Volcanoes are found in association with midocean ridge systems (see seafloor spreading) and along convergent plate boundaries, such as around the Pacific Ocean's "Ring of Fire" (see plate tectonics), the ring of plate boundaries associated with volcanic island arcs and ocean trenches surrounding the Pacific Ocean. Continental volcanoes are also associated with converging plate boundaries, such as the volcanoes of the Cascade Range along the W coast of the United States. Isolated volcanoes also form in the midocean area of the Pacific apparently unrelated to crustal plate boundaries. These sea mounts and volcanic island chains, such as the Hawaiian chain, may form from rising magma regions called hot spots.
Shapes of volcanoes include composite cones, or stratovolcanoes, with steep concave sides such as Mt. St. Helens in the W United States; shield cones have gentle slopes and can be relatively large such as the Hawaiian Islands; and cinder cones as Parícutin in Mexico, with steep slopes made of cinderlike materials. Explosive eruptions build up steep-sided cones, while the nonexplosive ones usually form broad, low lava cones. Cones range in height from a few feet to nearly 30,000 ft (9 km) above their base. Usually the cone has as its apex a cavity, or crater, which contains the mouth of the vent. Such craters are typically less than 1 mi (1.6 km) across, but larger craters, called calderas, ranging in diameter from 3 mi to—in a few instances—50 mi (5-80 km), are formed by particularly large eruptions (see crater).
More than 500 volcanoes are known to have erupted on the earth's surface since historic times, and many more have erupted on the ocean floor unobserved by humans. Fifty volcanoes have erupted in the United States, which ranks third, behind Indonesia and Japan, in the number of historically active volcanoes. Of the world's active volcanoes, more than half are found around the perimeter of the Pacific, about a third on midoceanic islands and in an arc along the south of the Indonesian islands, and about a tenth in the Mediterranean area, Africa, and Asia Minor.
Evidence of extraterrestrial volcanic activity also has been found. Space probes have detected the remnants of ancient eruptions on earth's moon, Mars (which has the largest volcano in the solar system, Olympus Mons, 340 mi/550 km across and 15 mi/24 km high), and Mercury; these probably originated billions of years ago, since these bodies are no longer capable of volcanic activity. Triton (a satellite of Neptune), Io (a satellite of Jupiter), and Venus are known to be volcanically active. The volcanic processes that occur in the outer portion of the solar system are very different from those in the inner part. Eruptions on earth, Venus, Mercury, and Mars are of rocky material and are driven by internal heat. Io's eruptions are probably sulfur or sulfur compounds driven by tidal interactions with Jupiter. Triton's eruptions are of very volatile compounds, such as methane or nitrogen, driven by seasonal heating from the sun.
Terrestrial volcanic eruptions may take one or more of four chief forms, or phases, known as Hawaiian, Strombolian, Vulcanian, and Peleean. In the Hawaiian phase there is a relatively quiet effusion of basaltic lava unaccompanied by explosions or the ejection of fragments; the eruptions of Mauna Loa on the island of Hawaii are typical. The Strombolian phase derives its name from the volcano Stromboli in the Lipari, or Aeolian, Islands, N of Sicily. It applies to continuous but mild discharges in which viscous lava is emitted in recurring explosions; the ejection of incandescent material produces luminous clouds. A more explosive volcanic eruption is the Vulcanian, where the magma (lava before emission) accumulates in the upper level of the vent but is blocked by a hardened plug of lava that forms between consecutive explosions. When the explosive gases have reached a critical pressure within the volcano, masses of solid and liquid rock erupt into the air and clouds of vapor form over the crater. The Peleean, derived from Mt. Pelée, is the most violent, emitting fine ash; hot, gas-charged fragments of lava; and superheated steam in an incandescent "cloud" that travels downhill at great speed. Eruptions are often accompanied by torrential rains caused by the condensation of steam. The erupted fragments vary in size, including minute particles of volcanic dust and ash, lapilli (cinders or pellets), bombs (rounded or ellipsoidal masses of hardened magma), and huge masses called blocks.
