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A Look into Volcanoes

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A Look Into Volcanoes

By: BJ


I. Introduction Volcano: defined is a mountain or hill formed by the accumulation of materials erupted through one or more openings (called volcanic vents) in the earth's surface. The term volcano can also refer to the vents themselves. Most volcanoes have steep sides, but some can be gently sloping mountains or even flat tablelands, plateaus, or plains. The volcanoes above sea level are the best known, but the vast majority of the world's volcanoes lie beneath the sea, formed along the global oceanic ridge systems that crisscross the deep ocean floor. According to the Smithsonian Institution, 1511 above-sea volcanoes have been active during the past 10,000 years, 539 of them erupting one or more times during written history. On average, 50 to 60 above-sea volcanoes worldwide are active in any given year; about half of these are continuations of eruptions from previous years, and the rest are new. Mount St. Helen Volcanic eruptions in populated regions are a significant threat to people, property, and agriculture. The danger is mostly from fast-moving, hot flows of explosively erupted materials, falling ash, and highly destructive lava flows and volcanic debris flows. In addition, explosive eruptions, even from volcanoes in unpopulated regions, can eject ash high into the atmosphere, creating drifting volcanic ash clouds that pose a serious hazard to airplanes. II. Volcano Formation All volcanoes are formed by the accumulation of magma which is molten rock that forms below the earth's surface. Magma can erupt through one or more volcanic vents, which can be a single opening, a cluster of openings, or a long crack, called a fissure vent. It forms deep within the earth, generally within the upper part of the mantle which is one of the layers of the earth's crust, or less commonly, within the base of the earth's crust. High temperatures and pressures are needed to form magma. The solid mantle or crustal rock must be melted under conditions typically reached at depths of 50 to 60 mi. (80 to 100 km) below the earth's surface. Once tiny droplets of magma are formed, they begin to rise because the magma is less dense than the solid rock surrounding it. The processes that cause the magma to rise are poorly understood, but it generally moves upward toward lower pressure regions, squeezing into spaces between minerals within the solid rock. As the individual magma droplets rise, they join to form ever-larger blobs and move toward the surface. The larger the rising blob of magma, the easier it moves. Rising magma does not reach the surface in a steady manner but tends to accumulate in one or more underground storage regions, called magma reservoirs, before it erupts onto the surface. With each eruption, whether explosive or nonexplosive, the material erupted adds another layer to the growing volcano. After many eruptions, the volcanic materials pile up around the vent or vents. These piles form a topographic feature, such as a hill, mountain, plateau, or crater, that we recognize as a volcano. Most of the earth's volcanoes are formed beneath the oceans, and their locations have been documented in recent decades by mapping of the ocean floor III. Volcanic Materials Three different types of materials may erupt from an active volcano. These materials are lava, tephra which are rock fragments, and gases. The type and amount of the material that erupts from an active volcano depends on the composition of the magma inside the volcano. A. Lava Lava is magma that breaks the surface and erupts from a volcano. If the magma is very fluid, it flows rapidly down the volcano's slopes. Lava that is more sticky and less fluid moves slower. Lava flows that have a continuous, smooth, ropy, or billowy surface are called pahoehoe (pronounced pah HOH ee hoh ee) flows, while aa (pronounced ah ah) flows have a jagged surface composed of loose, irregularly shaped lava chunks. Once cooled, pahoehoe forms smooth rocks, while aa forms jagged rocks. The words pahoehoe and aa are Hawaiian terms that describe the texture of the lava. Lava may also be described in terms of its composition and the type of rock it forms. Basalt, andesite, dacite, and rhyolite are all different kinds of rock that form from lava. Each type of rock, and the lava from which it forms, contains a different amount of the compound silicon dioxide. Basaltic lava has the least amount of silicon dioxide, andesitic and dacitic lava have medium levels of silicon dioxide, while rhyolitic lava has the most. New molten lava B. Tephra Tephra, or pyroclastic material, is made of rock fragments formed by explosive shattering of sticky magma. The term pyroclastic is of Greek origin and means "fire-broken" (pyro, "fire"; klastos, "broken"). Tephra refers to any airborne pyroclastic material regardless of size or shape. The best-known tephra materials include pumice, cinders, and volcanic ash. These fragments are exploded when gases build up inside a volcano and produce an explosion. The pieces of magma are shot into the air during the explosion. Ash refers to fragments smaller than 2 mm (0.08 in) in diameter. The finest ash is called volcanic dust and is made up of particles that are less than 0.06 mm (0.002 in) in diameter. Volcanic blocks, or bombs, are the largest fragments of tephra, more than 64 mm (2.5 in) in diameter which is baseball size or larger. Some bombs can be the size of a small car. C. Gases Gases, primarily in the form of steam, are released from volcanoes during eruptions. All eruptions, explosive or nonexplosive, are accompanied by the release of volcanic gas. The sudden escape of high-pressure volcanic gas from magma is the driving force for eruptions. Gases come from the magma itself or from the hot magma coming into contact with water in the ground. Volcanic plumes can appear dark during an eruption because the gases are mixed with dark-colored materials such as tephra. Most volcanic gases predominantly consist of water vapor which is steam, with carbon dioxide (CO2) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) being the next two most common compounds along with smaller amounts of chlorine and fluorine gases. IV. Eruption Volcanoes erupt differently depending on the composition of the magma beneath the surface, the amount of gas in the magma, and the type of vent from which it erupts. In general, the more viscous, or stiffer, the lava, the more explosive the eruptive activity. During explosive eruptions, the lava erupted is torn into shreds, forming a variety of fragmental or pyroclastic materials depending on the physical state of the lava and on the force of the explosions. Explosive eruptions can eject a large amount of material into the air. Nonexplosive eruptions produce lava flows and eject very



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