EarthWord: Fumarole

Release Date:

Fumaroles are openings in the earth’s surface that emit steam and volcanic gases, such as sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide. They can occur as holes, cracks, or fissures near active volcanoes or in areas where magma has risen into the earth’s crust without erupting. A fumarole can vent for centuries or quickly go extinct, depending on the longevity of its heat source.

EarthWords is an on-going series in which we shed some light on the complicated, often difficult-to-pronounce language of science. Think of us as your terminology tour-guides, and meet us back here every week for a new word!

 

Fumarole on Kīlauea Volcano, Hawaiʻi. Elemental sulfur vapor escaping from the fumarole has cooled to form yellow-colored crysta
A close-up of a fumarole on Kilauea Volcano. Credit: R.L. Christiansen, USGS

Definition:

  • Fumaroles are openings in the earth’s surface that emit steam and volcanic gases, such as sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide. They can occur as holes, cracks, or fissures near active volcanoes or in areas where magma has risen into the earth’s crust without erupting. A fumarole can vent for centuries or quickly go extinct, depending on the longevity of its heat source.

Etymology:

  • Fumarole comes from the Latin word fumus, which means smoke. The word origin is a bit misleading because fumaroles do not emit smoke.

Use/Significance in the Earth Science Community:

  • Fumaroles provide a window inside a volcano. They often are the best place for scientists to collect volcanic gases. Monitoring changes in the emission rate, temperature, and composition of volcanic gases can help scientists detect the movement of magma in a volcano. This information, combined with other types of monitoring, can help scientists forecast whether or not an eruption is likely and its explosive power. Accurate forecasting can provide critical time for residents and emergency managers to prepare and to warn pilots about volcanic clouds that can damage jet engines.

USGS Use:

Next EarthWord: Now now, don’t get grabby, plenty of EarthWords to go around!

Hungry for some science, but you don’t have time for a full-course research plate? Then check out USGS Science Snippets, our snack-sized science series that focuses on the fun, weird, and fascinating stories of USGS science.