Volcanic cones are among the simplest volcano formations in the world. They are built by fragments (called ejecta) thrown up (ejected) from a volcanic vent, piling up around the vent in the shape of a cone with a central crater. Volcanic cones are of different types, depending upon the nature and size of the fragments ejected during the eruption. Types typically differentiated are spatter cone, cinder cone, ash cone, and tuff cone.
A spatter cone is formed of molten lava ejected from a vent somewhat like taffy. Expanding gases in the lava fountains tear the liquid rock into irregular gobs that fall back to earth, forming a heap around the vent. The still partly liquid rock splashes down and over the sides of the developing mound is called spatter. Because spatter is not fully solid when it lands, the individual deposits are very irregular in shape and weld together as they cool, and in this way particularly differ from cinder and ash. Spatter cones are typical of volcanoes with highly fluid magma, such as those found in the Hawaiian Islands.
An ash cone is composed of particles of silt to sand size. Explosive eruptions from a vent where the magma is interacting with groundwater or the sea (as in an eruption off the coast) produce steam and are called phreatic. The interaction between the magma, expanding steam, and volcanic gases results in the ejection of mostly small particles called ash. Fallen ash has the consistency of flour. The unconsolidated ash forms an ash cone which becomes a tuff cone or tuff ring once the ash consolidates (see also tuff). The term pyroclastic cone is often used synonymously with tuff cone.
See also: List of pyroclastic cones
A cinder cone is a volcanic cone built almost entirely of loose volcanic fragments called cinders (pumice, pyroclastics, or tephra). They are built from particles and blobs of congealed lava ejected from a single vent. As the gas-charged lava is blown violently into the air, it breaks into small fragments that solidify and fall as cinders around the vent to form a circular or oval cone. Most cinder cones have a bowl-shaped crater at the summit.
Cinder cones rarely rise more than 500-750 m or so above their surroundings, and, being unconsolidated, tend to erode rapidly unless further eruptions occur. Cinder cones are numerous in western North America as well as throughout other volcanic terrains of the world. Parícutin, the Mexican cinder cone which was born in a cornfield on February 20, 1943, and Sunset Crater in Northern Arizona in the US Southwest are classic examples of cinder cones, as are the ancient volcanoes in New Mexico's Petroglyph National Monument.