where we hope you learn about the fascinating weather that affects us day to day. This is a great learning resource for parents and teachers.


A volcano is NOT a burning mountain, although it may look like one. 

A volcano is a hill or mountain formed when molten material, or lava, from the inside of the Earth is forced through the Earth’s crust by gases.

A volcano can produce vast clouds of very fine volcanic dust which looks like smoke.

The lava can become red-hot, so that at night it looks as if the volcano is on fire.  In this picture we can see the red-hot lava running down the side of the volcano.  It is reflected in the cloud of volcanic dust above the volcano, which looks like a flame. 

There are many different kinds of volcano but they are mostly formed in the same way. 

  • A hole is blown through the Earth’s crust by the pressure of gases inside the Earth.
  • The hole is widened by further explosions, which scatter fragments of rock in a circle around the hole.
  • These fragments or rock, together with ash, make the beginning of the cone of the volcano.
  • At the top of the cone, the eruption leaves a crater.
  • Lava, the molten material from the inside of the Earth, wells up through the hole and runs down the sides of the cone.
  • If there is no more volcanic activity for a time, the pipe up the middle of the cone fills with hardened lava.
  • As more gases build up the pressure under the cone, this hardened lava has to be exploded away in fragments before new outpourings of lava and ash can take palce.
  • The volcanic cone is built up with alternate layers of lava and ash.  When the ash on the side of the mountain has been pressed down, it is known as tuff.

This photograph shows the crater at the top of Mount Vesuvius, a famous volcano near Naples in Italy.

Volcanic eruptions are produced by gases, the chief of which is steam.  As the eruption dies down, sulphur gases are given off from holes in the floor of the crater and sometimes from small vents in the side of the volcano. There is one small sulphur vent on the left of the diagram of a volcano. 

Once the activity has died down further, steam and carbon dioxide escape from the vent. Later still hot springs of water appear. 

Volcanoes are often found in groups and lines and may be related to mountain-building movements.  They are usually found in regions where there have been great rock movements over millions of years. 

Vocanoes can lie dormant (sleeping) for centuries with no activity at all and then erupt without warning. 

The famous Italian volcano Vesuvius was known for centuries as a great dome-shaped mountain with a rock-filled hollow on top.  In 72 B.C. some rebellious gladiators hid there.  At that time the hollow was full of wild vines and there was a lake in the centre. Nobody had ever heard of the mountain erupting. 

One hundred and fifty one years later, in AD 79, the top of the mountain was blown off and Vesuvius erupted.  The red-hot lava and ash buried the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Thunder, lightning and earthquakes accompanied the eruption.  Pompeii was buried so quickly that everyone was caught and buried at their normal occupations, families sitting down to a meal, soldiers on guard duty, people carrying their shopping home from market, children in school. 

After this catastrophic eruption, Vesuvius has had several more eruptions, separated from each other by several hundred years.  There was a serious eruption in 1631 and another in 1906, which caused great destruction to the surrounding countryside.  There has never been an eruption as serious as the one of 79. 

The lava soil around Vesuvius is rich in minerals and very fertile, allowing farmers to grow wheat and vegetables with little other feeding of the soil.