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You are here: home > geotopics > volcanoes > what is a volcano? > Type of volcano

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What is a volcano?
What are the main features of a volcano?
What are active, dormant and extinct volcanoes?
What are the different types of volcano?
Where are volcanoes located?
What is the Ring of Fire?
What are lahars and pyroclastic flows?
Why do people live close to volcanoes?

Case Studies
The 1980 eruption of Mount St Helens
The 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo

The 2000 eruption of Popocatepetl


[image of Kilauea]
Mount Kilauea, The World's most active volcano is a shiled volcano.
( Source - C. Heliker - US Geological Survey)

What are the different types of volcano?

What are the three main volcanoes?
Dome (Acid lava cones)
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What are the three main volcanoes?

There are three main types of volcano - composite or strato, shield and dome.

Composite Volcanoes

Composite volcanoes, sometimes known as strato volcanoes, are steep sided cones formed from layers of ash and [lava] flows. The eruptions from these volcanoes may be a pyroclastic flow rather than a flow of lava. A pyroclastic flow is a superheated mixture of hot steam, ash, rock and dust. A pyroclastic flow can travel down the side of a volcano at very high speeds with temperatures over 400 degrees celsius. Composite volcanoes can rise over 8000 feet.

Composite Volcano
A simple cross section through a composite volcano

When composite volcanoes erupt they are explosive and pose a threat to nearby life and property. Eruptions are explosive due to the thick, highly viscous lava that is produced by composite cone volcanoes. This viscous lava has a lot to do with why they are shaped the way they are. The thick lava cannot travel far down the slope of the volcano before it cools.

Composite volcanoes are usually found at destructive plate margins. Examples of composite volcanoes include Mount Fuji (Japan), Mount St Helens (USA) and Mount Pinatubo (Philippines).

Shield Volcanoes

Shield volcanoes are low with gently sloping sides and are formed from layers of lava. Eruptions are typically non-explosive. Shield volcanoes produce fast flowing fluid [lava] that can flow for many miles. Eruptions tend to be frequent but relatively gentle. Although these eruptions destroy property, death or injury to humans rarely occurs.

Shield Volcano
A simple cross section thr
ough a shield volcano

Shield volcanoes are usually found at constructive boundaries and sometimes at volcanic hotspots. Examples of shield volcanoes include Mount Kilauea and Maunaloa on Hawaii.

The video below shows a lava flow from Mount Kilauea.

Dome (Acid Lava Cones)

Acid [lava] is much thicker than [lava] which flows from shield volcanoes. Dome volcanoes have much steeper sides than shield volcanoes. This is because the lava is thick and sticky. It cannot flow very far before ot cools and hardens. An example is Puy de Dome in the Auvergne region of France which last erupted over 1 million years ago.

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