Notable eruptions within historic times have been those of Vesuvius, in Italy (A.D. 79, 1906, and other times); Tambora, in Indonesia, where between 30 and 50 cu mi (125-210 cu km) of molten and shattered rock were blown into the air (1815); Krakatoa, near Java, material from which was sent 17 mi (27 km) into the atmosphere (1883); Parícutin, in Mexico, the volcano that began in a cornfield (1943); Hibok Hibok, on Camiguin island in the Philippines, which killed 84 people (1948); Besymianny, in Kamchatka, where 2 cu mi (8 cu km) of material were hurled into the air (1956); the peak of Tristan da Cunha, whose eruption caused the entire settlement to be evacuated (1961); Agung, in Bali, which killed 1,100 people (1963); Mt. St. Helens in Washington, which exploded with an energy equivalent to 10 million tons of TNT, killing 35, with 25 missing (1980); El Chichon in Mexico, which expelled about 500 million tons of ash and gas (1982); and Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines, which killed over 500 people and ejected over 2 cu mi (8 cu km) of material (1991). Other notable volcanoes are Cotopaxi and Chimborazo (Ecuador), Iztaccihuatl and Popocatépetl (Mexico), Lassen Peak and Katmai (United States), and Etna (Sicily). Mauna Loa (Hawaii) is the world's largest active volcano, projecting 13,677 ft (4,170 m) above sea level and over 29,000 ft (8,850 m) above the ocean floor; from its base below sea level to its summit, Mauna Loa is taller than Mt. Everest. In 1963 the birth of the volcanic island Surtsey near Iceland was observed. In November of that year events began with a submarine eruption along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Eruption followed eruption until June, 1967, by which time the island stood 492 ft (150 m) above sea level and covered an area of almost 2 sq mi (3 sq km). The island has not grown since the last eruption, and it is presently volcanically quiet.
See S. Van Rose and I. Mercer, Volcanoes (2d ed., 1991); F. Martin, Volcano (1996); H. Sigurdsson, Melting the Earth: The History of Ideas on Volcanic Eruptions (1999); H. Sigurdsson et al., ed., Encyclopedia of Volcanoes (1999).
|Cross-section through a stratovolcano:|
| 1. Large magma chamber|
3. Conduit (pipe)
6. Branch pipe
7. Layers of ash emitted by the volcano
| 9. Layers of lava emitted by the volcano|
11. Parasitic cone
12. Lava flow
15. Ash cloud
Volcanoes are generally found where tectonic plates are diverging or converging. A mid-oceanic ridge, for example the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, has examples of volcanoes caused by "divergent tectonic plates" pulling apart; the Pacific Ring of Fire has examples of volcanoes caused by "convergent tectonic plates" coming together. By contrast, volcanoes are usually not created where two tectonic plates slide past one another. Volcanoes can also form where there is stretching and thinning of the Earth's crust (called "non-hotspot intraplate volcanism"), such as in the African Rift Valley, the Wells Gray-Clearwater volcanic field and the Rio Grande Rift in North America and the European Rhine Graben with its Eifel volcanoes.
Volcanoes can be caused by "mantle plumes". These so-called "hotspots" , for example at Hawaii, can occur far from plate boundaries. Hotspot volcanoes are also found elsewhere in the solar system, especially on rocky planets and moons.
Other types of volcano include cryovolcanoes (or ice volcanoes), particularly on some moons of Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune; and mud volcanoes, which are formations often not associated with known magmatic activity. Active mud volcanoes tend to involve temperatures much lower than those of igneous volcanoes, except when a mud volcano is actually a vent of an igneous volcano.
Volcanic cones or cinder cones result from eruptions that erupt mostly small pieces of scoria and pyroclastics (both resemble cinders, hence the name of this volcano type) that build up around the vent. These can be relatively short-lived eruptions that produce a cone-shaped hill perhaps 30 to 400 meters high. Most cinder cones erupt only once. Cinder cones may form as flank vents on larger volcanoes, or occur on their own. Parícutin in Mexico and Sunset Crater in Arizona are examples of cinder cones. In New Mexico, Caja del Rio is a volcanic field of over 60 cinder cones.
Another way of classifying volcanoes is by the composition of material erupted (lava), since this affects the shape of the volcano. Lava can be broadly classified into 4 different compositions (Cas & Wright, 1987):
A popular way of classifying magmatic volcanoes is by their frequency of eruption, with those that erupt regularly called active, those that have erupted in historical times but are now quiet called dormant, and those that have not erupted in historical times called extinct. However, these popular classifications—extinct in particular—are practically meaningless to scientists. They use classifications which refer to a particular volcano's formative and eruptive processes and resulting shapes, which was explained above.
There is no real consensus among volcanologists on how to define an "active" volcano. The lifespan of a volcano can vary from months to several million years, making such a distinction sometimes meaningless when compared to the lifespans of humans or even civilizations. For example, many of Earth's volcanoes have erupted dozens of times in the past few thousand years but are not currently showing signs of eruption. Given the long lifespan of such volcanoes, they are very active. By human lifespans, however, they are not.
