sartorius craters and the thieves' cave will get you close enough and give you an enchanting view of the south-east crater, but if you want to get closer to the pit that produces these gasdal rings south-east crater then the visit to the summit craters is the one you have to choose.

Guide vulcanologiche sulla sommità dell'Etna


In conclusion, the enigmatic smoke rings above Mount Etna offer a fascinating glimpse into the intricate dynamics of volcanic activity. Through collaborative research efforts, scientists have gained valuable insights into the formation and behavior of these mysterious phenomena.The study of volcanic vortex rings continues to be a fascinating area of investigation, shedding light on the complex processes that occur within this iconic Sicilian volcano.