From the blood-red lava bubbling up from beneath the South Pacific at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to the plumes of ash that occasionally erupt from the earth throughout the mountainous regions of El Salvador and Guatemala, a wide array of volcanoes are sprinkled across the surface of the earth and along the depths of the ocean floor. Whether passersby can spot the lava or ash shooting towards the sky with the naked eye or the mountains appear suspiciously calm with no threat of an imminent eruption evident, volcanic activity is constantly occurring in countries across the globe on a daily basis. To learn more about these unparalleled forces of nature and the effects they have on both the environment and life on earth, check out the following volcano activity facts.
What is a volcano?
A volcano is a cone-shaped hill or mountain of hardened lava, ash and rock fragments that were ejected from beneath the earth's crust through a vent in the surface of the earth and allowed to accumulate over a period of thousands of years. Magma-a mixture of molten rocks in the center of the earth that ranges in temperature from 1,300 to 2,400 degrees-flows into magma chambers and is forced upward by underground pressures until it eventually succumbs to the pressure and breaks through these vents, or weak spots, in the earth's crust. When a volcano erupts, rock fragments and ash particles are ejected into the atmosphere, and magma-which is called lava once it breaks through the crust and reaches the earth's surface-spurts out of the vent and flows down the side of the volcano and onto the surrounding landscape until it cools completely and becomes a solid. Over time, as new eruptions occur and fresh lava spews from the volcano onto the surface of the earth, the lava that is ejected during a volcanic eruption begins to pile on top of older, solidified layers of lava, increasing the size of the volcano and occasionally changing the shape of its slope. Because the flows of red-hot lava that shoot out of volcanos are extremely hot and often move very quickly, volcanic activity poses serious dangers to the people and wildlife that live in the path of an active volcano.
What is the largest volcano?
Volcanos have been present on planet earth for billions of years-some that have erupted within the past six months and others that haven't erupted for centuries. Over 1,500 active volcanoes exist on earth. The largest volcano on earth in terms of the area it covers is Mauna Loa-Hawaiian for "Long Mountain."-which is situated on the Big Island of Hawaii. Mauna Loa is an active shield volcano that measures more than 56,000 feet from the base to the top of the mountain and covers over 2,035 square miles. The volcano is one of five volcanoes that formed from a hot spot of magma rising up through the floor of the Pacific Ocean. The mountains that comprise this chain of volcanoes date back over 70 million years, and the southeastern tip of the chain forms the islands of Hawaii. In addition to being the largest volcano, Mauna Loa is also one of the move active volcanoes on earth. The mountain has experienced 33 documented eruptions since 1843, the most recent of which lasted from March 24 to April 15, 1984.