Volcanic Landforms: Types & Formation

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  • 0:06 Volcanoes
  • 0:57 Volcano Features
  • 2:05 Fissure Eruption
  • 2:55 Craters & Caldera
  • 4:28 Lava Dome & Lava Plateau
  • 5:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
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.

Volcanic eruptions pull materials up from deep within the earth to form various volcanic landforms, such as lava domes, lava plateaus, fissure eruptions, craters and calderas. Learn about these volcanic landforms and how they are created.


Whether you are young or old, there is no doubt that volcanoes are pretty cool natural events - or should I say pretty hot events, since magma that forms under the earth's crust can reach temperatures of around 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit?

Magma is the hot molten rock that builds in pressure and explodes from the volcano as lava. So a volcanic eruption is a way for the earth to blow off a little steam and at the same time pull materials from deeper layers of the earth to form new crust on the surface. The way a volcano erupts and the materials that make up the magma and lava of a particular volcano have a lot to do with the formation of the volcanic landforms, such as craters, calderas, lava domes and lava plateaus. Let's take a closer look at these features and how they are formed.

Various landforms caused by volcanoes
Landform Volcanic

Volcano Features

Volcanoes come in all shapes and sizes. Some volcanoes form majestic mountains, like Mt. Rainier in Washington State, and others have a very low, broad profile. The Hawaiian Islands are actually the tops of low-profile volcanoes that formed on the ocean basin.

Still, most volcanoes share some similar features. For example, if we take a look inside a volcano, we notice it sits on top of a magma chamber, which is an area below the earth's surface where magma gathers and builds in pressure. The magma chamber leads to a volcanic pipe, which is also called a volcanic conduit. This is the passageway within a volcano leading from the magma chamber to the surface. At the surface, the magma, along with dissolved gases, exits the volcano through a vent.

Volcanic Pipe
Volcano Pipe

The features of volcanoes are easy to remember if you relate them to the hot water heater supply in your house, whereas the magma chamber is like your hot water heater and the volcanic pipe is like the pipe that carries the hot water to your showerhead.

Fissure Eruption

Of course, there's always an exception to any rule, and we see that not all volcanoes erupt through a top vent; some volcanoes are nothing more than a crack in the earth's surface. A fissure eruption is a volcanic eruption from a fracture in the earth's surface rather than a volcanic vent. With a fissure eruption, magma finds its way to the earth's surface through a crack in the ground.

Fissure Eruption
Eruption Fissure Type

This crack may be the result of the movement of tectonic plates, which are large sections of the earth's crust. Since these plates meet at boundaries that are both on land as well as the ocean basins, we can see fissure eruptions under ocean waters. As the magma seeps through cracks in the ocean floor, the lava hardens, helping to build underwater mountains and new segments of ocean floor.

Tectonic Plates
Plates Tectonic


On many volcanoes, there is a crater, which is a bowl-shaped depression at the top of a volcano caused by past volcanic eruptions. Craters can be thought of as the volcano 'blowing its lid' because it is where volcanic materials, such as ash, lava and rock fragments, are released. A volcanic crater is relatively small, usually spanning about a half a mile in diameter or less, and can fill with water to form a crater lake.

Crater caused by a volcano
Crater Volcano


As we mentioned, a volcano sits on top of a magma chamber. If a volcanic eruption causes the magma chamber to empty, the volcano can implode, forming a larger depression known as a caldera. So a caldera can be defined as a large volcanic crater formed by the collapse of the central part of the volcano.

Caldera Example
Example Caldera

The term 'caldera' comes from the Latin language and means 'cooking pot.' While a caldera would make an awfully big pot of soup, you can see how the large bowl shape of a caldera, along with the smoky look of the ash cloud rising above it after an eruption, could prompt the name.

Ash cloud above a Caldera
Sample two caldera

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