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ENCYCLOPEDIC ENTRY
ENCYCLOPEDIC ENTRY

Volcanoes

Volcanoes

A volcano is an opening in a planet or moon’s crust through which molten rock and gases trapped under the surface erupt, often forming a hill or mountain.


Grades

6 - 12

Image

Volcanic eruption

Volcanic eruptions can create colorful and dramatic displays, such as this eruption of this volcano in the Virunga Moutains of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Photograph by Chris Johns

A volcano is an opening in a planet or moon’s crust through which molten rock, hot gases, and other materials erupt. Volcanoes often form a hill or mountain as layers of rock and ash build up from repeated eruptions.

Volcanoes are classified as active, dormant, or extinct. Active volcanoes have a recent history of eruptions; they are likely to erupt again. Dormant volcanoes have not erupted for a very long time but may erupt at a future time. Extinct volcanoes are not expected to erupt in the future.

Inside an active volcano is a chamber in which molten rock, called magma, collects. Pressure builds up inside the magma chamber, causing the magma to move through channels in the rock and escape onto the planet’s surface. Once it flows onto the surface the magma is known as lava.

Some volcanic eruptions are explosive, while others occur as a slow lava flow. Eruptions can occur through a main opening at the top of the volcano or through vents that form on the sides. The rate and intensity of eruptions, as well as the composition of the magma, determine the shape of the volcano.

Volcanoes are found on both land and the ocean floor. When volcanoes erupt on the ocean floor, they often create underwater mountains and mountain ranges as the released lava cools and hardens. Volcanoes on the ocean floor become islands when the mountains become so large they rise above the surface of the ocean.


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Director
Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
Author
National Geographic Society
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
other
Last Updated

August 1, 2022

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