Let’s learn about volcanoes

These vents into the Earth’s crust expose its melted heart

a photo of a volcano erupting with red hot lava pouring down the sides

This is a volcano erupting in Ecuador.

pxhidalgo/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Walking around on the surface of the Earth every day, it’s easy to forget that a superhot pool of melted rock lies deep beneath our feet. Volcanoes are here to remind us.

Volcanoes are channels where melted rock, ash and gas can rise to the surface.

The Earth has around 1,500 potentially active volcanoes. Many of them are found along the edge of the Pacific Ocean, an area called the Ring of Fire. This is where many of the planet’s tectonic plates meet. These huge slabs, which make up Earth’s outer layer, crash into and slide over each other in extreme slow motion. When they do, they can raise up mountains, cause earthquakes — and open up volcanoes.

Huge volcanic explosions can wipe out ecosystems. They can build new land. And the biggest ones can change the Earth’s climate. The clouds of ash they throw up can cool the whole planet for years at a time. Some scientists thought that huge volcanic explosions might have cooled the planet and helped kill off the dinosaurs. But new evidence suggests that probably wasn’t true.

Volcanoes aren’t just on Earth. Other planets — such as Venus — might have them too.

Want to know more? We’ve got some stories to get you started:

After erupting, one volcano sings a unique ‘song’: The low-frequency sound ebbs and flows with the whooshing of air inside the crater (7/25/2018) Readability: 8.6

Giant volcanoes lurk beneath Antarctic ice: The expanse of buried volcanoes raises questions about the future of the ice sheet (1/5/2018) Readability: 7.6

Study appears to rule out volcanic burps as causing dino die-offs: When toxic gases would have been spewed does not match when extinctions occurred (3/2/2020) Readability: 8.2

Explore more

Scientists Say: Ring of Fire

Explainer: The volcano basics

Explainer: Understanding plate tectonics

Cool Jobs: Getting to know volcanoes

Did rain put the Kilauea volcano’s lava-making into overdrive?

World’s biggest volcano is hiding under the sea

Word find

It’s a classic! The Natural History Museum in London, England offers a guide to making your own model volcano at home.

Bethany Brookshire was a longtime staff writer at Science News Explores and is the author of the book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology and likes to write about neuroscience, biology, climate and more. She thinks Porgs are an invasive species.

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