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Volcanic Landforms Lesson for Kids: Definition & Facts

Instructor: Jenna Conan

Jenna is a fourth grade teacher with a master's degree in instructional design and an undergraduate degree in elementary education.

In this lesson, you'll learn about volcanic landforms. Read on to find out more about how volcanoes form and erupt and their major types of landforms, including lava domes and plateaus, calderas, and craters.

What Is a Volcano?

Did you know that the world has over 1,500 active volcanoes? And that's not including the tens of thousands of active volcanoes on the ocean floor! The word volcano comes from ''Vulcan,'' the name of the Roman god of fire.

A volcano is an opening in the Earth's surface that releases gas, hot magma, and ash. Volcanoes form over a very long period of time. When the magma, or hot fluid material from below the surface of the Earth, comes to the surface, the volcano erupts.

The magma, or liquid rock, coming out of the volcano is called lava. Eventually, the lava cools down and hardens, mixing with ash and creating new land. Over the course of many years and many explosions, the volcano gets bigger and bigger.

Lava pouring out of volcano
Lava Pouring Out of Volcano

Why Do Volcanoes Erupt?

According to scientific theory, volcanoes usually erupt for one of two reasons: plate tectonics or hotspots. The Earth is made up of tectonic plates, or giant pieces of the Earth's crust, that sit on top of the other layers of Earth and fit together like a puzzle. But sometimes the plates move. This movement causes friction, which can lead to volcanic eruptions or earthquakes.

Another reason that volcanoes can form is because of a hotspot. A hotspot is a place where extra magma is created in the Earth, which causes the outer layer of the Earth's surface to thin and allows the magma inside to escape to the surface. Hotspots can develop underneath oceans or continents - this is how the Hawaiian Islands were formed! The Hawaiian hotspot has been active for at least 70 million years and has led to a chain of volcanoes as the tectonic plate on top of the hotspot has moved.

What Are Cinder Cones?

Cinder cones are circular or oval cones made up of small fragments of lava that have blown into the air, cooled, and fallen. They are often small with steep sides and can be found on the sides of other types of volcanoes. The lava erupts from a vent in the crust and sprays melted rock fragments into the air.

What Are Volcanic Craters & Calderas?

A volcanic crater is a bowl-shaped formation at the top of a volcano. Volcanic craters can fill with water and form a lake.

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