A fumarole (Latin fumus, smoke) is an opening in a planet's crust, often in the neighborhood of volcanoes, which emitssteam and gases such as carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen chloride, and hydrogen sulfide. The steam is created when superheated water turns to steam as its pressure drops when it emerges from the ground. The name solfatara, from the Italian solfo, sulfur (via the Sicilian dialect), is given to fumaroles that emit sulfurous gases.
Fumaroles may occur along tiny cracks or long fissures, in chaotic clusters or fields, and on the surfaces of lava flows and thick deposits of pyroclastic flows. A fumarole field is an area of thermal springs and gas vents where magma or hotigneous rocks at shallow depth are releasing gases or interacting with groundwater. From the perspective of groundwater, fumaroles could be described as a hot spring that boils off all its water before the water reaches the surface.
A good example of fumarole activity on Earth is the famous Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, which was formed during the 1912 eruption of Novarupta in Alaska. Initially, there were thousands of fumaroles in the cooling ash from the eruption, but over time most of them have become extinct. Fumaroles may persist for decades or centuries if they are above a persistent heat source, or disappear within weeks to months if they occur atop a fresh volcanic deposit that quickly cools. There are also an estimated four thousand fumaroles within the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park. In April 2006, a fumarole opened up east of Chair 3 at Mammoth Mountain Ski Area in California. Three ski patrol workers died while erecting a mesh fence and warning sign around the hole to warn skiers of the danger.