Volcanoes are dramatic evidence of the powerful forces at work inside the Earth. Eruptions of ash, gas and lava destroy entire cities and kill large numbers of people.
Volcanoes also add nutrients to soils, creating perfect conditions for many crops. Some types of volcano make new sections of the tectonic plates that make up the surface of the Earth. Without volcanoes and our planet's plates, the dry land we live on would not be renewed, and weathering and erosion by water, wind and ice would eventually carry it all into the oceans leaving Earth a water world.
Image: The Indonesian volcano Anak Krakatau erupts at night (credit: Getty Images/Tom Pfeiffer/VolcanoDiscovery)
Volcanic activity breathes life into a barren void deep underwater.
he crew was sceptical about reports of colourful communities on these sea mounts, but 1.5km down the combination of a rocky volcanic substrate with a nutrient-rich current leads to a profusion of life. Red is virtually invisible in deep sea, so these extraordinary gardens of red gorgonians and orange sponges are effectively camouflaged.
Aerials of Africa's lowest land point and time-lapse of its most active volcano, Erta Ale.
Wearing gas masks to protect against constant noxious fumes, the crew endured blistering day temperatures of more than 40 degrees. To capture an unusual perspective on this extremely hostile environment, the camera was extended out above the springs on a Jimmy Jib crane. The ever-moving lava lake at Erta Ale was recorded at night using 35mm time-lapse.
In 1815 an Indonesian volcano killed an estimated 200,000 people worldwide.
Dr Iain Stewart visits Mount Tambora, site of the largest known volcanic eruption of the last millennium, on the island of Sumbawa, Indonesia. In 1815 Tambora blasted 50 cubic km of rock high into the atmosphere, leaving an 8km-wide caldera. Falling as ash, the ejected rock stopped crops from photosynthesising. Volcanic debris in the upper atmosphere reflected sunlight back into space and caused global cooling. An estimated 200,000 people worldwide were killed by the eruption itself and famines caused by widespread crop failures.
Lava flows from this spectacular volcano have built the island of Hawaii.
Professor Iain Stewart explains how Mount Kilauea's eruptions of lava have built up the island of Hawaii over millions of years as a magma plume known as a hotspot rises up through the Earth's crust.
Iceland's volcanism is linked to its position on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.
Professor Iain Stewart discusses Iceland's volcanoes, including the massive eruption that created the island of Surtsey in 1963. Iceland's position on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge makes it a volcanically active place.
A volcano is a rupture on the crust of a planetary mass object, such as the Earth, which allows hot lava, volcanic ash, and gases to escape from a magma chamber below the surface.
Earth's volcanoes occur because the planet's crust is broken into 17 major, rigid tectonic plates that float on a hotter, softer layer in the Earth's mantle. Therefore, on Earth, volcanoes are generally found where tectonic plates are diverging or converging. For example, a mid-oceanic ridge, such as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, has volcanoes caused by divergent tectonic plates pulling apart; the Pacific Ring of Fire has volcanoes caused by convergent tectonic plates coming together. Volcanoes can also form where there is stretching and thinning of the crust's interior plates, e.g., in the East African Rift and the Wells Gray-Clearwater volcanic field and Rio Grande Rift in North America. This type of volcanism falls under the umbrella of "plate hypothesis" volcanism. Volcanism away from plate boundaries has also been explained as mantle plumes. These so-called "hotspots", for example Hawaii, are postulated to arise from upwelling diapirs with magma from the core–mantle boundary, 3,000 km deep in the Earth. Volcanoes are usually not created where two tectonic plates slide past one another.
Erupting volcanoes can pose many hazards, not only in the immediate vicinity of the eruption. One such hazard is that volcanic ash can be a threat to aircraft, in particular those with jet engines where ash particles can be melted by the high operating temperature; the melted particles then adhere to the turbine blades and alter their shape, disrupting the operation of the turbine. Large eruptions can affect temperature as ash and droplets of sulfuric acid obscure the sun and cool the Earth's lower atmosphere (or troposphere); however, they also absorb heat radiated up from the Earth, thereby warming the upper atmosphere (or stratosphere). Historically, so-called volcanic winters have caused catastrophic famines.