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Cinder Cone Volcano: Definition, Facts & Examples

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  • 0:02 Definition
  • 0:35 Facts
  • 2:33 Examples
  • 4:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Suzanne Rebert

Suzanne has taught college economics, geography, and statistics, and has master's degrees in agricultural economics and marine affairs (marine resource management).

If you close your eyes and imagine a typical volcano, chances are you're thinking of a cinder cone. In this lesson, you'll find out how cinder cones grow, and learn about examples of this common landform.

Definition

A cinder cone, also called a scoria cone, is a volcano composed of volcanic cinders (scoria), or small, rough particles of hardened lava. When lava that is highly charged with gas bubbles erupts from a vent under pressure, it tends to shoot straight up into the air. This effect is called a fire fountain, and it can sometimes be hundreds of meters high.

Blobs of the frothy lava break apart, cool quickly, and fall relatively close to the vent. Over time, a cone-shaped hill builds up around a circular crater.

Facts

Cinder cones are the simplest and most common type of volcano. They can develop as free-standing volcanoes, but can also grow around new vents on the slopes of existing shield volcanoes or stratovolcanoes.

Because the cinders that make up a cinder cone have already solidified by the time they hit the ground, the cone is just a pile of loose particles, pretty much like a sand dune - not cemented together by flowing lava. However, because each cinder has rough, jagged edges, the particles tend to lock together, and the pile is relatively stable at the angle of repose, about 33 degrees. But it's not strong enough or dense enough to support the quieter, 'un-fizzy' lava that emerges later in the eruption, so that lava often flows out under the base of the cinder cone and forms a smooth 'pad' for it to sit on.

Cinder cones can grow quickly, but they don't become giants. Big for a cinder cone is just a few hundred meters high. But cinder cones often 'piggyback' on much larger volcanoes.

Cinder cones are a 'friendly face' of volcanic activity - their fire-fountain eruptions are beautiful and dramatic, and because their lava tends to fall straight down and cool quickly, they don't endanger thousands of lives or lay waste to vast areas. It can be relatively safe to view these eruptions close-up - of course, with any erupting volcano, 'relatively' is an important word.

A cinder cone looks smooth and inviting to climb, and the view from the top can be great! But unless you stick to an established trail, make sure you have the right footwear. Scoria particles are glassy and sharp and will tear up your flip-flops in no time. Sturdy hiking boots are best. Also, it's smart to wear tough clothing that will give you some protection if you fall. A cinder cone may look a lot like a sand dune, but its harsh surface is no fun at all to roll down!

Examples

Paricutin, born in 1943, is probably the world's most famous cinder cone. It started as a mysterious cloud of ash and small rocks in Dionisio Pulido's cornfield in Michoacán state, Mexico. He and his wife were working there at the time but, fortunately, were able to get away. Over time, the volcano grew, attracting many curious visitors, including geologists. Although it eventually grew so large that the village had to be abandoned, the growth of the young volcano was slow enough that people had time to move away. No one died from the eruption itself, although three people were struck and killed by lightning from an ash cloud. By the time it stopped erupting in 1952 - nine years later - Paricutin's summit rose 424 meters above its original cornfield home.

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