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Learn about volcanoes, including composite and shield volcanoes and the causes and effects of a volcanic eruption.

This lessons includes:

  • one short news clip about Iceland’s volcanic landscape

  • a case study of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano

  • two activities to build your knowledge


A volcano is an opening in the Earth's crust. It allows hot magma, ash and gases to escape from below the surface. Volcanoes have several key features:

A cross-section diagram of a volcano showing hot magma, ash and gases to escape from below the surface.
  • Magma chamber - large underground pool of magma
  • Lava - magma, once it reaches the surface
  • Crater - bowl-shaped basin in the top of the volcano
  • Vent - central tube which magma travels through
  • Secondary cones - eruptions from other vents may build up secondary cones on the flanks
  • Ash, steam and gas - material thrown out by the volcano
  • Volcanic bombs - larger material thrown out by the force of eruption

Types of volcano

There are two types of volcano, composite and shield.

Composite volcanoes are steep-sided and cone-shaped, made up of layers of ash and lava and containing sticky lava which doesn't flow very far.

Mount Etna in Italy is a composite volcano.

Shield volcanoes have gently sloping sides and runny lava that covers a wide area. Gases escape very easily from shield volcanoes.

Mauna Loa in Hawaii is a shield volcano.

Volcano types

Composite volcanoes are steep and made from layers of ash and lava.

Composite volcanoes are steep and made from layers of ash and lava.

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Case study: Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano

In April 2010 the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland erupted.

Facts about the eruption

  • The eruption started on 20 March.
  • A 500 metre fissure, a crack in the land formed by tectonic activity such as earthquakes, opened up.
  • The eruption happened underneath an ice sheet, a large, permanent area of ice.
  • Dissolved gases in the molten rock along with steam generated from the melting ice caused a large column of volcanic ash to rise into the sky.

Effects of the eruption within Iceland

  • Areas were flooded by water from a melting glacier on top of the volcano.
  • Agricultural land was damaged by falling ash.
  • The ash also poisoned animals in nearby farms.
  • Some roads were destroyed.
  • People were asked to stay indoors because of the ash in the air.

Effects of the eruption within Europe

  • Travel was severely disrupted between 14 and 21 April 2010. Many flights were cancelled due to the ash cloud.
  • Because of this, many airlines lost huge amounts of money, people were stranded, and businesses lost trade.
  • This was made worse because the disruption was during the Easter holidays, when levels of tourism are high.
  • Perishable foods which go off over time were wasted as they could not be transported.

Watch this short clip from BBC News about Eyjafjallajokull and how the eruption was thought to be a precursor to a major eruption elsewhere in Iceland.

Ash cloud above Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland.
Find out more about Eyjafjallajokull and Iceland's volcanic landscape.


There are lots of fun things to do to help you remember what you've learnt about volcanoes.

Here are a few you could try.

Activity 1

Label the cross-section of a volcano

For this activity you will need scissors.

Cut out the cards and match the key word with its definition. Use the key words to to label the cross-section of a volcano.

Download the activity sheet below provided by Teachit.

Label the volcano activity sheet

Activity 2

Volcanoes quiz

How much have you learnt about volcanoes? Test your knowledge with the quiz below provided by SAM Learning.

Volcanoes quiz

Where next?

In this lesson you have learnt about volcanoes.

Click on the link below to find out more:

BBC Bitesize: Case study of Nyiragongo volcanic eruption

There's more to learn

Have a look at these other resources around the BBC and the web.

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