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Essay About Volcanoes

A volcano is a mountain with a hole where lava (hot, liquid rock) comes from a magma chamber under the ground.[1]

Most volcanoes have a volcanic crater at the top. When a volcano is active, materials come out of it. The materials include lava, steam, gaseous sulfur compounds, ash and broken rock pieces.

When there is enough pressure, the volcano erupts. Some volcanic eruptions blow off the top of the volcano. The magma comes out, sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly. Some eruptions come out at a side instead of the top.

Volcanoes are found on planets other than Earth. An example is Olympus Mons on Mars.

Volcanologists are scientists who study volcanoes using methods from geology, chemistry, geography, mineralogy, physics and sociology.

Types of volcanoes

The lava and pyroclastic material (clouds of ash, lava fragments and vapor) that comes out from volcanoes can make many different kinds of land shapes. There are two basic kinds of volcanoes.

Shield volcanoes

These volcanoes are formed by fluid low-silicamafic lava.

Shield volcanoes are built out of layers of lava from continual eruptions (without explosions). Because the lava is so fluid, it spreads out, often over a wide area. Shield volcanoes do not grow to a great height, and the layers of lava spread out to give the volcano gently sloping sides. Shield volcanoes can produce huge areas of basalt, which is usually what lava is when cooled.

The base of the volcano increases in size over successive eruptions where solidified lava spreads out and accumulates. Some of the world's largest volcanoes are shield volcanoes.

Even though their sides are not very steep, shield volcanoes can be huge. Mauna Kea in Hawaii is the biggest mountain on Earth if it is measured from its base on the floor of the sea.[2]


A stratovolcano, also known as a composite volcano,[3] is a tall, conical volcano. It is built up of many layers of hardened lava, tephra, pumice, and volcanic ash.

Unlike shield volcanoes, stratovolcanoes have a steep profile and periodic eruptions. The lava that flows from stratovolcanoes cools and hardens before spreading far. It is sticky, that is, it has high viscosity. The magma forming this lava is often felsic, with high-to-intermediate levels of silica, and less mafic magma. Big felsic lava flows are uncommon, but have travelled as far as 15 km (9.3 mi).[2][4]

Two famous stratovolcanoes are Japan's Mount Fuji, and Vesuvius. Both have big bases and steep sides that get steeper and steeper as it goes near the top. Vesuvius is famous for its destruction of the towns Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79 AD, killing thousands.


Main article: Caldera

A caldera is a basin-like feature formed by collapse of land after a volcanic eruption. This happens after a huge stratovolcano blows its top off. The base of the crater then sinks, leaving a caldera where the top of the volcano was before. Krakatoa, best known for its catastrophic eruption in 1883, is much smaller now.[2]

How volcanoes are formed

There are two main processes.

Volcanoes are made when two tectonic plates come together. When these two plates meet, one of them (usually the oceanic plate) goes under the continental plate. This is the process of subduction. Afterwards, it melts and makes magma (inside the magma chamber), and the pressure builds up until the magma bursts through the Earth's crust.

The second way is when a tectonic plate moves over a hot spot in the Earth's crust. The hot spot works its way through the crust until it breaks through. The caldera of Yellowstone Park was formed in that way; so were the Hawaiian Islands.


A traditional way to classify or identify volcanoes is by its pattern of eruptions. Those volcanoes which may erupt again at any time are called active. Those that are now quiet called dormant (inactive). Those volcanoes which have not erupted in historical times are called extinct.


Main article: List of active volcanos

An active volcano is currently erupting, or it has erupted in the last 10,000 years. An example of an active volcano is Mount St. Helens in the United States (US).[5]


A dormant volcano is "sleeping," but it could awaken in the future. Mount Rainier in the United States is considered dormant.[5]


Main article: List of extinct volcanos

An extinct volcano has not erupted in the past 10,000 years.[5]Edinburgh Castle in Scotland is located on top of an extinct volcano.[6]

Some volcanoes

  • Kilauea (Hawaii, USA)
  • Krakatoa (Rakata, Indonesia)
  • Mauna Loa (Hawaii, USA)
  • Mauna Kea (Hawaii, USA)
  • Mount Ashitaka (Japan)
  • Mount Baker (Washington, USA)
  • Mount Edziza (British Columbia, Canada)
  • Mount Etna (Sicily, Italy)
  • Mount Erebus (Ross Island, Antarctica)
  • Mount Hood (Oregon, USA)
  • Mount Fuji (Honshu, Japan)
  • Mount Rainier (Washington, USA)
  • Mount Ruapehu (North Island, New Zealand)
  • Mount Shasta (California, USA)
  • Mount St. Helens (Washington, USA)
  • Novarupta (Alaska, USA)
  • Olympus Mons (Mars (planet))
  • Popocatépetl (Mexico-Puebla state line, Mexico)
  • Surtsey (Surtsey island, Iceland)
  • Santorini (Santorini island, Greece)
  • Tambora (Sumbawa, Indonesia)
  • Teide (Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain)
  • Vesuvius (Gulf of Naples, Italy)
  • Yellowstone Caldera (Wyoming, USA)

Largest volcano on Earth

The Earth's largest volcano has been discovered.[7][8] It is 2km below the sea on an underwater plateau known as the Shatsky Rise. This is about 1,600km east of Japan. The previous record-holder, Mauna Loa in Hawaii, is still the largest volcano on land.

The 310,000 sq km (119,000 sq mi) volcano, Tamu Massif, is comparable in size to Mars' vast Olympus Mons volcano, which is the largest in the Solar System. It was formed about 145 million years ago when massive lava flows erupted from the centre of the volcano to form a broad, shield-like feature. That suggests the volcano produced a flood basalt eruption.

The Tamu Massif extends some 30 km (18 miles) into the Earth's crust. The researchers doubted the submerged volcano's peak ever rose above sea level during its lifetime and say it is unlikely to erupt again.

