Volcanoes are some of the most interesting geological formations on the planet, and they are certainly the most volatile. The incredible power and destructive force that most volcanoes possess should be respected and studied if we hope to avoid disasters that result from volcanic activity.
What are Volcanoes? Where Do They Come From?
Generally speaking, a volcano is a hole in the Earth’s crust that allows the escape of magma, gases, and other debris from within the planet. They typically exist as mountains with small openings near the peak, but some volcanic formations have no extreme elevation at all. Volcanic eruptions happen when pressure builds up beneath the opening, causing a violent reaction on the surface. Eruptions are often associated with the release of gases, flowing lava, and anything else trapped near the surface. The initial blast of an eruption is only the first potential problem, as many eruptions cause secondary disasters in their wake, such as floods, tsunamis, avalanches, and more.
A volcano is born when magna beneath the Earth’s surface rises closer and closer to the crust. As that magma is pushed slowly through the planet’s outer layer of rock, it hardens and creates new layers of elevation that are deposited around the initial flow point, causing the volcano to grow. The process of building a volcano takes many, many years, and the formations can collapse in an instant during an eruption.
What Causes Eruptions?
We’ve seen that volcanoes erupt when the pressure gets too high for their structures to handle, but what causes that pressure to build up in the first place? The answer is the shifting of tectonic plates that make up Earth’s crust. The plates essentially float freely on the liquid underlying layers, and they move and crash into each other like icebergs in the arctic. The violent interactions that occur where the plates meet can cause earthquake, tsunamis, and volcanoes.
General Fun Facts on Volcanoes
There are over 1500 active volcanoes on our planet. When a volcano is classified as ‘active’, that means it has had recent activity and could potentially produce more volcanic activity in the near future. Many extinct volcanoes exist as well, but those pose no threat as they have lost their destruction power.
The Pacific Ring of Fire is perhaps one of the most well-known volcanic entities. It spans the circumference of the Pacific Tectonic Plate and produces more than half of the world’s volcanoes. The largest volcano on Earth, Mauna Loa in Hawaii, is right in the center of the Ring of Fire, and it’s taller than Mount Everest when measured from the sea floor.