I'm attempting to design a desert area that could almost constantly be covered in a thin layer of smoke. It does not block out the sun but instead sticks closer to the ground. The land is hot, arid, and sandy. It has some grassy vegetation, and I am open to having it be volcanic. The actual land itself is reminiscent of the Sonoran or Tanami Desert, or perhaps even the Atacama Desert, but with darker sand and a great amount of smoke covering the surface. What might be a reasonable explanation for this phenomenon? So, to summarize, I would like for the phenomena not interfere with:

-the dark, blackened coloration of the sand

-the grassy areas scattered around the desert

-the somewhat flat, rocky terrain.

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    $\begingroup$ Do you need actual smoke? (That is, the end products of burning something.) Or would steam & vapor do? $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Dec 20, 2020 at 3:44
  • $\begingroup$ I would prefer actual smoke, if possible. $\endgroup$ Dec 22, 2020 at 16:44

4 Answers 4


Something underground is burning.

centralia mine fire with skeleton


The bones are kind of extra but this is a good photo of the Centralia mine fire. There is a large coal mine underground and it is on fire. It is choked for oxygen but gets enough to keep on and it is so extensive that efforts to extinguish it have failed. I used to think it was smoke coming out of the ground at these coal fires, but in this photo it is labeled steam and I bet that is right. Combustion makes a lot of water and hot vapor would be more visible than smoke. Under the right conditions there is no doubt smoke too.

Burning tar sands.

tar sands https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_qKfVwAmKpw

Your sands are black because of natural tar seeps in the area. With the tar comes lighter molecular weight material including more volatile hydrocarbons and gas. This stuff oxidizes in the hot sun, making the sands hotter than they would otherwise be just from sunlight. Sometimes it gets hot enough to ignite. The tar and asphalt does not burn completely and makes heavy hazy smoke that drifts over the landscape.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm going to go with the Burning Tar Sands idea. $\endgroup$ Dec 19, 2020 at 23:52
  • $\begingroup$ Or how about a burning natural gas field? $\endgroup$ Dec 20, 2020 at 22:35
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    $\begingroup$ Ad smoke and water vapour: hydrocarbon (natural gas, gasoline, kerosene) and carbohydrate (wood) smoke contains a lot of water which forms the contrails and visible smoke above smokestacks in cold weather, but coal has very little hydrogen, so smoke from it does not have water vapour. Coal smoke is visible mainly due to the fine ash, but that would be filtered by the soil above the burning coal seam, leaving mainly invisible (but asphyxiating!) carbon dioxide—or poisonous carbon monooxide if it has just barely enough oxygen and does not oxidize completely. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Dec 22, 2020 at 6:40

You might be looking at a series of fumaroles. These are steam-producing features created by interaction between groundwater and volcanic heat. They are rather flexible: they can appear a few at a time or by the thousands, they can last for only a few years or virtually indefinitely, depending on the nature of the heat source.

Because they often give off noxious gasses (sulfides especially) the area immediately around fumaroles tends to be barren, but they could be dispersed enough to allow for patches of plant life in between vents.

  • $\begingroup$ ...or perhaps even a form of plant life that evolved to be able to use sulfides somehow. $\endgroup$ Dec 21, 2020 at 14:58

It's a series of ventilation shafts for dwarves who smoke during their breaks from mining and smelting. Occasionally an unbroken smoke ring will escape with a tantalising whiff of Longbottom Leaf or Old Toby.

Also of course the smelting of metal produces a lot of smoke of its own account.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for creatively mentioning our chthonic neighbours! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Dec 20, 2020 at 23:54

Simple: Have an underground coal deposit, and let it burn. That will create smoke for decades to come, especially if said coal deposit is large enough.

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    $\begingroup$ Only decades? Burning Mountain has been going for at least 6000 years. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Dec 21, 2020 at 21:01
  • $\begingroup$ If it's big enough, yes, it can last centuries, even millennia. $\endgroup$ Jan 8, 2021 at 16:47

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