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volcanic eruption is an awesome display of Earth’s power. Yet, while eruptions are spectacular to watch, they can cause disastrous loss of life and property, especially in densely populated regions of the world. Sometimes beginning with an accumulation of gas-rich earthquakes, which may be caused by a rising plug of dense, viscous magma oscillating against a sheath of more-permeable magma, may also signal volcanic eruptions, especially explosive ones.
In some cases, magma rises in conduits to the surface as a thin and fluid lava, either flowing out continuously or shooting straight up in glowing fountains or curtains. In other cases, entrapped gases tear the magma into shreds and hurl viscous clots of lava into the air. In more violent eruptions, the magma conduit is cored out by an explosive blast, and pyroclastic flow, a fluidized mixture of hot gas and incandescent particles that sweeps down a volcano’s flanks, incinerating everything in its path.
Great destruction also can result when ash collects on a high snowfield or glacier, melting large quantities of ice into a flood that can rush down a volcano’s slopes as an unstoppable mudflow. ( means the vent from which magma and other substances erupt to the surface, but it can also refer to the landform created by the accumulation of solidified lava and volcanic debris near the vent. One can say, for example, that large lava flows erupt from Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii, referring here to the vent; but one can also say that Mauna Loa is a gently sloping volcano of great size, the reference in this case being to the landform. Volcanic Mount Fuji in Japan is an entirely different formation. With its striking steep slopes built up of layers of ash and lava, Mount Fuji is a classic stratovolcano.
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Iceland provides fine examples of volcanic plateaus, while the seafloor around Iceland provides excellent examples of submarine volcanic structures. gave voice to a common misconception by defining volcanoes as “burning mountains, which probably are made up of sulphur and some other matter proper to ferment with it, and take fire.” Today geologists agree that volcanism is a profound process resulting from the thermal evolution of planetary bodies. Heat does not easily escape from large bodies such as Earth by the processes of conduction or radiation.
Instead, heat is transferred from Earth’s interior largely by convection—that is, the partial melting of Earth’s crust and mantle and the buoyant rise of magma to the surface. Volcanoes are the surface sign of this thermal process. Their roots reach deep inside Earth, and their fruits are hurled high into the atmosphere.
Stratovolcanoes tend to form at subduction zones, or convergent plate margins, where an oceanic plate slides beneath a continental plate and contributes to the rise of magma to the surface. At rift zones, or divergent margins, shield volcanoes tend to form as two oceanic plates pull slowly apart and magma effuses upward through the gap.
Volcanoes are not generally found at strike-slip zones, where two plates slide laterally past each other. “Hot spot” volcanoes may form where plumes of lava rise from deep within the mantle to Earth's crust far from any plate margins. Volcanoes are closely associated with plate tectonic activity.
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Most volcanoes, such as those of Japan and Iceland, occur on the margins of the enormous solid rocky plates that make up Earth’s surface. Other volcanoes, such as those of the Hawaiian Islands, occur in the middle of a plate, providing important evidence as to the direction and rate of plate motion. The study of volcanoes and their products is known as volcanology, but these phenomena are not the realm of any single scientific discipline. Rather, they are studied by many scientists from several specialties: geophysicists and geochemists, who probe the deep roots of volcanoes and monitor signs of future eruptions; geologists, who decipher prehistoric volcanic activity and infer the likely nature of future eruptions; biologists, who learn how plants and animals colonize recently erupted volcanic rocks; and meteorologists, who determine the effects of volcanic dust and gases on the atmosphere, weather, and climate. Clearly the destructive potential of volcanoes is tremendous. But the risk to people living nearby can be reduced significantly by assessing volcanic hazards, monitoring volcanic activity and forecasting eruptions, and instituting procedures for evacuating populations. In addition, volcanism affects humankind in beneficial ways.
Volcanism provides beautiful scenery, fertile soils, valuable mineral deposits, and geothermal energy. Over geologic time, volcanoes recycle Earth’s hydrosphere and atmosphere.