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Volcanoes & Volcanology

Volcanoes are a natural consequence of plate tectonics and mantle convection. Tectonic plates, sinking into the mantle at their edges (a process known as subduction, produce frictional heating as they grind against one another. This heating, together with the heat of the mantle, melts crustal rock which combines with mantle rock. Once the rock has melted, lighter, less dense components separate out and rise toward the surface.

As the lighter melted material slowly rises, it penetrates into the Earth’s crust, eventually pooling beneath the Earth’s surface to form magma chambers. When one of these chambers breaches the crustal surface (lithosphere), a volcano is born. Another mechanism capable of producing a volcano is a mantle plume. Mantle plumes are massive ascending currents within the Earth’s mantle. These create hot spots within the lithosphere where the plumes create huge upwelling magma chambers. As the tectonic plates move over the relatively stationary plumes (a process that occurs over millions of years), a string of volcanoes (such as the Hawaiian Islands) or calderas (such as Yellowstone) are formed.

Follow links to the right to learn more about volcanoes and volcanology. At the left margin, Related Links address topics of interest pertaining to volcanoes, including volcanic hazards such as lahars — dangerous flows of mud and debris resulting from volcanic eruptions — and pyroclastic flows — even more deadly eruptions of hot gas and rock. View the Technology & Science SiteMap for a complete list of our technology and science-related topics.

See Tech, Science & Engineering Jobs and Earth & Space Sciences Jobs if you are seeking a career in volcanology or volcano research.

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