What are the main types of volcanoes and their features?

Cambridge iGCSE Geography > The Natural Environment > Earthquakes and Volcanoes > What are the main types of volcanoes and their features?

What are the main types of volcanoes and their features?

A volcano is a cone-shaped landform where molten rock (magma), volcanic ash, and various gases erupt through the Earth’s surface. This typically happens at points where tectonic plates meet and create weaknesses in the Earth’s crust, though volcanoes can also form over mantle plumes or “hotspots.”Volcanoes are fascinating geological formations that have shaped our planet’s landscape, influencing human society and the natural environment.

What are the main features of volcanoes?

The structure of a volcano typically consists of a magma chamber deep underground, a conduit or pipe leading to the surface, and a vent or opening at the surface where eruptions occur. The landform is often shaped like a mountain or hill built from solidified lava and volcanic debris.

Features of Volcanoes

  • Crater: The bowl-shaped opening at the top of a volcano, where eruptions occur.
  • Vent: The channel or opening through which lava and volcanic gases are expelled.
  • Magma Chamber: An underground reservoir containing molten rock, feeding the volcano.
  • Lava Flow: The stream of molten rock that flows out during an eruption.
  • Secondary Cone: Smaller volcanic cones that may develop on the flanks of the main volcano.

What are the different types of volcanoes and their characteristics?

Strato-Volcanoes (Composite Cone Volcanoes):

  • Description: Characterised by their steep slopes, strato-volcanoes consist of alternating layers of lava, ash, and rocks.
  • Eruptions: Often violent and explosive.
  • Location: Commonly found along convergent plate boundaries.
  • Examples: Mount Fuji, Mount St. Helens.

Shield Volcanoes:

  • Description: Recognisable by their gentle slopes, shield volcanoes are mainly built up from successive lava flows.
  • Eruptions: Generally less violent, with a steady flow of lava.
  • Location: Often found at constructive plate margins and volcanic hotspots
  • Examples: Mauna Loa, Kilauea.

Cinder Cone Volcanoes:

  • Description: These smaller and steeply sloped volcanoes are constructed from pyroclastic fragments.
  • Eruptions: Typically brief and explosive.
  • Location: Commonly on the sides of larger volcanoes.
  • Examples: Parícutin, Sunset Crater.

What are the products of volcanic eruptions?

Volcanic eruptions are dynamic geological events that produce various products, each with unique characteristics and implications. Here’s an overview of the main products of volcanic eruptions:

  1. Lava Flows: These streams of molten rock pour out of the volcano’s vent. They can vary in composition, temperature, and viscosity, leading to different types of lava, such as pahoehoe and aa.
  2. Pyroclastic Materials:
    • Ash: Fine particles of volcanic glass, minerals, and rock fragments. Ash can travel vast distances, affecting air quality and depositing layers on the ground.
    • Tephra: Larger volcanic fragments, including cinders, volcanic stones, and bombs, ejected during explosive eruptions.
    • Pyroclastic Flows: Fast-moving, hot clouds of gas, ash, and rock fragments that can flow down the slopes at high speeds, destroying everything in their path.
  3. Volcanic Gases: Volcanoes emit a mixture of gases, including:
    • Water vapour (H2O)
    • Carbon dioxide (CO2)
    • Sulphur dioxide (SO2)
    • Hydrogen chloride (HCl)
  4. Secondary Products:
    • Lahars: Mudflows formed when volcanic ash and debris mix with water, often from melted ice or heavy rainfall. They can be destructive, burying or sweeping away anything in their path.
    • Volcanic Rocks: Various rocks, such as basalt and andesite, are formed from cooled and solidified lava or pyroclastic materials.
  5. Geothermal Features: Volcanic activity can lead to the formation of hot springs, geysers, and fumaroles, where groundwater interacts with magma or hot rocks below the surface.

What are the different states volcanoes can be in?

Volcanoes can be active, dormant or extinct.

  • Active volcanoes have erupted recently and are likely to erupt again.
  • Dormant volcanoes have erupted in the last 2000 years and may erupt again.
  • Extinct volcanoes have not erupted in recent historic times, and there is no evidence of a magma reservoir within the volcano.


  • A volcano is a cone-shaped landform that erupts molten rock, volcanic ash, and gases. Often forms at tectonic plate intersections or over “hotspots”.

  • Volcanoes are characterised by features such as a crater, vent, magma chamber, lava flow, and secondary cones that create a cone-shaped landform.

  • There are three main types: Strato-volcanoes with steep slopes and violent eruptions, shield volcanoes with gentle slopes and less violent eruptions, and cinder cone volcanoes, smaller with brief explosive eruptions.

  • Eruptions yield various products, including lava flows, pyroclastic materials, volcanic gases, and secondary products like lahars and geothermal features.

  • Volcanoes can be classified as active (recent eruptions), dormant (erupted in the last 2000 years and has the potential to erupt again), or extinct (no recent eruptions or magma reservoir).


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