Volcanoes are usually cone-shaped hills or mountains built around a vent connecting to reservoirs of molten rock, or magma, below Earth’s surface. At times the molten rock is forced upwards by gas pressure until it breaks through weak spots in Earth’s crust. The magma erupts forth and lava flows or shoots into the air as clouds of lava fragments, ash, and dust. The accumulation of debris from eruptions cause the volcano to grow in size. There are four kinds of volcanoes:
- Cinder cones are built of lava fragments. They have slopes of 30 degrees to 40 degrees and seldom exceed 1,640 feet (500 meters) in height. Sunset Crater in Arizona and Paricutin in Mexico are examples of cinder cones.
- Composite cones are made of alternating layers of lava and ash. They are characterized by slopes of up to 30 degrees at the summit, tapering off to 5 degrees at the base. Mount Fuji in Japan and Mount St. Helens in Washington are composite cone volcanoes.
- Shield volcanoes are built primarily of lava flows. Their slopes are seldom more than 10 degrees at the summit and 2 degrees at the base. The Hawaiian Islands are clusters of shield volcanoes. Mauna Loa is the world’s largest active volcano, rising 13,653 feet (4,161 meters) above sea level.
- Lava domes are made of viscous, pasty lava squeezed like toothpaste from a tube. Examples of lava domes are Lassen Peak and Mono Dome in California.