"The bottom line is that we think that Tamu Massif was built in a short (geologically speaking) time of one to several million years and it has been extinct since," co-author William Sager, of the University of Houston told the AFP news agency.
"There were lots of oceanic plateaus (that) erupted during the Cretaceous period (145-65 million years ago) but we don't see them since. Scientists would like to know why... The biggest oceanic plateau is Ontong Java plateau, near the equator in the Pacific, east of the Solomon Islands. It is much bigger than Tamu – it's the size of France".[7]

Related pages


Other websites

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Volcano.
Mount Fuji, an active stratovolcano in Japan that last erupted in 1707–08
Parts of a volcano:
1. Large magma chamber
2. Bedrock
3. Conduit (pipe)
4. Base
5. Sill
6. Branch pipe
7. Layers of ash emitted by the volcano
8. Flank
9. Layers of lava emitted by the volcano
10. Throat
11. Parasitic cone
12. Lava flow
13. Vent
14. Crater
15. Ash cloud
Edinburgh Castle on the site of an extinct volcano, c. 1581

After reading this article you will learn about:- 1. Introduction to Volcanoes 2. Volcano Formation 3. Volcanic Landforms 4. Major Gases Emitted by Volcanoes 5. Lightning and Whirlwinds 6. Features Produced by the Escape of Gases from Volcanic Lavas 7. Volcanic Products 8. Source of the Explosive Energy 9. Classification of Pyroclastics 10. Lahars-Mudflows on Active and Inactive Cones and Other Details.

Essay Contents:

  1. Essay on the Introduction to Volcanoes
  2. Essay on the Location of Volcanoes
  3. Essay on the Formation of Volcano
  4. Essay on the Volcanic Landforms
  5. Essay on the Major Gases Emitted by Volcanoes
  6. Essay on the Volcanic Products
  7. Essay on the Source of the Explosive Energy
  8. Essay on the Classification of Pyroclastics
  9. Essay on the Lahars-Mudflows on Active and Inactive Cones
  10. Essay on the Cooling of Lava
  11. Essay on the Features of Larva Flow
  12. Essay on the Fissure Eruptions
  13. Essay on the Quiet and Violent Volcanoes
  14. Essay on the Classification of Volcanic Activity
  15. Essay on the Cone Topped and Flat Topped Volcanoes
  16. Essay on the Types of Volcanoes
  17. Essay on the Violence of Volcanic Eruptions
  18. Essay on the Famous Volcanoes around the World
  19. Essay on the Volcanic Hazards
  20. Essay on the Volcanoes and Atmospheric Pollution

Essay # 1. Introduction to Volcanoes:

A volcano is a cone shaped hill or mountain which is built-up around an opening in the earth’s surface through which hot gases, rock fragments and lavas are ejected.

Due to the accumulation of the solid fragments around the conduit a conical mass is built which increases in size to become a large volcanic mountain. The conical mass so built-up is called a volcano. However the term volcano is taken to include not only the central vent in the earth but also the mountain or hill built around it.

Volcanoes are in varying sizes, varying from small conical hills to loftiest mountains on the earth’s surface. The volcanoes of the Hawaiian Islands are nearly 4300 metres above sea level since they are built over the floor of the Pacific ocean which at the site is 4300 to 5500 metres deep, the total height of the volcano may be about 9000 m or more.

The very high peaks in the Andes, in the Cascade Range of the Western United States, Mt. Baker, Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood etc. are all volcanoes which have now become extinct. Over 8000 independent eruptions have been identified from earth’s volcanoes. There are many inaccessible regions and ocean floors where volcanoes have occurred undocumented or unnoticed.

The eruption of a volcano is generally preceded by earthquakes and by loud rumblings like thunder which may continue on a very high scale during the eruption. The loud rumblings are due to explosive movement of gases and molten rock which are held under very high pressure. Before eruption of a volcano fissures are likely to be opened, nearby lakes likely to be drained and hot springs may appear at places.

The eruptive activity of volcanoes is mostly named after the well-known volcanoes, which are known for particular type of behaviour, like Strambolian, Vulcanian, Vesuvian, Hawaiian types of eruption. Volcanoes may erupt in one distinct way or may erupt in many ways, but, the reality is, these eruptions provide a magical view inside the earth’s molten interior.

The nature of a volcanic eruption is determined largely by the type of materials ejected from the vent of the volcano. Volcanic eruptions may be effusive (fluid lavas) or dangerous and explosive with blasts of rock, gas, ash and other pyroclasts.

Some volcanoes erupt for just a few minutes while some volcanoes spew their products for a decade or more. Between these two main types viz. effusive and explosive eruptions, there are many subdivisions like, eruption of gases mixed with gritty pulverised rock forming tall dark ash clouds seen for many kilometres, flank fissure eruptions with lava oozing from long horizontal cracks on the side of a volcano.

There is also the ground hugging lethally hot avalanches of volcanic debris called pyroclastic flows. When magma rises, it may encounter groundwater causing enormous phreatic, i.e., steam eruptions. Eruptions may also release suffocating gases into the atmosphere. Eruptions may produce tsunamis and floods and may trigger earthquakes. They may unleash ravaging rockslides and mudflows.

Volcanoes which have had no eruptions during historic times, but may still show fairly fresh signs of activity and have been active in geologically recent times are said to be dormant. There are also volcanoes which were formerly active but are of declining activity a few of which may be emitting only steam and other gases.

Geysers are hot springs from which water is expelled vigorously at intervals and are characteristics of regions of declining volcanic activity. Geysers are situated in Iceland, the Yellowstone park in USA and in New Zealand.

In contrast to the explosive type of volcanoes, there exist eruptions of great lava flows quietly pouring out of fissures developed on the earth’s surface. These eruptions are not accompanied by explosive outbursts. These are fissure eruptions.

Ex: Deccan Trap formations in India. The lavas in these cases are mostly readily mobile and flow over low slopes. The individual flows are seldom over a few meters in thickness; the average thickness may be less than 15 meters. If the fissure eruptions have taken place in valleys however, the thickness may be much greater.

A noteworthy type of volcano is part of the world encircling mid-ocean ridge (MOR) visible in Iceland. The MOR is really a single, extremely long, active, linear volcano, connecting all spreading plate boundaries through all oceans. Along its length small, separate volcanoes occur. The MOR exudes low-silica, highly fluid basalt producing the entire ocean floor and constituting the largest single structure on the face of the earth.

Essay # 2. Location of Volcanoes:

Volcanoes are widely distributed over the earth, but they are more abundant in certain belts. One such belt encircles the Pacific ocean and includes many of the islands in it. Other volcanic areas are the island of West Indies, those of the West coast of Africa, the Mediterranean region and Iceland.

