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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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Cities

Ranked: The Cities with the Most Skyscrapers in 2023

We rank the world’s leading cities with the most skyscrapers, highlighting China’s remarkable dominance in building vertically.

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Ranked: The Cities with the Most Skyscrapers in 2023

When it comes to soaring skylines and architectural marvels, no country has embraced the vertical revolution quite like China.

In this graphic, which uses data from the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), we reveal the 25 cities with the most skyscrapers and supertall buildings globally.

Unsurprisingly, China’s cities dominate the list, solidifying the country’s reputation as a global powerhouse of tall buildings.

The 25 Top Cities by Skyscraper Count

Topping the charts is Hong Kong, with an impressive 657 skyscrapers, including six supertalls (buildings over 300 meters tall).

RankCityCountrySkyscrapers (>150m)Supertalls (>300m)
1Hong Kong🇨🇳 China6576
2Shenzhen🇨🇳 China51316
3New York City🇺🇸 United States42116
4Dubai🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates39528
5Guangzhou🇨🇳 China25411
6Shanghai🇨🇳 China2505
7Kuala Lumpur🇲🇾 Malaysia2115
8Chongqing🇨🇳 China2055
9Tokyo🇯🇵 Japan2000
10Wuhan🇨🇳 China1835
11Chicago🇺🇸 United States1787
12Jakarta🇮🇩 Indonesia1601
13Chengdu🇨🇳 China1500
14Bangkok🇹🇭 Thailand1333
15Shenyang🇨🇳 China1293
16Singapore🇸🇬 Singapore1280
17Nanning🇨🇳 China1226
18Mumbai🇮🇳 India1140
19Tianjin🇨🇳 China1093
20Nanjing🇨🇳 China1087
21Toronto🇨🇦 Canada1060
22Busan🇰🇷 South Korea1064
23Seoul🇰🇷 South Korea1042
24Changsha🇨🇳 China975
25Melbourne🇦🇺 Australia941

Hong Kong, along with Shenzhen (#2), and Guangzhou (#5) are part of the burgeoning megacity known as the Pearl River Delta, which is home to over 1,500 skyscrapers. This is even more impressive when considering that Shenzhen was a small fishing village until the 1970s.

New York City secures the third position on the list, boasting an impressive tally of 421 skyscrapers. Although it may have relinquished its title to Chinese cities, the city’s skyline endures as a globally renowned symbol, prominently featuring the iconic Empire State Building. Notably, while the Empire State Building enjoys widespread familiarity, it no longer ranks among the world’s 50 tallest structures.

Rounding out the top five is Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, which grabs the fourth position with 395 skyscrapers, a staggering 28 of which are supertalls. This desert oasis has become synonymous with grandiose architecture and record-breaking structures, exemplified by the Burj Khalifa, which is the world’s current tallest building at 828 meters (2,715 ft).

China’s Numbers in Context

Looking at this data from another perspective, China actually has more skyscrapers on this list than the rest of the world combined.

CountryCities in Top 25SkyscrapersSupertalls
🇨🇳 China12277772
🌐 Rest of World13235067

China’s rapid urbanization, economic growth, and ambitious construction projects have fueled this impressive feat. There’s no doubt that the country’s relentless pursuit of vertical development, coupled with its booming population and thriving cities, has positioned China as the unrivaled leader in the global skyscraper race.

The Future of the Global Skyline

As the world continues to reach new heights in architectural marvels, there are even more supertall skyscrapers in the pipeline that will reshape skylines across the globe.

From the soaring Jeddah Tower in Saudi Arabia, poised to surpass the Burj Khalifa as the world’s tallest building, to the remarkable Merdeka 118 in Kuala Lumpur, which is set to claim the title of the world’s second-tallest structure when it opens in June 2023, these projects will captivate city dwellers for years to come.

Even as these new monumental buildings rise, China’s prominence in the world of skyscrapers—with three cities in the top five globally—is likely to remain unchallenged.

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