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Science Behind Volcanoes

Dr. Abhinandan Bhardwaj PhD


What Are Volcanoes?
In reality, volcanoes are vents in the Earth’s surface from which molten rock called lava is released. There are around 1900 active volcanoes around the world, including those that have been active in historical times. Ninety percent (90%) of these are located along what we call the “Ring of Fire,” which is a band of volcanoes circling the edges of the Pacific Ocean.

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How Volcanoes are formed?
Most volcanoes are formed at the Earth’s plate boundaries, areas where huge slabs of rock meet in the lithosphere, the planet’s outer shell. As these land plates move and interact, they trigger a gradual series of events that can end with explosions. These events can happen slowly or really quick, and either the volcano grows from inside or it builds up as it adds layers of lava and ash outside of the volcano.


How Volcanoes Erupts?
Volcanoes erupt when magma, the molten rock deep in the Earth’s crust, rises towards the surface since its intense temperature creates pressure on the magma to push upwards. As magma comes out halfway along the volcano’s vent, it is called lava.

As lava rises, dissolved gases and rocks are collected along the way. Once the lava reaches the top, it causes the volcano to erupt, blasting lava, rocks, and dust clouds across great distances. The lava is so hot, it burns everything that crosses its path until it slowly cools and hardens to become rocks or part of the volcano.


Where do volcanoes occur?

Volcano and earthquake risk maps overlap considerably. Along portions of the western edge of North America, oceanic crust is sliding under continental crust this  process is called as subduction. Volcanic activity is common here, as is evident by the volcanic mountains of the Cascade, Sierra Nevada, and Coast Ranges. The western states where these ranges are found, including California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, Yukon Territory, and Alaska, are all at risk of volcanic eruptions. In most of the areas, only one or two volcanic eruptions are expected in any century. Continuing south, volcanoes are found along Baja California and western Mexico.

In the rest of the world, three regions in particular are at significant risk of volcanic activity:

The Pacific Rim  is also known as the "Ring of Fire" due to its extensive history of volcanic eruptions. Many countries around the Rim are at great risk of volcanic eruptions. In the east, these include Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, New Guinea, New Zealand, and many of the South Pacific Islands. In South America, all west coast countries (Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Columbia) lie in the shadow of the explosive Andean Mountain Range volcanoes.

The Mediterranean and Middle East regions including the countries of Italy, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Pakistan have been plagued by volcanic eruptions throughout history.

The Great Rift Valley in eastern Africa has many volcanoes found in the countries of Ethiopia and Kenya.

The most active volcano in the World is Stromboli, in the Mediterranean Sea, which has been erupting almost continuously for approximately 2000 years.


Can Volcanoes be predicted?

Like earthquakes, volcanic eruptions cannot be predicted.  Unlike earthquakes, no structure can be made to be "volcano-resistant." Some volcanoes are almost continuously eruptive, which can serve as a deterrent to living or working near them. Other volcanoes are only active over very long periods of time, at least on human time scales. In areas where such volcanoes are found, most people perceive little or no threat from the volcanoes. Here, mitigation is entirely dependent on careful monitoring and warning systems to alert people of an impending eruption. With technologies such as tilt meters, strain meters, and GPS, volcanic eruptions can sometimes be predicted months in advance. Although monitoring and warning systems can save lives, they often cannot save property, crops, or livestock.

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