Most volcanoes occur around or near the margins of the continents and so these areas re regarded as weak zones of the earth’s crust where lavas can readily work their way upward. There are over 400 active volcanoes and many more inactive ones. Numerous submarine volcanoes also exist.

Since it is not possible to examine the magma reservoir which fees a volcano our information must be obtained by studying the material ejected by the volcano. This material consists of three kinds of products, viz. liquid lava, fragmented pyroclasts and gases. There may exist a special problem in studying the gases, both in collecting them under hazardous conditions or impossible conditions.

It may also be difficult to ascertain that the gases collected are true volcanic gases and are not contaminated with atmospheric gases. Investigation of the composition of extruded rock leads to a general, although not very detailed, correlation between composition and intensity of volcanic eruption.

In general, the quite eruptions are characteristic of those volcanoes which emit basic or basaltic lavas, whereas the violent eruptions are characteristic of volcanoes emitting more silicic rocks.

Essay # 3. Formation of Volcanoes:

The term volcano is used to mean both the opening in the earth’s crust, i.e. the vent through which the eruption of magma occurs as well as the hill built- up by the erupted material. Volcanoes occur where the cracks in the earth’s crust lead to the magma chamber.

The liquid magma which is lighter than the surrounding rocks is under high pressure is pushed up towards the surface through these cracks. In this process the gases dissolved in the magma which expand are released providing an upward push to the magma.

As the magma gets closer to the surface, due to the reducing confining pressure to overcome, the magma and the gases flow faster. The magma, depending on its viscosity may quietly pour to the surface in the form of a flood of molten rock or it may explosively spurt out the molten rock to considerable heights as showers on the surrounding region with solid rock fragments and globs of molten rock. The liquid magma discharged to the surface is called lava.

Essay # 4. Volcanic Landforms:

Many surface features of volcanic origin are created. These features range from towering peaks and huge lava sheets to small and low craters. The features created by a volcano vary depending on the type of eruption, the material erupted and the effects of erosion.

Four types of volcanic landforms are formed:

i. Ash and Cinder Cones or Explosion Cones:

These appear where explosive eruptions take place. When very hot solid fragments from a central crater (or a subsidiary crater) are ejected. A concave cone of height not exceeding 300 m is formed.

ii. Lava Cones:

These are formed from slowly upwelling lava.

These are of two types:

(a) Steep Sided Volcanoes:

These are formed from sticky acid lava which gets hardened quickly. The highly viscous lava which is squeezed out makes spines like tower.

(b) Shield Volcanoes:

These show gently sloping dome features. These are formed from runny lava which flows long distances, before getting hardened.

iii. Composite Cones or Strato-Volcanoes or Strato Cones:

These volcanoes have concave cone shaped sides of alternating ash and lava layers. These are common in most very high volcanoes. In some cases solid lava may plug the main pipe to the crater. Then pent up gases may blast the top off.

When the magma chamber empties, the summit of the volcano collapses. As a consequence, the feature produced is a vast shallow cavity called a Caldera. Strato volcanoes are the accumulated products of many volcanoes. Chemically most of these products are andesite. Some are dacite and a few are basalt and rhyolite. Due to this chemical mix and characteristic interlayering of lava flows, this volcano is called strato volcano.

iv. Shield Volcanoes:

When a volcano vent produces many successive basaltic lava flows stacked one on top of another in eruptive order, the resulting landform is called a shield volcano. A cinder cone and its associated lava flow can be thought of as the initial building blocks of a shield volcano.

A cinder cone is monogenetic because it forms from a single short-lived eruption (of a few years to a decade or two in duration). In contrast, a shield volcano that is an accumulation of the products of many eruptions over a period of say thousands to hundreds of thousands of years is polygenic.

On land these volcanoes have low angle cones. When they form under water they start with a steeper shape because the lava freezes much faster and does not travel far. The shape fattens to the shield form as the cone builds above the sea level.

v. Plateau Basalts or Lava Plains:

These form the bulk of many volcanic fields. These are features which occur where successive flows of basic lava leaks through fissures, over land surface and then cools and hardens forming a blanket-like feature.

The surface appearance of a flow provides information on the composition and temperature of the magma before it solidified. Very hot low viscosity basalt flows far and fast and produces smooth ropy surfaces. Cooler and less-fluid basalt flows form irregular, jagged surfaces littered with blocks.

The lava flows have blanketed to about 2000 m thickness covering 6,50,000 sq.km. in the Indian Deccan Plateau. Such lava flows have also created the U.S. Columbia River Plateau, the Abyssinian Plateau, the Panama Plateau of South America and the Antrim Plateau of Northern Ireland.

Magmas like dacite and rhyolite that have high silica contents are cooler and more viscous than basalt and hence they do not flow far resulting in the features, lobes, pancakes and domes. Domes often plug up the vent from which they issued, sometimes creating catastrophic explosions and may create a crater.

Eroded volcanoes have their importance. They give us a glimpse of the interior plumbing along which the magma rose to the surface. At the end of an eruption, magma solidifies in the conduits along which it had been rising. The rock so formed is more resistant than the shattered rock forming the walls and hence these lava filled conduits are often left behind when the rest of the volcano has been eroded away.

The filling of the central vertical vent is somewhat circular in section and forms a spire called a neck. The filling of cracks along which lava rose forms nearly vertical tabular bodies called dikes. Sometimes magma works its way along cracks that are nearly horizontal, often along bedding planes of sedimentary rocks. This results in the formation of table-like bodies called sills.

Essay # 5. Major Gases Emitted by Volcanoes:

Volcanic gases present within the magma are released as they reach the earth’s surface, escaping at the major volcanic opening or from fissures and vents along the side of the volcano. The most prevalent gases emitted are steam, carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulphide. Carbon dioxide is an invisible, odourless poisonous gas. The table below shows the gases emitted from volcanoes.

Essay # 6. Lightning and Whirlwinds:

Lightning flashes accompany most volcanic eruptions, especially those involving dust. The cause of this lightning is believed to be either contact of sea water with magma or generation of static electricity by friction between colliding particles carried in the erupting gases. Lightning is characteristic of vulcanian eruptions and is common during glowing avalanches.

Whirlwinds are seen during many volcanic eruptions. They are seen above hot lavas. Sometimes they form inverted cones extending a little below the eruption cloud. Energy for the whirlwinds might be from the hot gases and lava, high velocity gas jets in the eruption, heat released into the atmosphere during falls of hot tephra or where lava flows into the sea creating steam.

