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Parts of a Volcano

Magma - Molten rock beneath Earth's surface.

Parasitic Cone - A small cone-shaped volcano formed by an accumulation of
volcanic debris.
Sill - A flat piece of rock formed when magma hardens in a crack in a volcano.
Vent - An opening in Earth's surface through which volcanic materials escape.
Flank - The side of a volcano.
Lava - Molten rock that erupts from a volcano that solidifies as it cools.
Crater - Mouth of a volcano - surrounds a volcanic vent.
Conduit - An underground passage magma travels through.
Summit - Highest point; apex
Throat - Entrance of a volcano. The part of the conduit that ejects lava and
volcanic ash.
Ash - Fragments of lava or rock smaller than 2 mm in size that are blasted into
the air by volcanic explosions.
Ash Cloud - A cloud of ash formed by volcanic explosions.

Eruption Styles
Scientists realized long ago that no two volcanoes erupt the same. Some, like
Mount St. Helens, burst violently and send ash and gas high into the
air. Others, like Kilauea in Hawaii, ooze red hot lava which runs like maple
syrup down the slope of the volcano. Many factors control how a volcano will
erupt. Understanding these controls is a large part of the science of
There are two predominant types of volcanic eruptions:
Effusive eruptions magma rises through the surface and flows out of the
volcano as a viscous liquid called lava.
Explosive eruptions magma is torn apart as it rises and reaches the surface
in pieces known as pyroclasts.

Thinking back to our earlier examples, the catastrophic May

1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens can be confidently
classified as an explosive eruption. The common image of red
hot lava flowing down Kilauea and covering roads and
houses is an effusive eruption. However, predominantly
explosive volcanoes such as Mount St. Helens can show effusive
behavior, such as the dome growth stages following the 1980s
explosive eruptions and again in 2004 (image to
left). Hawaiian volcanoes often exhibit fire fountaining,
which can be thought of as an explosive eruption style
(image to right).
Why do volcanoes behave in such different ways? Whether a volcano will
erupt explosively or effusively is determined by the presence of
bubbles. Magmas contain many different gases such as H2O (water), CO2
(carbon dioxide), SO2 (sulfur dioxide), HCl (hydrogen chloride) and HF
(hydrogen fluoride). Deep within the earth as the magma resides in a magma
chamber, these gases are comfortably mixed into the magma. As magma rises
towards the surface, though, the gases are no longer comfortable within the
melt and come out of the magma to form bubbles. In some situations, bubbles
form very easily. Sometimes, though, bubbles are not able to form. When a
very bubbly magma reaches the surface, the bubbles pop and send shards of
magma flying in every direction as pyroclasts. A magma without bubbles will
simply ooze to the surface.
In the image to the left, bubbles form deep in the conduit of the volcano and
rise to the surface, fragmenting the magma. This volcano erupts explosively. If
bubbles formed higher in the conduit, the magma would not fragment as much
and the volcano would erupt more effusively.


Bubbles control a factor known in

volcanology as explosivity. The more bubbles a
magma develops, the higher the
explosivity of the eruption. To better classify the size
of volcanic eruptions, volcanologists
developed the Volcanic Explosivity
Index (VEI) to categorize eruptions. The
VEI scale starts at 0 and has no upper
limit, but the largest eruption in
was a magnitude 8.

Volcanic Explosivity Index

Using explosivity and the height of the eruption, volcanologists have
developed a naming scheme for eruption styles. The graph below illustrates
the different eruption styles based on explosivity and eruption column
height. Click the links to the right to learn more about these different eruption

Viscosity of Magmas
The nature of volcanic eruptions is highly dependent on magma viscosity and
also on dissolved gas content.
Magma Composition:
Silicate-rich magmas are typically formed at destructive plate boundaries, by
partial melting and/or assimilation of crustal rocks (which are richer in silica
than the rock of the mantle). Such magmas erupt as andesites and rhyolites or
are intruded as granite masses. The more extensive silicate chain molecules
render these magmas highly viscous, so when eruption occurs it is usually
explosive (e.g. Mt St Helens).
Low-silica magmas are typically formed by partial melting of mantle rocks
beneath mid-ccean ridges or at hot spots like Hawaii. These magmas erupt as
basalts or intrude as gabbro, and are far less viscous. Eruptions are generally
Magma temperatures reflect the melting points of their mineral components.
Not surprisingly, magmas formed by partial melting of mantle rocks are much
hotter well over 1200oC for some Hawaiian basalts than is the case for
crustally derived melts. Rhyolites may reach the surface at temperatures of
less than 900oC, and so have much higher viscosity.

Volatile Content:
Magma invariably contains small amounts of dissolved gas (water, CO2 etc)
which is released as pressure is removed. Magmas formed by melting of mantle
rocks have generally low volatile contents, but those formed by partial melting
of crustal rocks are often volatile-rich. A high volatile content decreases
viscosity (like adding water to treacle), and is probably the main factor in
enabling some highly viscous (but also volatile-rich) melts to reach the surface
at all. The release of gas during eruption is particularly likely to be explosive if
the magma is both viscous (as gas is released, so viscosity is immediately
increased) and volatile rich.
Crystal Content:
Some magmas have already begun to crystallise by the time they reach the
surface. Again, this applies particularly to the cooler, more viscous magmas
typical of destructive plate margins. A crystal mush will clearly have
increased viscosity.

