Shield Volcano Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

You've probably seen a picture of a tall, explosive volcano, but you might mistake this volcano for a low mountain. A shield volcano has long, gently sloping sides and a lava flow that spills, instead of explodes.

What is a Shield Volcano?

Let's say your teacher assigns you a project that involves building a volcano. How fun! You race home, sit down with a pile of clay, and start shaping your volcano into a tall, steep peak. It looks great, and you can't wait to show it to your teacher, but before you can get a container to hold your masterpiece, tragedy strikes as the walls of your volcano collapsed! Your tall, thin volcano is now a low, dome-shaped volcano. Do you know how you can still earn an A on your assignment? Tell your teacher you made a shield volcano!

Shield volcanoes are found all over the world; in fact, the main islands of Hawaii are giant shield volcanoes that formed under the water.

What Do They Look Like?

A shield volcano has long, gently sloping sides. If you look at one from the land, you might think it looks like a low mountain or high hill. If you were to fly over the top of one, you might think it looks like a warrior's shield, which is how this volcano got its name.

This shield volcano in the Galapagos Islands looks like a low mountain.
Shield Volcano Galapagos

Shield volcanoes might not be tall, but they are wide. The width of a shield volcano is often about 20 times its height. This flattened shape is due, in part, to the watery lava, or hot molten rock, that flows out of them.

The lava flow from this shield volcano looks like a red river.
shield volcano lava

Because the lava is not very thick, it tends to run out in all different directions. Think of a shield volcano's lava as milk spilling from a glass, and lava from other volcanoes as slow-flowing molasses. The fluid lava can travel a longer distance before it cools and hardens, which keeps it from piling into tall mounds.

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