Essay # 7. Features Produced by the Escape of Gases from Volcanic Lavas:

The gases of volcanic lavas produce several interesting features while they escape. They expand in the lava of the flow and thus cause the formation of Scoriaceous and Pumiceous rocks. By their explosion, they blow the hardened lava above them in the conduit, into bits and thus produce pyroclastic material.

They form clouds above volcanoes, the rain from which assists in the production of mud flows. When the volcano becomes inactive, they escape aiding in the formation of jumaroles, geysers and hot springs. Scoriaceous rocks are extremely porous. They are formed by the expansion of the steam and other gases beneath the hardened crust of a lava. The final escape of the gases from the hardening lava leaves large rounded holes in the rock.

Pumice is a rock also formed by the expansion and escape of gases. In pumice, many of the holes are in the form of long, minute, closed tubes which make the rock so light that it will float on water.

These tubes are formed by the expansive force of large amounts of gases in an extremely viscous lava that cools very rapidly, forming a glassy rock. Pumice is the rock that is usually formed from the lava ejected from explosive volcanoes. It can be blown to kilometres by explosions.

Essay # 8. Volcanic Products:

Volcanoes give out products in all the states of matter – gases, liquids and solids.

Steam, hydrogen, sulphur and carbon dioxide are discharged as gases by a volcano. The steam let out by a volcano condenses in the air forming clouds which shed heavy rains. Various gases interact and intensify the heat of the erupting lavas. Explosive eruptions cause burning clouds of gas with scraps of glowing lava called nuees ardentes.

The main volcanic product is liquid lava. Sticky acid lava on cooling, solidifies and hardens before flowing long distances. Such lava can also block a vent resulting in pressure build-up which was relieved by an explosion. Basic fluid lava of lesser viscosity flows to great distances before hardening.

Some lava forms are produced by varying conditions as follows. Clinkery block shaped features are produced when gas spurted from sluggish molten rock capped by cooling crust. These are called Aa.

Pahoehoe is a feature which has a wrinkled skin appearance caused by molten lava flowing below it.

Pillow lava is a feature resembling pillows. This feature piles up when fast cooling lava erupts under water.

Products in explosive outbursts are called Pyroclasts. These consist of either fresh material or ejected scraps of old hard lava and other rock. Volcanic bombs include pancake-flat scoria shaped on impacting the ground and spindle bombs which are twisted at ends as they whizzle through the air. Acid lava full of gas formed cavities produces a light volcanic rock.

Pumice which is so light it can float on water. The product Ignimbrite shows welded glassy fragments. Lapilli are hurled out cinder fragments. Vast clouds of dust or very tiny lava particles are called volcanic ash. Volcanic ash mixed with heavy rain creates mudflows.

Sometimes mudflows can bury large areas of land. Powerful explosions can smoother land for many kilometres around with ash and can hurl huge amount of dust into the higher atmosphere. Violent explosions destroy farms and towns, but volcanic ash provides rich soil for crops.

i. Hot springs:

The underground hot rocks heat the spring waters creating hot springs. The hot springs shed minerals dissolved in them resulting in crusts of calcium carbonate and quartz (geyserite).

ii. Smoker:

This is a submarine hot spring at an oceanic spreading ridge. This submarine spring emits sulphides and builds smoky clouds.

iii. Geyser:

Periodically steam and hot water are forced up from a vent by super-heated water in pipe like passage deep down. Famous geysers are present in Iceland and Yellowstone National Park.

iv. Mud volcano:

This is a low mud cone deposited by mud-rich water gushing out of a vent.

v. Solfatara:

This is a volcanic vent which emits steam and sulphurous gas.

vi. Fumarole:

This is a vent which emits steam jets as at Mt. Etna, Sicily and Valley of Ten Thousand smokes in Alaska.

vii. Mofette:

This is a small vent which emits gases including carbon dioxide. These occur in France, Italy and Java.

Various terms used while describing volcanic features are given below:

i. Magma Chamber:

Magma is created below the surface of the earth (at depth of about 60 km) and is held in the magma chamber until sufficient pressure is built-up to push the magma towards the surface.

ii. Pipe:

This is a pipe like passage through which the magma is pushed up from the magma chamber.

iii. Vent:

This is the outlet end of the pipe. Magma exits out of the vent. If a vent erupts only gases, it is called fumarole.

iv. Crater:

Generally the vent opens out to a depression called crater at the top of the volcano. This is caused due to the collapse of the surface materials.

v. Caldera:

This is a very big crater formed when the top of an entire volcanic hill collapses inward.

vi. Dome:

When the erupted materials cover the vent, a volcanic dome is created covering the vent. Later as the pressure of gas and magma rises, another eruption occurs shattering the dome.

vii. Cone:

A mountain-like structure created over thousands of years as the volcanic lava, ash, rock fragments are poured out onto the surface. This feature is called volcanic cone.

viii. Pyroclastic Flow:

A pyroclastic flow (also known as nuee ardentes (French word) is a ground hugging, turbulent avalanche of hot ash. pumice, rock fragments, crystals, glass shards and volcanic gas. These flows can rush down the steep slopes of a volcano at 80 to 160 km/li, burning everything in their path.

Temperatures of these flows can reach over 500°C. A deposit of this mixture is also often referred to as pyroclastic flow. An even more energetic and dilute mixture of searing volcanic gases and rock-fragments is called a pyroclastic surge which can easily ride up and over ridges.

ix. Seamounts:

A spectacular underwater volcanic feature is a huge localized volcano called a seamount. These isolated underwater volcanic mountains rise from 900 m to 3000 m above the ocean floor, but typically are not high enough to poke above the water surface.

Seamounts are present in all the oceans of the world, with the Pacific ocean having the highest concentration. More than 2000 seamounts have been identified in this ocean. The Gulf of Alaska also has many seamounts. The Axial Seamount is an active volcano off the north coast of Oregon (currently rises about 1400 m above the ocean floor, but its peak is still about 1200 m below the water surface.

Essay # 9. Source of the Explosive Energy:

The energy for the explosive violence comes from the expansion of the volatile constituents present in the magma, the gas content of which determines the degree of commination of the materials and the explosive violence of the eruption.