Major Types of Volcanic Cones

Composite cones

Composite cones are some of the most easily

recognizable and imposing volcanic mountains, with sloping peaks rising
several thousand meters above the landscape.
Also known as strato cones, composite cones are made up of layers
of lava, volcanic ash, and fragmented rocks. These layers are built up over time
as the volcano erupts through a vent or group of vents at the summits crater.
The eruptions that form these cones, called Plinian eruptions, are violently
explosive and often dangerous.
One of the most famous strato cones in the world is Mount Fuji, Japan. The
tallest mountain in Japan, Mount Fuji towers 3,776 meters (12,380 feet) above
the surrounding landscape. Mount Fuji last erupted in 1707, but is still
considered an active volcano.

Cinder cones

Cinder cones, sometimes called scoria cones or pyroclastic cones, are the most
common types of volcanic cones. They form after violent eruptions blow lava
fragments into the air, which then solidify and fall as cinders around the
volcanic vent. Usually the size of gravel, these cinders are filled with many tiny
bubbles trapped in the lava as it solidifies. Cinder cones stand at heights of
tens of meters to hundreds of meters.
Cinder cones may form by themselves or when new vents open on larger,
existing volcanoes. Mauna Kea, a volcano on the American island of Hawaii,

and Mount Etna, a volcano on the Italian island of Sicily, are both covered with
hundreds of cinder cones.

Other Types of Volcanic Cones

Spatter Cones

Volcanoes often eject small amounts of gaseous lava blobs into the air. These
lava blobs, called spatter, are heavy and viscous. Viscosity refers to a
substances resistance to flow. In this case, it refers to the spatters thickness.
The viscosity of spatter means it often does not have time to cool before hitting
the ground.
Spatter cones can be found in and around the Puu region of Mount Kilauea
in Hawaii. Continuously erupting since 1983, Kilaueas volcanic activity
is characterized by the fountaining of hot lava, making it the perfect incubator
for spatter cones.

Tuff Cones

Unlike spatter cones that form from lava fountaining, tuff cones form from the
interaction between rising magma and bodies of water. Tuff cones are
sometimes called ash cones.
When heated rapidly by lava, water flashes to steam and expands violently,
fragmenting huge amounts of lava into plumes of very fine grains of ash. This
ash falls around the volcanic vent, creating an ash cone. Over time, the ash
weathers into a rock known as tuff.
Tuff cones have steep sides and often stand between 100 and 300 meters (328
to 984 feet) high. They are much wider and have broader craters than spatter
cones because they result from shallow explosions that eject materials
sideways rather than upwards.


during which lava, tephra (ash, lapilli, volcanic bombs and blocks), and

assorted gases are expelled from a volcanic vent or fissurehave been

distinguished by volcanologists. These are often named after famous volcanoes
where that type of behavior has been observed. Some volcanoes may exhibit
only one characteristic type of eruption during a period of activity, while others
may display an entire sequence of types all in one eruptive series.
There are three different types of eruptions. The most well-observed
are magmatic eruptions, which involve the decompression of gas within magma
that propels it forward.Phreatomagmatic eruptions are another type of volcanic
eruption, driven by the compression of gas within magma, the direct opposite
of the process powering magmatic activity. The third eruptive type is
the phreatic eruption, which is driven by the superheating of steam via contact
with magma; these eruptive types often exhibit no magmatic release, instead
causing the granulation of existing rock.
Within these wide-defining eruptive types are several subtypes. The weakest
are Hawaiian and submarine, then Strombolian, followed

by Vulcanian and Surtseyan. The stronger eruptive types are Pelean eruptions,
followed by Plinian eruptions; the strongest eruptions are called "Ultra
Plinian." Subglacial and phreatic eruptions are defined by their eruptive
mechanism, and vary in strength. An important measure of eruptive strength
is Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI), an order of magnitude scale ranging from 0
to 8 that often correlates to eruptive types.


Explosive volcanic eruptions pose both short-term and long-term hazards. Lava flows
and lahars can wipe out the flanks of mountainsides. Volcanic ash can blanket the
landscape for miles, and ash clouds can disrupt aircraft travel, such as the incident in
1989 when ash from Alaska's Redoubt volcano temporarily disabled a passenger
airplane. On longer time scales, eruptions can inject massive quantities of ash into the
atmosphere, greatly reducing the solar heating of the Earth and potentially interrupting
the global food supply for several years.
In 1991, mount Pinatubo in the Philippines erupted, and strong winds spread the aerosol
particles from the plume around the globe. The result was a measurable cooling of the
Earth's surface for a period of almost two years. The role of natural hazards research
and developing applications to mitigate the effects of disasters has global implications
for reducing loss and saving lives.
Expected Accomplishments:
Global inventory of active volcanoes
Volcanic activity warning system
Further define the relationship between deformation, seismicity, intrusions, and
Forecasting of volcanic activity on progressively longer timescales
Practical Benefit to Society:
Hazard mitigation due to improved volcanic activity warnings
Advanced planning for effects on populations near volcanically active regions
Detection of ash and plume products for warnings for airline industry

What are the signs that a volcano is about to erupt?

The following are commonly observed signs that a volcano is about to erupt.
These precursors may vary from volcano to volcano.
1. Increase in the frequency of volcanic quakes with rumbling sounds;
occurrence of volcanic tremors
2. Increased steaming activity; change in color of steam emission from
white to gray due to entrained ash
3. Crater glow due to presence of magma at or near the crater
4. Ground swells (or inflation), ground tilt and ground fissuring due to
magma intrusion

Localized landslides, rockfalls and landslides from the summit area not
attributable to heavy rains
6. Noticeable increase in the extent of drying up of vegetation around the
volcano's upper slopes
7. Increase in the temperature of hot springs, wells (e.g. Bulusan and
Canlaon) and crater lake (e.g. Taal) near the volcano
8. Noticeable variation in the chemical content of springs, crater lakes
within the vicinity of the volcano
9. Drying up of springs/wells around the volcano
10. Development of new thermal areas and/or reactivation of old
ones;appearance of solfataras.