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In this lesson, you’ll be learning about volcanoes in the world still erupting today.

We’ll look at some of the most active volcanoes, examining the physical characteristics and behavior of one on each continent.

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What Are Volcanoes?

Imagine a volcano eruption. Hot lava spews down the sides of a towering cone, in stark contrast to hard, dark, volcanic rock. Although you might be picturing this scene in a prehistoric forest or an African savanna, volcanoes erupt on every continent, even Antarctica.Volcanoes erupt in national parks, highly populated cities, deserts and jungles. These volcanoes are called active volcanoes and have erupted at least once in the past 10,000 years. Today, we’ll be looking at seven examples, one on each continent, as well as the Pacific islands.

Europe: Mount Etna

The beautiful backdrop of Italy continues to light up with fragments of molten rock, lava and smoke from Europe’s highest volcano, Mount Etna. This volcano towers over Catania in Sicily at just under 11,000 feet, and has been erupting since 1500 BC. The volcano also erupts frequently today, with the most recent activity recorded in August 2016.

Mount Etna in the background.

Mount Etna is a type of volcano called a stratovolcano, which rises like a sharp cone from the ground, due to multiple layers of hardened lava, ash, and other materials.

These are the type of volcanoes you probably picture reading this article. With steep sides creating a pyramid structure, these volcanoes tower in the background.

Pacific Islands: Kilauea

Picture the beautiful Hawaiian islands. Soft, black sand beaches are dotted with vacationers, with pink hibiscus bushes in the brush. What makes the sand that special black color? It actually comes from volcanic rock that has been eroded into sand over millions of years.

The Hawaiian islands are actually created from volcanic eruptions themselves. Located in the Pacific Ocean in the ring of fire, they sit along a tectonic plate boundary that causes volcanic eruptions and earthquakes all along the Pacific rim. Many active volcanoes are located in this region.

Pacific ring of fire
ring of fire

The Big Island of Hawaii is home to Volcano National Park and hosts the most active volcano in the world, Kilauea.

This volcano is a shield volcano – it has a domed shaped with gently sloping sides. It produces highly viscous lava that runs over the sides, giving the volcano a low profile.

Antarctica: Erebus

Although the beautiful islands of the Pacific are warm and tropical, colder climates host volcanoes as well. Mount Erebus towers almost 12,500 feet in Ross Island in Antarctica, the most southern volcano on Earth.

Ice caves of Mount Erebus
ice caves

The sides are covered with ice and snow despite the molten rock escaping from time to time. Steam often can be seen rising out of vents, carving out ice caves.

This volcano is both a shield volcano (at the bottom) and a stratovolcano (the upper portion). At the top, a boiling lava lake clocking in at over 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit fills the crater, belching out bubbles of lava!

Asia: Merapi

A tropical stratovolcano called Mount Merapi towers over the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta in Java at about 9,700 feet. This stratovolcano erupted last in 2010, but has seen seismic activity, or movement of the tectonic plates underneath it, more recently.

The lower areas of the cone are covered in dense jungle which disappears as you approach the rocky summit.

Mount Merapi

Merapi is known for intense pyroclastic flows, a dense mass of hot ash, pumice, rock fragments, thick lava, and volcanic gases that explode from the mountain and travel incredibly quickly.

Pyroclastic flows are very dangerous and many eruptions of Merpai have resulted in deaths.

South America: Reventador

East of the capitol of Ecuador, Quito, lies an explosive stratovolcano, Mount Reventador. Also formed by the ring of fire, this massive, cone-shaped volcano rises above the remote western jungles of the Amazon.Scientists have recorded activity as recently as August 2016, where the volcano shook with seismic activity and produced explosions. It is the most active volcano in the Cordillera Real Range in the Andes and rises to over 11,600 feet.

North America: Mount Rainier

In the distance of Seattle lies Mount Rainier, easily viewed from any part of the city.

This giant peak is the highest in the Cascade range at just over 14,400 ft to the summit. It towers so high that the peaks are covered in ice and glaciers.Despite these dangerous conditions, many people hike and climb Mount Rainier each year. Although this stratovolcano shows no signs of an eruption right now, scientists classify it as an active volcano, simply enjoying the time in between eruptions.

Mount Rainier at sunset
Mount Rainier

Africa: Nyamuragira

Africa has some of the most active volcanoes in the world. Deep in the jungles of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a slow rising shield volcano called Nyamuragira erupts every two years.

The volcanic eruptions are similar to other shield volcanoes in Hawaii, producing smooth lava flows and fountains that roll down the shallow sides.There is little damage to humans from the volcano, despite its frequent eruptions every two years, possibly because of its location in the dense jungle, away from cities and villages.

Lesson Summary

Active volcanoes are volcanoes that have erupted at least once in the past 10,000 years. Today, active volcanoes are erupting as we speak on every continent of the globe.

Stratovolcanoes (composite cones):

  • Mount Etna is located in Sicily, Italy, and has erupted as recently as August 2016, but also has a long history of eruptions.
  • Although Mount Rainier has not erupted recently, scientists still consider it a high threat. Towering over the Cascade mountain range in Washington, it’s covered in ice and glaciers.
  • East of Quito Ecuador lies Mount Reventador, which was active very recently and shook with seismic activity and explosions.

  • In Indonesia, Mount Merapi produces dense, pyroclastic flows that kill people living nearby during every eruption.

Shield volcanoes (dome-shaped):

  • The Pacific Islands were made from the ring of fire, an active region of volcanoes. Kilauea, on the Big Island of Hawaii, erupts consistently.

  • In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nyamuragira erupts every two years, producing viscous lava.

Mount Erebus is in Antarctica and is the southern most volcano on Earth. It’s bottom half is a shield volcano and its top half is a stratovolcano!

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