This energy is expanded in two ways, firstly in the expulsion of the materials into the atmosphere and secondly, due to expansion within the magma leading to the development of vesicles. The most important gas is steam, which may form between 60 to 90 per cent of the total gas content in a lava. Carbon dioxide, nitrogen and sulphur dioxide occur commonly and hydrogen, carbon monoxide, sulphur and chlorine are also present.

Essay # 10. Classification of Pyroclastics:

Pyroclastics refer to fragmental material erupted by a volcano. The larger fragments consisting of pieces of crystal layers beneath the volcano or of older lavas broken from the walls of the conduit or from the surface of the crater are called blocks.

Volcanic bombs are masses of new lava blown from the crater and solidified during flight, becoming round or spindle shaped as they are hurled through the air. They may range in size from small pellets up to huge masses weighing many kilonewtons.

Sometimes they are still plastic when they strike the surface and are flattened or distorted as they roll down the side of the cone. Another type called bread crust bomb resembles a loaf of bread with large gaping cracks in the crust.

This cracking of the crust results from the continued expansion of the internal gases. Many fragments of lava and scoria solidified in flight drop back into the crater and are intermixed with the fluid lava and are again erupted.

In contrast to bombs, smaller broken fragments are lapilli (from Italian meaning, little stones) about the size of walnuts; then in decreasing size, cinders, ash and dust. The cinders and ash are pulverized lava, broken up by the force of rapidly expanding gases in them or by the grinding together of the fragments in the crater, as they are repeatedly blown out and dropped back into the crater after each explosion.

Pumice is a type of pyroclastic produced by acidic lavas if the gas content is so great as to cause the magma to froth as it rises in the chimney of the volcano. When the expansion occurs the rock from the froth is expelled as pumice. Pumice is of size ranging from the size of a marble to 30 cm or more in diameter. Pumice will float in water due to many air spaces formed by the expanding gases.

Lava fountains in which steam jets blow the lava into the air produce a material known as Pele’s hair which is identical with rock wool which is manufactured by blowing a jet of steam into a stream of molten rock (Rock wool is used for many types of insulation).

Coarse angular fragments become cemented to form a rock called volcanic breccia. The finer material like cinders and ash forms thick deposits which get consolidated through the percolation of ground water and is called tuff. Tuff is a building stone used in the volcanic regions. It is soft and easily quarried and can be shaped and has enough strength to be set into walls with mortar.

i. Agglomerate:

The debris in and around the vent contains the largest ejected masses of lava bombs which are embedded in dust and ash. A deposit of this kind is known as agglomerate. The layers of ash and dust which are formed for some distance around the volcano and which builds its cone, become hardened into rocks which are called tuffs.

ii. Ash:

Ash includes all materials with size less than 4 mm. It is pulverized lava, in which the fragments are often sharply angular and formed of volcanic glass; these angular and often curved fragments are called shards.

Since the gas content of ash on expulsion is high it has considerable mobility on reaching the surface; it is also hot and plastic, the result of these conditions being that the fragments often become welded together. The finest of ash is so light that wind can transport it for great distances.

The table below sets out a general classification of pyroclastic rocks based on the particle size of the fragments forming the rocks.

Essay # 10. Lahars-Mudflows on Active and Inactive Cones:

In addition to violent eruptions, large composite cones may generate a type of mudflow called Lahar (Indonesian name). These destructive mudflows occur when volcanic debris becomes saturated with water and rapidly moves down steep volcanic slopes, generally following gullies and stream valleys.

Some lahars are triggered when large volumes of ice and snow melt during an eruption. Others are generated when heavy rainfall saturates weathered volcanic deposits. Thus can occur even when a volcano is not erupting.

Essay # 11. Cooling of Lava

Although lava is mostly liquid, it often contains gas, fragments of rock and crystals that formed the magma before eruption. When the flow erupts, the liquid portion of the lava congeals (i.e., becomes thick and sticky) rapidly and traps gas bubbles and solid material in a mass woven of microscopic crystals and glass. Parts of the flow may freeze so rapidly that the liquid quenches to a glass (obsidian).

Volatile constituents, mainly water, carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide and chlorine form gas bubbles in the congealed lava, leaving spherical, elongate and irregular cavities (vesicles) in the solidified rocks. A high concentration of vesicles makes the rock very light and frothy.

Essay # 12. Features of Lava Flows

After the lava is poured on to the surface, it spreads out as tongues or sheets which flow over the country side. Often the lava finds its way into stream valleys along which it may extend for many kilometres. Some sheets of lava form great lava plateaus covering thousands of square kilometres.

The movement of the molten lava depends on its composition and its temperature. Stiff viscous acidic lavas solidify before travelling far, while the more fluid basic lavas freely flow for long distances before coming to rest. The speed of a lava flow depends on its viscosity (which depends on temperature and composition) as well as the slope of the surface on which it is flowing.

The upper part of a lava flow, is usually made up of a porous sponge like mass known as scoria. The porous feature is due to the escape of the contained gases or due to the expansion of the gases to form bubbles prior to the freezing of the flow. These bubbles or voids which were filled by gas may get elongated to tube like forms during the forward movement of the viscous lava.

The lava flow surfaces develop into one of two contrasting types viz. pahoehoe and Aa. In the pahoehoe type the surface is smooth and billowy and often molded into forms resembling huge coils of rope. This feature is common in basic lava. In the aa type the flow surface presents a mass of angular, jagged scoriaceous blocks with sharp edges and spiny projections.

i. Lava Tubes:

Once the lava surface has started to harden, the interior of the lava may remain in liquid state and mobile for considerable period of flow. The lava movement is by laminar flow giving rise to layered lava which is common in basaltic flows. A lava tube begins to form when a channel carrying lava becomes crusted over with solid rock, while the still molten lava beneath the crust continues to flow.

As these inner molten lava mass drains a void called a lava tube is formed. Lava tubes which do not completely drain have relatively flat floors made of frozen residual molten lava. Pre-existing lava tubes may be re-occupied by lava from later eruptions.

ii. Lava Tree Moulds:

When trees are buried by lava, their shape is often preserved, though the wood may be completely burned away. The hollows left over are called tree moulds.

iii. Pillow Lava:

When lava flows into water or when lava is erupted under water a special feature known as a pillow lava is commonly formed. The lava chills fast to form a glassy but plastic skin around still liquid lava and rolls along like plastic bags filled with liquid.

