What are the different types of volcanoes?

Layers of rock and lava form composite volcanoes.

There are four different types of volcanoes. A volcano is classified by both formation and appearance. Different types of volcanoes also indicate the types of eruptions expected. The different types of volcanoes are: composite (or stratovolcanoes), shield, cinder cones and splash cones. All over the world, you can see pictures of the four types of volcanoes, each type indicative of the active underground world that we often see as static.

Lava, ash and gases are ejected from a volcano vent.

Layers, or strata, of rock and lava form the compound or stratovolcanoes. These volcanoes have various shapes. A composite volcano like Mount Rainier resembles a helmet. The sides of this type of volcano are generally steep, some reaching a spiky view from the top. Mt. St. Helens, also in Washington, and Mt. Shasta in Northern California are both compounds. Furthermore, the recognizable Mount Fuji in Japan is one of the largest compounds in the world.

Identifying a volcano type helps predict the type of eruption that is expected from it.

The composite volcano, when dormant, is usually a beautiful and impressive mountain. However, the eruptions are particularly intense. As magma rises to the point of eruption, it tends to become clogged due to high viscosity. The pressure needed to force magma out of the volcano is enormous, and the result is an explosion of rock and lava. It is very dangerous to witness such an eruption up close.

Shield volcanoes are also huge. However, they differ from stratovolcanoes in that they are made up of multiple layers of flowing lava. Hot spots can occur away from the central vent of the volcano.

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Composite volcanoes release lava and rock when they erupt.

Shields explode frequently, but tend not to be highly explosive. These are some of the best volcanic eruptions to witness from a relatively close but still safe distance since lava spray is uncommon. Both Mauna Loa and Kilauea in Hawaii are examples of the shield volcano. Shields also form on the ocean floor, gradually increasing in height through a constant flow of magma.

Lava from a cone-splattered volcano has a continuous flow.

The cinder cones are also relatively smooth during the eruption. They tend to occur in mountain ranges with other types of volcanoes. A central opening forms a volcano made of lava fragments. Ashes grow quickly but tend not to exceed around 800 feet (243.84 m) in height. Occasionally, ash forms on the ground with no known history of volcanic activity. In 1934, the Paricutín broke out in a Mexican cornfield and, in approximately five days, reached 91.44 m in height.

Pu’u’Ō’ō, pronounced poo-oo, is a Hawaiian splash cone that has been producing a continuous flow of lava since 1983. Occasional eruptions reach 1,500 feet (457.2 m). The lava flow tends to be of low viscosity and moves rapidly down the cone to cover the surrounding area. The Hawaiian volcano caused the loss of a large amount of usable land and roads due to the constant flow. Lava tends to descend from the initial eruption in speckled formations, making it dangerous to get too close. By restricting access to some of the highways, Pu’u’Ō’ō added 544 acres of land to Hawaii’s main island.

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Another classification of volcanoes is when geologists refer to a volcano as complex. A complex volcano can be a combination of any of the volcanoes above, but is classified primarily by the fact that they have at least two vents, often erupting in quite different ways.

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