Get our newsletter!
: "One of the most eye-catching guides to the world’s volcanoes ever published.
: Our professional team of volcanologists and photographers offers unique travel opportunities: volcano expeditions, photo tours, and relaxed walking & study tours.
: spaces available / : guaranteed / : few spaces left / : booked out
Maintaining the volcano and earthquake news sections on this website, the free Volcano Webcams tool
and interactive map widget
is a free-time, both time- and server cost intensive effort.
If you find the information useful and would like to support us, and help keep it alive and improve it, please consider making a small donation
. Thank you!
Illustrated Volcano Glossary
Molten rock, called magma, is called lava when it reaches the surface during a volcanic eruption. Depending on how the magma erupts, it can form lava flows, lava fountains, lava lakes, or be fragmented into scoria and ash during explosive eruptions.
In a wider use of the term, also the cooled and solidified products of erupted magma are called lava (in form of coherent lava flows, or fragmented tephra).
Magma when it erupts as lava is almost never a completely molten rock, but contains 3 phases: liquid, solid mineral crystals (xenoliths) and gas bubbles, mainly water and carbon dioxide.
The temperature of erupted lava ranges from around 1200 deg C for basaltic lavas erupted at hot spot volcanoes to less than 600 deg C for the extreme end-member of natrocarbonatite lava.
The chemical compositions of lava encompass a wide range - most importantly, determined by the silica (SIO2) content, normally ranging from about 50 to 75 % for basaltic to rhyolite magma. The more silica lava contains and the cooler it is, the greater its viscosity (resistance to flow), because the silica molecules will try to form clusters that resist movement. Basaltic magmas, with high temperature and low silica content can therefore form fluid lava flows and travel great distances, while the opposite type of magma, rhyolite, tends to form solid plugs that block the vent, and erupt either in form of slow-creeping lava domes, or explode into pumice and ash (if it contains sufficient gas as well).
Along with temperature and composition, the gas content is a key factor to determine the style of an eruption. Dissolved gases such as water vapor and carbon dioxide can form up to 5-7 % of the magma, and when magma approaches the surface, will try to form bubbles and increase the partial pressure. If high viscosity prevents the gasses from erupting during lava fountains or mild strombolian activity, violent explosion takes place in which the magma is fragmented. More explosive eruptions are the result.
These and other factors (e.g. magma supply rate, thickness of crust, presence of ground water etc.) result in an incredibly wide range of physical properties and eruptive behaviors that ultimately determine the individual character of each single volcano.
The word "Lava" comes from the Italian word for stream, which is derived from the verb lavare to wash.
More on VolcanoDiscovery:
Try our new app!
: Volcanoes & Earthquakes - our new free App for Android shows the latest earthquakes and active volcanoes on a map and as list, as well as volcano news from all the world. You can filter the data shown in various ways, e.g. by magnitude or age of earthquakes, the distance from your location, the status of volcanoes and so on.
Fuego volcano photos
: One of Central America's most active volcanoes, Fuego in Guatemala is in near-permanent explosive eruption with intermittent phases of increasing activity that generate lava fountains, lava flows and pyroclastic flows.
Kelut volcano photos
: A new lava dome grew inside the crater lake during the effusive eruption in late 2007, replacing most of the lake. Watch the birth of a new mountain!