Volcanoes are among the many unique natural phenomena on Earth. The vast expanse of land they can cover with the hot lava they throw out never fails to generate curiosity in young minds. Although not too often, volcanic eruptions may happen in specific places where an active volcanic mountain is located. But despite all the volcanology research we have, a volcanic eruption cannot always be accurately predicted.
There is a ton of information about volcanoes that could leave you speculating about when an active volcano can erupt! Read on as we give some exciting facts and intriguing details about a volcano for kids.
How Are Volcanoes Formed?
The Earth is formed out of multiple overlapping layers. The outermost layer is known as its ‘crust.’ The crust is made of huge rocks known as ‘tectonic plates.’ Under the plates lies a layer called ‘the mantel,’ which consists of molten hot rock known as ‘magma.’
When these tectonic plates shift, they push against each other and create an opening for the magma to spill out. This magma becomes lava when it touches the Earth’s surface and cools down eventually to form another layer of crust over it. This process repeats over a period, accumulating magma to form a volcano.
Types Of Volcanoes
Volcanoes can be of different types. Below, we talk about the four main types.
- Cinder cones: The most common image that comes to mind when you hear the word ‘volcano’ is that of a cone-shaped mountain spewing hot lava from its top. This mountain is known as the cinder or scoria cone. These cinder cones are relatively small, stretching around 300 feet and rising to 1,200 feet. They can form within a period of a few months or years.
- Stratovolcanoes: Also known as a ‘composite volcano,’ a stratovolcano is formed by piled up layers of lava, volcanic ash, and rocks. Bigger than a cinder cone, it can rise to 8,000 feet. It erupts not only from the top but also from its vents and domes. This type of volcano is considered most dangerous, as it erupts without any warning and tends to release hazardous materials from its top and sides. Mt. Fuji is a classic example of this type of volcano.
- Shield volcanoes: Deriving its name from a warrior’s shield, this volcano stands slightly raised at the center and slopes at the sides. It is the largest type of volcano on the Earth, formed out of basaltic lava that flows slowly over the Earth’s surface (1). As the lava cools, it forms a layer, and multiple layers pile up to create a shield volcano.
- Volcanic domes: A volcanic dome or a lava dome refers to a mound formed out of thick, viscous lava that does not flow smoothly over the Earth’s surface. Frequent outpours of such lava from a summit vent create more such domes.
What Causes Volcanic Eruptions?
Volcanoes form out of molten magma, which is created from the melted mantle. Melting of the mantle is mostly the result of movement or friction between tectonic plates. This magma then rises with bubbles of gas trapped inside it.
The runny magma spills out through openings or cracks in the Earth’s crust before flowing out as lava. If the magma is too thick, the trapped gas bubbles fail to escape and build pressure on the magma. Higher pressure leads to an explosion that can cause immense damage and destruction of land around it.
Volcanoes also erupt when the underground water comes in contact with hot magma, creating steam, which can build pressure and lead to a volcanic explosion.
30 Volcano Facts For Kids
Here are a few facts about volcanoes that you can share with your children.
- The word volcano is derived from the name of the Roman god of fire, Vulcan.
- Magma refers to the liquid rock inside the volcano. When it comes out of the volcano and onto the Earth’s crust, it is referred to as lava.
- There are around 1,500 active volcanoes in the world (2).
- The Circum-Pacific Belt is also known as the ‘The Ring of Fire’ because it witnesses several volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.
- The volcanoes in the Cascade Range and Alaska are considered a part of the Ring of Fire.
- The volcanoes in Hawaii sit over a ‘hot spot’ that is considered the center of the Ring of Fire.
- Based on its current condition, a volcano can be categorized as extinct, dormant, and active. An extinct volcano is a volcano that will never erupt again. A dormant volcano is one that has not erupted in several thousand years but can erupt anyday. An active volcano is the one that holds the potential to erupt at any time.
- The pumice rock derived from a volcano is the only rock that can float in water.
- Olympus Mons, a volcano in the Tharsis Montes region of the planet Mars, is the largest known shield volcano in our solar system (3).
- Mauna Loa in Hawaii (Pacific Ocean) is the largest active shield volcano in the world, rising to 13,100 ft above sea level (4).
- When Mount St. Helens, in southwestern Washington State, erupted on May 18, 1980, it is believed that the blast was heard across the states of Montana, Idaho, and California, and some parts of Canada.
- The Mount St. Helens eruptions led to the largest subaerial landslide ever recorded on Earth (5).
- Volcanoes in Hawaii produce a specific type of long, thin volcanic glass threads known as ‘Pele’s hair,’ named after the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes, Pele.
- Volcanoes can also be found amidst the chilly icecaps of Iceland and over the ocean floor.
- When a volcano erupts, it often blasts out gases such as carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and hydrogen chloride.
- In 79 AD, a volcano named Mount Vesuvius erupted in Pompeii, Italy, killing around 16,000 people.
- Mount Vesuvius is considered to be the world’s most dangerous active volcano because of the large population settled around it.
- People often settle around a volcano as it can produce rich, fertile soil that can be used for farming.
- Mount Fujiyama, or simply Mount Fuji, the tallest mountain in Japan, is an active volcano that is currently in the dormant stage. It has not erupted in over 300 years.
- Maleo birds found in Indonesia bury their eggs near a volcano’s soil, as the heat generated helps hatch their eggs.
- A volcanic eruption can lead to other natural disasters such as tsunamis, flash floods, and earthquakes.
- The eruption of the main island of Krakatoa in 1883 is considered the most devastating eruption that triggered several tsunamis, killing around 36,000 people.
- A supervolcano refers to the volcanic center that records an eruption of magnitude eight on the Volcanic Explosivity Index. It merely means that the eruption can result in over 1,000 cubic kilometers of deposits over the Earth’s crust.
- When Mount Pinatubo erupted in 2001, it released ash and gas that contributed toward a 1 degree Fahrenheit decline in global temperatures (6).
- Indonesia has the highest number of active volcanoes (2) .
- The U.S. Geological Survey ranks America at number three, after Indonesia and Japan, in the number of historically active volcanoes (2).
- More than 80% of the Earth’s surface above and below sea level, is formed from volcanic eruptions (7).
- Antarctica’s Mount Erebus is the southernmost active volcano that houses a boiling lava lake.
- Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park is the largest hot spring in the U.S. and third-largest in the world.
Volcanoes may be scary and even catastrophic at times, but they can also create rich, fertile lands that can help us in the long run. If your child has never heard or read about volcanoes before, share these volcano facts with them to get them interested in the subject.
Over the years, humans have learned to live with volcanoes’ unpredictability, owing to the many natural benefits they offer. A volcanic eruption could help reduce global temperature, create a new land surface, form islands in the sea, expand continents, bring out rocks and minerals, and provide more land for farming. As technology advances, it becomes more likely to accurately predict a volcanic eruption, allowing nature to take its course without disturbing human civilization.
2. How many active volcanoes are there on Earth?; U.S. Geological Survey
3. Olympus Mons; NASA’s Mars Exploration Program
4. Mauna Loa; U.S. Geological Survey
5. What was the largest landslide in the United States? In the world?; U.S. Geological Survey
6. Global Effects of Mount Pinatubo; NASA Earth Observatory
7. How many active volcanoes are there on Earth?; U.S. Geological Survey
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