Scientists usually consider a volcano to be active if it is currently erupting or showing signs of unrest, such as unusual earthquake activity or significant new gas emissions. Many scientists also consider a volcano active if it has erupted in historic time. It is important to note that the span of recorded history differs from region to region; in the Mediterranean, recorded history reaches back more than 3,000 years but in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, it reaches back less than 300 years, and in Hawaii, little more than 200 years. The Smithsonian Global Volcanism Program's definition of 'active' is having erupted within the last 10,000 years.
Extinct volcanoes are those that scientists consider unlikely to erupt again, because the volcano no longer has a lava supply anymore. Examples of extinct volcanoes are many volcanoes on the Hawaiian Islands in the U.S. (extinct because the Hawaii hotspot is centered near the Big Island), and Paricutin, which is monogenetic. Otherwise, whether a volcano is truly extinct is often difficult to determine. Since "supervolcano" calderas can have eruptive lifespans sometimes measured in millions of years, a caldera that has not produced an eruption in tens of thousands of years is likely to be considered dormant instead of extinct. For example, the Yellowstone Caldera in Yellowstone National Park is at least 2 million years old and hasn't erupted violently for approximately 640,000 years, although there has been some minor activity relatively recently, with hydrothermal eruptions less than 10,000 years ago and lava flows about 70,000 years ago. For this reason, scientists do not consider the Yellowstone Caldera extinct. In fact, because the caldera has frequent earthquakes, a very active geothermal system (i.e. the entirety of the geothermal activity found in Yellowstone National Park), and rapid rates of ground uplift, many scientists consider it to be an active volcano.
It is difficult to distinguish an extinct volcano from a dormant one because volcanoes are usually considered to be extinct if there are no written records of its activity. Nevertheless volcanoes may remain dormant for a long period of time and it is not uncommon for a so-called "extinct" volcano to erupt again. Vesuvius was thought to be extinct before its famous eruption of AD 79, which destroyed the towns of Herculaneum and Pompeii. More recently, the long-dormant Soufrière Hills volcano on the island of Montserrat was thought to be extinct before activity resumed in 1995. The most recent example is Fourpeaked Mountain in Alaska, which prior to September 2006 is not believed to have erupted since earlier than 7994 BC.
The Auvergne region of France has 50 extinct volcanoes, which have not erupted for more than 6,000 years and have been eroded away, leaving plugs of unerupted hardened magma, which look like rounded hilltops.
The 16 current Decade Volcanoes are:
There are many different kinds of volcanic activity and eruptions: phreatic eruptions (steam-generated eruptions), explosive eruption of high-silica lava (e.g., rhyolite), effusive eruption of low-silica lava (e.g., basalt), pyroclastic flows, lahars (debris flow) and carbon dioxide emission. All of these activities can pose a hazard to humans. Earthquakes, hot springs, fumaroles, mud pots and geysers often accompany volcanic activity.
The concentrations of different volcanic gases can vary considerably from one volcano to the next. Water vapor is typically the most abundant volcanic gas, followed by carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide. Other principal volcanic gases include hydrogen sulfide, hydrogen chloride, and hydrogen fluoride. A large number of minor and trace gases are also found in volcanic emissions, for example hydrogen, carbon monoxide, halocarbons, organic compounds, and volatile metal chlorides.
Large, explosive volcanic eruptions inject water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), hydrogen chloride (HCl), hydrogen fluoride (HF) and ash (pulverized rock and pumice) into the stratosphere to heights of 16–32 kilometres (10–20 mi) above the Earth's surface. The most significant impacts from these injections come from the conversion of sulfur dioxide to sulfuric acid (H2SO4), which condenses rapidly in the stratosphere to form fine sulfate aerosols. The aerosols increase the Earth's albedo—its reflection of radiation from the Sun back into space - and thus cool the Earth's lower atmosphere or troposphere; however, they also absorb heat radiated up from the Earth, thereby warming the stratosphere. Several eruptions during the past century have caused a decline in the average temperature at the Earth's surface of up to half a degree (Fahrenheit scale) for periods of one to three years — sulfur dioxide from the eruption of Huaynaputina probably caused the Russian famine of 1601 - 1603. The sulfate aerosols also promote complex chemical reactions on their surfaces that alter chlorine and nitrogen chemical species in the stratosphere. This effect, together with increased stratospheric chlorine levels from chlorofluorocarbon pollution, generates chlorine monoxide (ClO), which destroys ozone (O3). As the aerosols grow and coagulate, they settle down into the upper troposphere where they serve as nuclei for cirrus clouds and further modify the Earth's radiation balance. Most of the hydrogen chloride (HCl) and hydrogen fluoride (HF) are dissolved in water droplets in the eruption cloud and quickly fall to the ground as acid rain. The injected ash also falls rapidly from the stratosphere; most of it is removed within several days to a few weeks. Finally, explosive volcanic eruptions release the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and thus provide a deep source of carbon for biogeochemical cycles. Gas emissions from volcanoes are a natural contributor to acid rain. Volcanic activity releases about 130 to 230 teragrams (145 million to 255 million short tons) of carbon dioxide each year. Volcanic eruptions may inject aerosols into the Earth's atmosphere. Large injections may cause visual effects such as unusually colorful sunsets and affect global climate mainly by cooling it. Volcanic eruptions also provide the benefit of adding nutrients to soil through the weathering process of volcanic rocks. These fertile soils assist the growth of plants and various crops. Volcanic eruptions can also create new islands, as the magma cools and solidifies upon contact with the water.
