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Volcanoes Under the Sea

Volcanoes under the sea

Volcanoes Under the Sea

  • Exhibition Text

    • The longest volcano chain in the world is the 80,000-kilometer-long mid-ocean ridge system, where new ocean crust is formed and the tectonic plates - the Earth's moving outer shell - separate from each other. Unlike the great Hawaiian shield volcanoes, the volcanoes making up the ocean ridges are long and narrow. Basaltic lavas erupt mostly from fissures, or cracks, in the seafloor. Ninety percent of the Earth's eruptive activity and heat loss from the interior takes place along the mid-ocean ridge system.

      Mid-ocean Ridge Lava

      The middle of the ridges, where eruptions take place, are littered with pillow lavas – interconnecting sack-like bodies of solidified magma.  Lavas also spread out to make flat, thin sheet flows.  The old, solidified outer surfaced of the underwater flows insulate the molten rock, allowing the magma to flow for great distances.  Large amounts of lava do not erupt at any one spot: they erupt intermittently along all the ridges, so that large individual volcanoes do not form. 

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  • For Educators

    • Topic: Earth Science

      Subtopic: Volcanoes

      Keywords: Ocean bottom, Volcanoes, Basalt, Mid-ocean ridges, Volcanism, Volcanic eruptions, Submarine geology

      Audience: General

In This Section

Glassy Buds

Glassy buds

These pillow buds from the East Pacific Rise formed when the magmatic pressure within a pillow caused tiny fractures through which magma seeped.

East Pacific Rise Pillow Basalt

East Pacific Rise pillow basalt

The reddish rind on this pillow is made of palagonite, a clay-rich layer that formed when pillow’s hot exterior reacted with cold seawater.

Lava Pillars

Lava pillars

These pillars were collected on the East Pacific Rise. 

Pacific Ocean Pillow Basalt

Pacific Ocean pillow basalt

The glassy crust has broken off the rounded surface of this pillow, exposing the dark, fine-grained basalt beneath.

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