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6.20: Volcano Characteristics

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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Do you think volcanoes are cool?

Active volcanoes are found on all continents except Australia. Volcanoes even erupt under the ice on Antarctica! Do you live near a volcano? What are the chances that it will erupt in your lifetime? If you don't live near one, could a volcanic eruption elsewhere cloud the skies above where you live?


A volcano is a vent from which the material from a magma chamber escapes. Volcanic eruptions can come from peaky volcanic cones, fractured domes, a vent in the ground, or many other types of structures.

Where They Are

Volcanoes are a vibrant manifestation of plate tectonics processes. Volcanoes are common along convergent and divergent plate boundaries. Volcanoes are also found within lithospheric plates away from plate boundaries. Wherever mantle is able to melt, volcanoes may be the result.

World map of active volcanoes.

What is the geological reason for the locations of all the volcanoes in the figure? Does it resemble the map of earthquake epicenters? Are all of the volcanoes located along plate boundaries? Why are the Hawaiian volcanoes located away from any plate boundaries?

Creating Magma

Volcanoes erupt because mantle rock melts. This is the first stage in creating a volcano. Remember from "Concept Materials of Earth's Crust" that mantle may melt if temperature rises, pressure lowers, or water is added. Be sure to think about how and why melting occurs in the settings where there is volcanism mentioned in the next few lessons.


Volcanoes can be active, dormant, or extinct.

Of all the volcanoes in the world, very few are erupting at any given time. Scientists question whether a volcano that is not erupting will ever erupt again and then describe it as active, dormant, or extinct.

  • Active: currently erupting or showing signs of erupting soon.
  • Dormant: no current activity, but has erupted recently.
  • Extinct: no activity for some time; will probably not erupt again.


  • Volcanoes are located along convergent and divergent plate boundaries.
  • Magma can be created when temperature rises, pressure lowers, or water is added.
  • Volcanoes may be active, dormant, or extinct depending on whether there is the possibility of magma in their magma chambers.

Making Connections


Use this resource to answer the questions that follow.

http://www.hippocampus.org/Earth%20Science Environmental Science Search: Volcanoes

1. How are volcanoes formed?

2. Where do volcanoes occur?

3. What is the Ring of Fire? Where is it located?

4. Where is Mount St. Helen's located?

5. Where is Mount Pinatubo located?


1. Where do most volcanoes occur? Why?

2. What is needed for magma to form?

3. If a volcano is dormant, can it become active? Can it become extinct?

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active volcano A volcano that is currently erupting or is just about to erupt.
dormant volcano A volcano that is not currently erupting, but that has erupted in the recent past.
extinct volcano A volcano that has not erupted in recorded history, and is unlikely to erupt again.

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Difficulty Level:
At Grade
Date Created:
Feb 24, 2012
Last Modified:
Aug 15, 2016
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