What are Volcanoes and How Do They Affect the World

Volcanoes are large openings in the Earth’s surface that form when magma from its interior rises through it. Magma is molten rock from far down underneath the ground that is pushed up when pressure builds up in pockets. The molten rock then erupts through the opening in the form of ash, gas, and lava, and sometimes pyroclastic flows. Volcanic eruptions take place in various places around the world and are often associated with catastrophic destruction.

Volcanic eruptions are destructive to nearby human populations, but they also create new and productive land. Through the cycles of destruction and regeneration, volcanoes can have both positive and negative environmental effects. They release hazardous materials into the air such as sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide, which are some of the most dangerous air pollutants. On the other hand, volcanoes can replenish the soil with nutrients and minerals, create new landforms and landscapes, and support biodiversity.

Types of Volcanoes 

Volcanoes can be divided into three main categories: cinder cones, calderas and stratovolcanoes.

Cinder cone volcanoes are the most common type of volcano. These are steep, cone-shaped mountains and occur when repeated eruptions of low silica lava and pieces of solidified magma are ejected from the vent.

Calderas form an enormous depression within the Earth’s crust when a large magma chamber is emptied. This can be caused by the eruption of large amounts of magma, or by the withdrawal of magma below the surface.

Stratovolcanoes, also known as composite volcanoes, are steep-sided, conical volcanoes that form due to repeated eruptions of viscous lava and pyroclastic flows. Stratovolcanoes are among the tallest volcanoes on Earth and are usually associated with catastrophic eruptions.

Most Active Volcano Sites 

There are several active volcanoes around the world that are known for their frequent and intense eruptions. Here are some of the most notable sites.

•Kilauea in Hawaii: Kilauea is one of the most active volcanoes on Earth and is a popular tourist destination. Kilauea is famous for its continuous lava flows, which have destroyed several homes and roads.

•Mount Vesuvius in Italy: Mount Vesuvius is one of the most iconic and destructive volcanoes in human history. It famously destroyed the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79 AD, burying them under tons of ash and lava.

•Mount Tambora in Indonesia: Mount Tambora is one of the most active volcanoes in Indonesia and is among the deadliest in the world. In 1815, Tambora erupted with such force that it caused an “year without a summer” in the Northern Hemisphere.

•Krakatoa in Indonesia: Krakatoa is a caldera volcano located between the islands of Java and Sumatra in Indonesia. It is responsible for one of the most violent and deadly eruptions in recent history in 1883.

•Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland: Eyjafjallajökull is a stratovolcano located in the south of Iceland and is famous for its frequent yet modest eruptions. It is particularly notable for the ash cloud it produced in 2010, which caused huge disruption to air travel across Europe and beyond.

•Mount St. Helens in Washington: Mount St. Helens is an active stratovolcano in Washington state and is one of the most closely monitored volcanoes in the U.S. In 1980, Mount St. Helens produced one of the most violent eruptions in North American history, resulting in significant pyroclastic flows and mudslides.

The Science Behind Volcanoes 

Volcanoes are formed when pressure builds up inside pockets of magma in the Earth’s crust and it is then forced to the surface. This process is driven by several factors, including plate tectonics, convection of the Earth’s mantle, and changes in volatile components such as water, carbon dioxide, and sulfur dioxide.

Plate Tectonics 

Volcanoes occur where two tectonic plates diverge, converge, or slide past one another. This movement of tectonic plates is driven by the convection of the Earth’s mantle, which is a combination of molten rock and other material. It is believed that this movement is caused by heat coming from the Earth’s interior, which is constantly on the move, causing the plates at the Earth’s surface to move as well.


Volatiles are substances such as carbon dioxide, water and sulfur dioxide that can exist in both solid and gaseous states. When the pressure inside a magma chamber is high enough, these substances can trigger an eruption by lowering the melting point of the magma, making it easier to erupt. Volatiles also act like gas lifts, pushing magma up through the Earth’s crust and into the atmosphere.

Types of Eruptions 

Volcanic eruptions can be classified according to their magnitude and the type of material that is being expelled. The two main types of volcanic eruptions are effusive and explosive.

Effusive eruptions are characterized by low-explosivity and the release of lava flows. During this type of eruption, relatively low-viscosity magma is released from the volcano and can travel long distances. This type of eruption is often referred to as “lava flooding.”

Explosive eruptions occur when viscous and volatile-rich magma is forced to the surface. This type of eruption produces superheated gases and fragmented magma called tephra. This material is usually released in the form of ash and can travel large distances, making it dangerous to nearby populations.

Pyroclastic Flows 

Pyroclastic flows are fast-moving, high-temperature mixtures of gas and rock fragments that are ejected from an erupting volcano. These flows can travel hundreds of miles an hour and often contain particles that are too hot to touch. The temperatures involved in these flows can be high enough to melt organic matter and cause human fatality, making them incredibly dangerous.

Monitoring Volcanic Activity 

Volcanic eruptions can be incredibly destructive and so it is essential that volcanoes are monitored for changes in activity. Scientists use a range of techniques to monitor volcanoes, from ground instruments to satellites and aerial reconnaissance.

•Ground Instruments: Ground instruments such as seismometers and GPS receivers can detect changes in seismic activity and ground deformation which can indicate an impending eruption. Scientists also use cameras and thermal sensors to monitor active lava flows.

•Satellites: Satellites can be used to monitor volcanoes from space and detect changes in the environment. Techniques such as infrared imagery, ground deformation sensing and chemical sensing are used to observe volcanoes and detect changes in activity.

•Aerial Reconnaissance: Aircraft are sometimes used to monitor volcanoes, to capture images and other data such as temperature and fumaroles. Airborne geophysical surveys can also be used to detect changes in seismic activity and hydrothermal activity.

Volcanoes can have both positive and negative impacts on the environment and it is essential that they are monitored and studied. By understanding the science behind volcanoes, scientists and researchers can better prepare for and respond to volcanic eruptions. As one of the most powerful and destructive forces on Earth, it is important to study and understand the phenomenon of volcanoes.