The round or sausage shaped bags are known as pillows and are heaped one on another. They have rounded tops but their hases fit into the shape of the underlying surfaces. In most cases, pillow lava is formed in the sea but some pillow lava is also formed in fresh water.

iv. Jointing:

As a lava cools, it shrinks and this results in the formation of joints. These may be irregular in originally pasty masses but are likely to attain geometric regularity in originally wide spread very fluid basalts. Due to these joints very thick (tens of metres) columns may be formed depending on the original thickness of the flow.

v. Vesicles and Amygdales:

Vesicles are small cavities in lava, frozen bubbles of gas. Amygdales are vesicles with secondary minerals such as zeolite, calcite or agate. The diameters of the vesicles range from 1 cm to tens of centimetres. Pipe amygdales are cylindrical and perpendicular to the direction of lava flow, due to the movement over wet ground.

Essay # 13. Fissure Eruptions

Fissure eruptions represent the simplest form of extrusion in which lavas issue quietly from linear cracks in the ground. These lavas are generally basic and mobile. They have a low viscosity and spread rapidly over large areas. In the past geological times vast floods of basalt (a basic rock) have been poured out over different regions and are attributed to eruptions from fissures.

Among the extensive remains of these basalts at the present day are the Deccan Traps which cover an area of about 1024000 sq.km. in peninsular India and reach a thickness which in places exceeds 1800 m which is built up of lava flow. In general, rapid extrusion of very fluid lava and little explosive activity are characteristic of fissure eruptions.

Essay # 14. Quiet and Violent Volcanoes

Volcanoes are in various sizes and shapes and their behaviour ranges from a quiet state to violently destructive state. Such diversity in the activity of volcanoes is related to the chemistry of the erupting magma. Chemical compositions that produce thin, easy flowing magmas are associated with non-violent eruptions, whereas compositions that produce thick, sluggish (highly viscous) magmas are associated with explosive eruptions.

Magma is a silicate liquid (with rare exception). The most abundant chemical building block is a pyramid-shaped assembly of the element silicon (Si) surrounded by four oxygen (O) atoms. Other elements that are common rock-forming elements including aluminium, iron, magnesium, potassium and calcium occupy the spaces between and around the silicate building blocks.

The overall mixture forms the hot and sticky stuff called magma. Magma takes on a spectrum of chemical compositions, with different relative amounts of these chemical compositions. Magma which forms in the mantle carries the name basalt. Though fairly uniform in composition, even this mother magma is somewhat variable.

Much of this variation in composition depends upon what happens to the basalt magma once it leaves the mantle and begins its upward journey through the crust. For instance, rocks encountered in the crust sometimes are partly melted by and dissolved into the rising mantle-derived magma, and sometimes crystals grow and then separate from magma as it begins to cool.

Both of these processes actually result in an increased silicon content for the modified daughter magma, and thus the natural tendency is for basaltic magma to change to become a more silicic composition. The extent to which such change advances depends on the duration of the magma journey and the chemical character of the crust traversed.

Magma composition is classified and named mainly on the basis of the amount of silicon in the form of silica or silicon dioxide SiO2.

The chart in Fig. 15.3 summarizes the names of the common magmas and their associated ranges in silica. A very important property of magma that determines the eruption style and the eventual shape of the volcano it builds, is its resistance to flow, namely its viscosity.

Magma viscosity increases as its silica content increases. Eruptions of highly viscous magmas are violent. The highly viscous rhyolite magma piles up its ticky masses right over its eruptive vent to farm tall steep sided volcanoes.

On the contrary the basaltic magma flows great distances from its eruptive vent to from low, broad volcanic features. Magma in the intermediate viscosity spectrum say the andesite magma tends to form volcanoes of profile shapes between these two extremes.

An additional important ingredient of magma is water. Magmas also contain carbon dioxide and various sulphur-containing gases in solution. These substances are considered volatile since they tend to occur as gases at temperatures and pressures at the surface of the earth.

As basaltic magma changes composition toward rhyolite the volatiles become concentrated in the silica-rich magma. Presence of these volatiles (mainly water) in high concentration produces highly explosive volcanoes. It should be noted that these volatiles are held in magma by confining pressure. Within the earth, the confining pressure is provided by the load of the overlying rocks.

As the magma rises from the mantle to depths about 1.5 km or somewhat less, the rock load is reduced to that extent that the volatiles (mainly water) start to boil. Bubbles rising through highly viscous rhyolitic magma have such difficulty to escape their way, that many carry blobs of magma and fine bits of rock with them and they finally break free and jet violently upward resulting in a violent buoyant eruption column that can rise to kilometres above the earth.

The fine volcanic debris in such a powerful eruption gets dispersed within the upper atmosphere, hide the sunlight affecting the weather. The greater the original gas concentration in a magma and the greater the volume rate of magma leaving the vent, the taller is the eruption column produced.

The gases escaping from magma during eruption mix with the atmosphere and become part of the air humans, animals and plants breath and assimilate. However as magma cools and solidifies to rock during eruption, some of the gas remains trapped in bubbles creating vesicles. Generally all volcanic rocks contain some gas bubbles. A variety of vesicular rhyolite is pumice. Pumice is vesicular to such an extent, it floats in water.

Essay # 15. Classification of Volcanic Activity:

A classification of volcanic activity based on the type of product is shown in Fig. 15.4. The basic subdivision is based on the proportions of the gas, liquid and solid components, which can be represented on a triangular diagram. The four basic triangles represent the domain of four basic kinds of volcanic activity.

Essay # 16. Cone Topped and Flat Topped Volcanoes:

Generally rhyolite volcanoes are flat-topped because rhyolite magma which is extremely viscous, oozes out of the ground, piles up around the vent and then oozes away a bit to form a pancake shape. In contrast basalt volcanoes generally feed lava flows that flow far from the vent, building a cone.

Basaltic tephra (large particles of different size) is a spongy-looking black, rough material of pebble or cobble. Commercially this tephra is known as cinder and is used for gardening and rail-road beds. In some situations basaltic volcanoes develop flat top profile.

Flat topped volcanoes of basalt can form when there is an eruption under a glacier. Instead of getting ejected as tephra to form a cone, it forms a cauldron of lava surrounded by ice and water and eventually solidifying. When the ice melts, a steep-sided, table-shaped mountain known as a tuya remains. Volcanoes of this type are common in Iceland and British Columbia, where volcanoes have repeatedly erupted under glaciers.

