Volcanoes are formed along two types of plate boundary: destructive and constructive. Volcanoes occur where molten rock (magma) comes to the surface of the earth.
The magma rises to the surface through cracks in the crust called vents.
When lava is thick and acidic it doesn’t flow far before cooling and solidifying, this causes cone volcanoes (aka acid cone volcanoes) to have steep sides.
Example: Mount Pelee on Martinique (an island in the Caribbean)
When lava is runny and thin it can flow a long way before cooling and solidifying, this causes shield volcanoes to have gentle slopes and wide bases built almost entirely of low viscosity basaltic lava flows.
Shield volcanoes are the largest of the three types.
The eruptions are generally non explosive due to the low silica content and may last for years
Example: Mount Kilauea in Hawaii (USA), Galapagos Islands, Snake River Plain in Idaho, USA.
Composite volcanoes are the most deadly of volcano types.
They are made of alternate layers of ash and lava and have steep sides built up by eruptions of intermediate viscosity andesitic lava and explosive tephra.
Often the lava cools creating a plug which blocks the vent resulting in a huge explosion blowing out the plug
Example: Mount St Helens in Alaska (USA), Mount Shasta in California, Mount Rainier in Washington state, and Mount Fuji in Japan.
Case study: New Zealand volcanoes - White Island
This video looks at White Island which is the most active volcano in New Zealand. The crater continuously erupts ash and chemicals such as sulphur and silica. The crater also has a lake in the middle as the rainfall here is high. The island sits on one of the most active plate boundaries in the world where the Pacific plate is dragged beneath the Indo-Australian plate, producing enough heat to melt the rocks and feed the volcano.
- Produced directly by the volcanic activity.
- Examples include lava flows, ash-flows, lateral blasts, ash-falls, and gases.
- The result of primary effects e.g. mud flows
- Lava flows are streams of molten rock.
- Lava flows can erupt relatively non-explosively and move very slowly (a few meters to a few hundred meters per hour) or they can move rapidly (typically down steep slopes).
- Most lava flows are slow enough that they are seldom a threat to human life.
- Such flows generally follow a predictable course.
- However, lava flows can cause extensive damage or total destruction by burning, crushing, or burying everything in their paths.
- Whole villages have been known to completely disappear beneath lava flows.
- To avoid such destruction, controlling a lava flow has become important and successful deflection has occurred in the past. photos of lava flows.
How was the Giant's Causeway formed?
This video presented by William Crawley explores the geological factors that may have contributed to the famous rock formations and interlocking basalt columns in Northern Ireland - the Giant's Causeway.
- Volcanic explosions produce volumes of tephra.
- Tephra is the material blown out of the volcanic vent when an explosion occurs.
- Ash-flows, lateral blasts, and ash-falls are the types of pyroclastic activity that produce tephra, with composite volcanoes and large calderas the vent sources.
- Pyroclastic flows (also called ash-flows) are high speed avalanches of hot ash, rock fragments, and gas which move down the sides of a volcano during explosive eruptions.
- These flows occur when the vent area or ash column collapses.
- Because pyroclastic flows can reach 1500 degrees F and travel at high speeds (160-250 kilometres per hour and up), they are extremely destructive and deadly.
- Pyroclastic flows are typical of composite volcano eruptions, but are also associated with large caldera systems.
- All magmas contain dissolved gases that are released during and between eruptive episodes.
- These gases are predominately steam, followed in abundance by carbon dioxide, compounds of sulphur and chlorine, and lesser amounts of other gases.
- While they rarely reach populated areas in lethal concentrations, gases can be injected to great heights in the atmosphere by volcanic eruptions, in some cases spreading throughout the globe.
Mud flows (Lahars / Debris flows) are mixtures of water, rock, ash, sand, and mud that originate from the slopes of a volcano. They can travel over 80 kilometres and commonly reach speeds of 35 to 65 kilometres per hour.
They contain a high percentage of rock debris look like fast-moving rivers of concrete. Close to a volcano, they have the strength to rip huge boulders, trees, and structures from the ground and carry them for great distances.
Farther downstream the coarser debris settles to the bottom of the flow, leaving mud to continue on to cover everything it passes.
Mud Flows are formed when masses of unconsolidated, wet debris become mobilized, and are commonly start by:
- Large landslides of water-saturated debris
- Heavy rainfall eroding volcanic deposits
- Radiant heat emitted from a volcanic vent suddenly melting snow and ice
- Pyroclastic flows on the flanks of a volcano
- Breakout of water from glaciers, crater lakes, or from lakes dammed by volcanic eruptions
Historically, mud flows have been one of the most deadly of the volcanic hazards.
Advantages of Volcanic Eruptions
Although volcanoes can be very destructive, there are benefits of living near a volcano.
Volcanoes provide resources for energy extraction, also called geothermal resources. Heat from the earth's crust is being converted to energy. The big advantages to this type of energy are that it is very clean and the resources are nearly inexhaustible.
When a volcano erupts it throws out a lot of ash. In the short term this ash can be very harmful to the environment, but in the long term the ash layer, which contains many useful minerals, will be converted to a very fertile soil. Residents living nearby will use the rich soil for farming. Even after an eruption people still return because of the fertile soil around the volcano.