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Explainer: The Different Types of Volcanoes on Earth

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Infographic explaining how volcanoes are formed and different types

Explainer: The Different Types of Volcanoes on Earth

Even if you don’t live near a volcano, you’ve been impacted by their activity.

It’s estimated that more than 80% of our planet’s surface has been shaped by volcanic activity. They’ve helped create our mountain ranges, plains, and plateaus, and have even helped fertilize the land that we now use to grow crops.

These critical mounds come in many shapes and sizes. This graphic by Giulia De Amicis provides a brief introduction to volcanoes, explaining their different types of shapes and eruptions.

Types of Eruptions

A volcano starts to form when molten rock rises from a crack in the Earth’s surface, which often emerge along tectonic plate boundaries.

Magma rises to the Earth’s surface because it’s lighter than rock. When it surfaces or erupts, it’s referred to as lava.

There are various types of volcanic eruptions, depending on the lava’s temperature, thickness, and composition. Generally speaking, high gas content and high ​​viscosity lead to explosive eruptions, while low viscosity and gas content lead to an effusive, or steadily flowing, eruption.

The Four Main Types of Volcanoes

Volcanoes vary in size and structure, depending on how they’re formed. Most volcanoes types fall into four main groups:

Shield Volcanoes

Shield volcanoes are built slowly, from low-viscosity lava that spreads far and quick. The lava eventually dries to form a thin, wide sheet, and after repeated eruptions, a mount starts to form.

From the top, these types of volcanoes look like a shield, hence the name. While these volcanoes take a while to form, they aren’t necessarily low. In fact, the world’s tallest active volcano, Mauna Kea in Hawaii, is a shield volcano.

Stratovolcanoes

Also known as composite volcanoes, stratovolcanoes are built relatively fast, at least compared to shield volcanoes. This is because, in between lava eruptions, composite volcanoes emit ash and rock, which helps add structure to the mound rather quickly.

Some well-known composite volcanoes are Mount Fuji in Japan, Mount St. Helens in Washington, and Mount Cotopaxi in Ecuador.

Volcanic Domes

Opposite to shield volcanoes, volcanic domes are formed when lava is highly-viscous. Because the thick lava can’t travel very far, it starts to pool around the volcano’s vent.

This can sometimes create a pressure build-up, meaning dome volcanoes are prone to explosive eruptions.

Cinder Cones

These types of volcanoes typically don’t release lava. Rather, their eruptions typically emit volcanic ash and rocks, known as pyroclastic products.

Cinder cones are characterized by a bowl-shaped crater at the top, and usually don’t exceed 400 m (1,312 ft) in height.

How Volcanoes Benefit the Earth

Volcanoes have a number of ecological benefits. Once broken down, volcanic materials create exceptionally fertile soil, which can help build prospering new habitats for animals and plants.

Volcanic eruptions can also help cool our climate. When a volcano explodes, ash and sulfur gas from the eruption combine with water droplets and get trapped in the atmosphere for years. This has a cooling effect which is extremely beneficial to us, especially given our current global warming situation.

Dr. Tracy Gregg, associate professor for the University at Buffalo’s geology department, told Accuweather that “volcanoes have actually helped to keep the world about 2 to 3 degrees cooler than it otherwise may be.”

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This article was published as a part of Visual Capitalist's Creator Program, which features data-driven visuals from some of our favorite Creators around the world.

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Personal Finance

Mapped: The Income a Family Needs to Live Comfortably in Every U.S. State

Families in expensive states require over $270,000 annually to live comfortably.

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A map showing the income that two working adults with two children need to live comfortably in each U.S. state.

The Income a Family Needs to Live Comfortably in Every U.S. State

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Families in the top five most expensive U.S. states require an annual income exceeding $270,000 to live comfortably.

This visualization illustrates the income necessary for two working adults with two children to maintain a comfortable lifestyle in each state.

“Comfortable” is defined as the income needed to cover a 50/30/20 budget, with 50% allocated to necessities like housing and utilities, 30% to discretionary spending, and 20% to savings or investments.

The calculations for family income needed in each state were done by SmartAsset, using the cost of necessities sourced from the MIT Living Wage Calculator, last updated on Feb. 14, 2024.

Massachusetts Tops the List

Massachusetts is the most expensive state to live comfortably in, requiring a total family income of about $301,184. Hawaii ($294,611) comes in second, followed by Connecticut ($279,885).

Housing is one main reason Massachusetts is an expensive state to live in, particularly in the Boston area. In addition, the state also has a high cost of living, including expenses such as healthcare and utilities.

RankStateIncome for 2 working adults raising 2 children
1Massachusetts$301,184
2Hawaii$294,611
3Connecticut$279,885
4New York$278,970
5California$276,723
6Colorado$264,992
7Washington$257,421
8Oregon$257,338
9New Jersey$251,181
10Rhode Island$249,267
11Vermont$248,352
12Minnesota$244,774
13New Hampshire$244,109
14Alaska$242,611
15Maryland$239,450
16Nevada$237,286
17Virginia$235,206
18Illinois$231,962
19Arizona$230,630
20Pennsylvania$230,464
21Maine$229,549
22Delaware$228,966
23Wisconsin$225,056
24Utah$218,483
25Michigan$214,490
26Nebraska$213,075
27Georgia$212,826
28Montana$211,411
28Iowa$211,411
30Idaho$211,245
31North Carolina$209,331
31Ohio$209,331
33Florida$209,082
34Indiana$206,003
35New Mexico$203,923
36Wyoming$203,424
37Missouri$202,259
38North Dakota$202,176
39Texas$201,344
40South Carolina$200,762
41Kansas$196,768
42Tennessee$195,770
43Oklahoma$194,106
44Alabama$193,606
45South Dakota$192,608
46Kentucky$190,112
47Louisiana$189,613
48West Virginia$189,363
49Arkansas$180,794
50Mississippi$177,798

Meanwhile, Mississippi is the least expensive state for a family to live comfortably, requiring $177,798 per year. Arkansas ($180,794) comes in second, followed by West Virginia ($189,363). In common, all these states share low prices of housing.

Learn More About Cost of Living From Visual Capitalist

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out this graphic, which ranks the median down payment for a house by U.S. state.

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