Surprisingly, the Pacific ocean is a home to many flat-topped undersea basaltic mountains. These are called seamounts. How these seamounts were formed was a mystery for a long time. Surveying and dredging operations revealed that most seamounts were formerly conical volcanoes projecting above the water.

Geologists found that the conical volcanoes got lowered due to subsidence and the tops of the volcanoes came near the sea water level and the powerful waves mowed them flat. Continued subsidence caused them to drop below the water surface.

Essay # 17. Types of Volcanoes

There are many types of volcanoes depending on the composition of magma especially on the relative proportion of water and silica contents. If the magma contains little of either of these, it is more liquid and it flows freely forming a shallow rounded hill.

Large water content with little silica permits the vapour to rapidly rise through the molten rock, throwing fountains of fire high into the air. More silica and less water in the magma make the magma more viscous. Such magma flows slowly and builds-up a high dome.

High content of both water and silica create another condition. In such a case the dense silica prevents the water from vaporizing until it is close to the surface and results in a highly explosive way. Such an eruption is called a Vulcan eruption.

Other types of eruption are named after people or regions associated with them. Vesuvian eruption named after Vesuvius is a highly explosive type occurring after a long period of dormancy. This type ejects a huge column of ash and rock to great heights upto 50 km.

A peleean eruption named after the eruption of Mt. Pelee in Martin que in 1902 is a highly violent eruption ejecting a hot cloud of ash mixed with considerable quantity of gas which flows down the sides of the volcano like a liquid. The cloud is termed nuee ardente meaning glowing cloud. Pyroclastic or ash flow refers to a flow of ash, solid rock pieces and gas. Hawaiian eruptions eject fire fountains.

Essay # 18. Violence of Volcanic Eruptions

Volcanic activity may be classified by its violence, which in turn is generally related to rock type, the course of eruptive activity and the resulting landforms. We may in general distinguish between lava eruptions associated with basic and intermediate magmas and pumice eruptions associated with acid magmas.

The percentage of the fragmentary material in the total volcanic material produced can be used as a measure of explosiveness and if calculated for a volcanic region can be adopted as an Explosion Index (E), useful for comparing one volcanic region with others. Explosion Index for selected volcanic regions by Rittmann (1962) are shown in the table below.

Newhall and Self (1982) proposed a Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI) which helps to summarize many aspects of eruption and is shown in the table below.


Essay # 19. Famous Volcanoes around the World:

Many volcanoes are present around the world. Some of the largest and well known volcanoes are listed in the table below.

Essay # 20. Volcanic Hazards:

Volcanic eruptions have caused destruction to life and property. In most cases volcanic hazards cannot be controlled, but their impacts can be mitigated by effective prediction methods.

Flows of lava, pyroclastic activity, emissions of gas and volcanic seismicity are major hazards. These are accompanied with movement of magma and eruptive products of the volcano. There are also other secondary effects of the eruptions which may have long term effects.

In most cases volcanoes let out lava which causes property damage rather than injuries or deaths. For instance, in Hawaii lava flows erupted from Kilauea for over a decade and as a consequence, homes, roads, forests, cars and other vehicles were buried in lavas and in some cases were burned by the resulting fires but no lives were lost. Sometimes it has become possible to control or divert the lava flow by constructing retaining walls or by some provision to chill the front of the lava flow with water.

Lava flows move slowly. But the pyroclastic flows move rapidly and these with lateral blasts may kill lives before they can run away. In 1902, on the island of Martinique the most destructive pyroclastic flow of the century occurred resulting in very large number of deaths.

A glowing avalanche rushed out of the flanks of Mount Pelee, running at a speed of over 160 km/h and killed about 29000 people. In A.D. 79 a large number of people of Pompeii and Herculaneum were buried under the hot pyroclastic material erupted by Mount Vesuvius.

The poisonous gas killed many of the victims and their bodies got later buried by pyroclastic material. In 1986, the eruption of the volcano at Lake Nyos, Cameroon killed over 1700 people and over 3000 cattle.

When magma moves towards the surface of the earth rocks may get fractured and this may result in swarms of earthquakes. The turbulent bubbling and boiling of magma below the earth can produce high frequency seismicity called volcanic tremor.

There are also secondary and tertiary hazards connected with volcanic eruptions. A powerful eruption in a coastal setting can cause a displacement of the seafloor leading to a tsunami. Hazardous effects are caused by pyroclastic material after a volcanic eruption has ceased.

Either melt water from snow or rain at the summit of the volcano can mix with the volcanic ash and start a deadly mud flow (called as lahar). Sometimes a volcanic debris avalanche in which various materials like pyroclastic matter, mud, shattered trees etc. is set out causing damage.

Volcanic eruptions produce other effects too. They can permanently change a landscape. They can block river channels causing flooding and diversion of water flow. Mountain terrains can be severely changed.

Volcanic eruptions can change the chemistry of the atmosphere. The effects of eruption on the atmosphere are precipitation of salty toxic or acidic matter. Spectacular sun set, extended period of darkness and stratospheric ozone depletion are all other effects of eruptions. Blockage of solar radiation by fine pyroclastic material can cause global cooling.

Apart from the above negative effects of volcanisms there are a few positive effects too. Periodic volcanic eruptions replenish the mineral contents of soils making it fertile. Geothermal energy is provided by volcanism. Volcanism is also linked with some type of mineral deposits. Magnificent scenery is provided by some volcanoes.

The study of volcanoes has great scientific as well as social interest. Widespread tephra layers inter-bedded with natural and artificial deposits have been used for deciphering and dating glacial and volcanic sequences, geomorphic features and archeological sites.

For example, ash from Mt. St. Helens Volcano in Washington travelled at least 900 km into Alberta. North American Indians fashioned tools and weapons out of volcanic glass, the origin of which is used to trace migratory and trading routes.

Volcanoes are windows through which the scientists look into the interiors of the earth. From volcanoes we learn the composition of the earth at great depths below the surface. We learn about the history of shifting layers of the earth’s crust. We learn about the processes which transform molten material into solid rock.

From the geological historical view point, volcanic activity was crucial in providing to the earth a unique habitat for life. The degassing of molten materials provided water for the oceans and gases for the atmosphere – indeed, the very ingredients for life and its sustenance.