The Earth's Moon has no large volcanoes and no current volcanic activity, although recent evidence suggests it may still possess a partially molten core. However, the Moon does have many volcanic features such as maria (the darker patches seen on the moon), rilles and domes.
The planet Venus has a surface that is 90% basalt, indicating that volcanism played a major role in shaping its surface. The planet may have had a major global resurfacing event about 500 million years ago, from what scientists can tell from the density of impact craters on the surface. Lava flows are widespread and forms of volcanism not present on Earth occur as well. Changes in the planet's atmosphere and observations of lightning, have been attributed to ongoing volcanic eruptions, although there is no confirmation of whether or not Venus is still volcanically active. However, radar sounding by the Magellan probe revealed evidence for comparatively recent volcanic activity at Venus's highest volcano Maat Mons, in the form of ash flows near the summit and on the northern flank.
There are several extinct volcanoes on Mars, four of which are vast shield volcanoes far bigger than any on Earth. They include Arsia Mons, Ascraeus Mons, Hecates Tholus, Olympus Mons, and Pavonis Mons. These volcanoes have been extinct for many millions of years, but the European Mars Express spacecraft has found evidence that volcanic activity may have occurred on Mars in the recent past as well.
Jupiter's moon Io is the most volcanically active object in the solar system because of tidal interaction with Jupiter. It is covered with volcanoes that erupt sulfur, sulfur dioxide and silicate rock, and as a result, Io is constantly being resurfaced. Its lavas are the hottest known anywhere in the solar system, with temperatures exceeding 1,800 K (1,500 °C). In February 2001, the largest recorded volcanic eruptions in the solar system occurred on Io. Europa, the smallest of Jupiter's Galilean moons, also appears to have an active volcanic system, except that its volcanic activity is entirely in the form of water, which freezes into ice on the frigid surface. This process is known as cryovolcanism, and is apparently most common on the moons of the outer planets of the solar system.
In 1989 the Voyager 2 spacecraft observed cryovolcanoes (ice volcanoes) on Triton, a moon of Neptune, and in 2005 the Cassini-Huygens probe photographed fountains of frozen particles erupting from Enceladus, a moon of Saturn. The ejecta may be composed of water, liquid nitrogen, dust, or methane compounds. Cassini-Huygens also found evidence of a methane-spewing cryovolcano on the Saturnian moon Titan, which is believed to be a significant source of the methane found in its atmosphere. It is theorized that cryovolcanism may also be present on the Kuiper Belt Object Quaoar.
The Roman name for the island Vulcano has contributed the word for volcano in most modern European languages.
Many ancient accounts ascribe volcanic eruptions to supernatural causes, such as the actions of gods or demigods. To the ancient Greeks, volcanoes' capricious power could only be explained as acts of the gods, while 16th/17th-century German astronomer Johannes Kepler believed they were ducts for the Earth's tears. One early idea counter to this was proposed by Jesuit Athanasius Kircher (1602–1680), who witnessed eruptions of Mount Etna and Stromboli, then visited the crater of Vesuvius and published his view of an Earth with a central fire connected to numerous others caused by the burning of sulfur, bitumen and coal.
Various explanations were proposed for volcano behavior before the modern understanding of the Earth's mantle structure as a semisolid material was developed. For decades after awareness that compression and radioactive materials may be heat sources, their contributions were specifically discounted. Volcanic action was often attributed to chemical reactions and a thin layer of molten rock near the surface.
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