Essay # 21. Volcanoes and Atmospheric Pollution

During eruptions volcanoes inject solid particles and gases into the atmosphere. Particles may remain in the atmosphere for months to years and rain back on to the earth. Volcanoes also release chlorine and carbon dioxide.

The main products injected into the atmosphere from volcanic eruptions however are volcanic ash particles and small drops of sulphuric acid in the form of a fine spray known as aerosol. Most chlorine released from volcanoes is in the form of hydrochloric acid which is washed out in the troposphere. Volcanoes also emit carbon dioxide.

During the times of giant volcanic eruptions in the past the amount of carbon dioxide released may have been enough to affect the climate. In general global temperatures are cooler for a year or two after a major eruption.

A large magnitude pyroclastic eruption such as a caldera-forming event can be expected to eject huge volumes of fine ash high into the atmosphere where it may remain for several years, carried around the globe by strong air currents in the upper atmosphere.

The presence of this ash will increase the opacity of the atmosphere, that is, it will reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the earth’s surface. Accordingly, the earth’s surface and climate will become cooler. Various other atmospheric effects may be observed. Particularly noticeable is an increase in the intensity of sunsets.

i. Global Warming:

Besides blocking the rays of the sun, the vast clouds of dust and ash that result from a volcanic eruption can also trap ultraviolet radiation within the atmosphere causing global warming.

Volcanic eruptions usually include emissions of gases such as carbon dioxide which can further enhance this warming. Even if it lasted only for a relatively short time, a sudden increase in temperature could in turn have contributed to extinctions by creating an environment unsuitable for many animals.

ii. Geothermal Energy:

Geothermal energy is the heat energy trapped below the surface of the earth. In all volcanic regions, even thousands of years after activity has ceased the magma continues to cool at a slow rate. The temperature increases with depth below the surface of the earth. The average temperature gradient in the outer crust is about 0.56° C per 30 m of depth.

There are regions however, where the temperature gradient may be as much as 100 times the normal. This high heat flow is often sufficient to affect shallow strata containing water. When the water is so heated such surface manifestations like hot springs, fumaroles, geysers and related phenomena often occur.

It may be noted that over 10 per cent of the earth’s surface manifests very high heat flow and the hot springs and related features which are present in such areas have been used throughout the ages, for bathing, laundry and cooking.

In some places elaborate health spas and recreation areas have been developed around the hot-spring areas. The cooling of magma, even though it is relatively close to the surface is such a slow process that probably in terms of human history, it may be considered to supply a source of heat indefinitely.

Temperatures in the earth rise with increasing depth at about 0.56°C per 30 m depth. Thus if a well is drilled at a place where the average surface temperature is say 15.6°C a temperature of 100°C would be expected at about 4500 m depth. Many wells are drilled in excess of 6000 m and temperatures far above the boiling point of water are encountered.

Thermal energy is stored both in the solid rocks and in water and steam filling the pore spaces and fractures. The water and steam serve to transmit the heat from the rocks to a well and then to the surface.

In a geothermal system water also serves as the medium by which heat is transmitted from a deep igneous source to a geothermal reservoir at a depth shallow enough to be tapped by drilling. Geothermal reservoirs are located in the upward flowing part of a water – convective system. Rainwater percolates underground and reaches a depth where it is heated as it comes into contact with the hot rocks.

On getting heated, the water expands and moves upward in a convective system. If this upward movement is unrestricted the water will be dissipated at the surface as hot springs; but if such upward movement is prevented, trapped by an impervious layer the geothermal energy accumulates, and becomes a geothermal reservoir.

Until recently it was believed that the water in a geothermal system was derived mainly from water given off by the cooling of magma below the surface. Later studies have revealed that most of the water is from surface precipitation, with not more than 5 per cent from the cooling magma.

Production of electric power is the most important application of geothermal energy. A geothermal plant can provide a cheap and reliable supply of electrical energy. Geothermal power is nearly pollution free and there is little resource depletion.

Geothermal power is a significant source of electricity in New Zealand and has been furnishing electricity to parts of Italy. Geothermal installations at the Geysers in northern California have a capacity of 550 megawatts, enough to supply the power needs of the city of San Francisco.

Geothermal energy is versatile. It is being used for domestic heating in Italy, New Zealand and Iceland. Over 70 per cent of Iceland’s population live in houses heated by geothermal energy. Geothermal energy is being used for forced raising of vegetables and flowers in green houses in Iceland where the climate is too harsh to support normal growth. It is used for animal husbandry in Hungary and feeding in Iceland.

Geothermal energy can be used for simple heating processes, drying or distillation in every conceivable fashion, refrigeration, tempering in various mining and metal handling operations, sugar processing, production of boric acid, recovery of salts from seawater, pulp and paper production and wood processing.

Geothermal desalinization of sea water holds promise for abundant supply of fresh water. In some areas it is a real alternative to fossil fuels and hydroelectricity and in future may help meet the crisis of our insatiable appetite for energy.

iii. Phenomena Associated with Volcanism:

In some regions of current or past volcanic activity some phenomena related to volcanism are found. Fumaroles, hot springs and geysers are the widely known belonging to this group. During the process of consolidation of molten magma either at the surface or at some depths beneath the surface gaseous emanations may be given off.

These gas vents constitute the fumaroles. The Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes in Alaska is a well-known fumarole and is maintained as a national monument. This group of fumaroles was formed by the eruption of Mount Katmai in 1912. This valley of area of about 130 square kilometres contains thousands of vents discharging steam and gases.

These gases are of varied temperatures and the temperatures vary from that of ordinary steam to superheated steam coming out as dry gas. Many of the gases escaping from the vents may be poisonous, such as hydrogen sulphide and carbon monoxide which are suffocating and may settle at low places in the topography. For example, the fumaroles at the Poison Valley, Java discharge deadly poisonous gases.

Solfataras are fumaroles emitting sulphur gases. At some places, the hydrogen sulphide gases undergo oxidation on exposure to air to form sulphur. The sulphur accumulates in large amount so that the rocks close to the solfataras may contain commercial quantities of sulphur.

Hot springs are also phenomena associated with volcanic activity. Waters from the surface which penetrate into the ground can get heated either by contact with the rocks which are still hot or by gaseous emanations from the volcanic rocks. The water so heated may re-emerge at the surface giving rise to hot springs. In some situations the hot springs may be intermittently eruptive. Such intermittently hot springs are called geysers.

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