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How does heat escape from the churning engine that keeps our planet running? Through volcanoes: vents in Earth’s thin crust through which molten lava, ash, and gases erupt in terrifying—and exhilarating—spectacles. As the special exhibition Nature’s Fury: The Science of Natural Disasters reminds us, living on this dynamic planet involves risk. Several hundred million people live near volcanoes that could erupt again, like Mt. Rainier in Washington State and Sicily’s Mt. Etna. Fortunately the geologists who continuously monitor these volcanoes—recording seismic activity, measuring gases, and sensing changes in shape and temperature—are able to issue warnings about eruptions days or weeks ahead of time.

Scientists at Work: Hawaii

Scientists at Work: Kilauea Volcano

Dr. Rosamond Kinzler from the American Museum of Natural History explores lava flows on Kilauea with scientists from the Hawaii Volcano Observatory, Dr. James Kauahikhaua and Dr. Christina Heliker.

making rocks

Making Rocks

Some volcanoes slowly ooze magma while others explode with immense power. Yet all volcanic eruptions begin in the magma chamber. Meet a scientist who has created a model chamber in his lab.


Find a vent

How do scientists zero in on deep sea vents within the world's vast oceans—especially when they are located a mile or more below the surface? Think like a scientist, and you'll find out! 

Volcanoes Under the Sea

Volcanoes under the sea

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.

Yellowstone: Monitoring the Fire Below

Yellowstone: Monitoring the Fire Below

Three of the most catastrophic volcanic eruptions in geologic history occurred at a place now visited by nearly four million people a year: Yellowstone National Park. 

signs of restlesness

Signs of Restlessness

The magma chamber responsible for Yellowstone’s volcanic activity is invisible and inaccessible, buried about 8 km beneath the surface. Therefore, its geologic moves must be analyzed indirectly. 


Volcanic Environment

When molten, silicate-rich fluids erupt onto the Earth’s surface, minerals often form in the numerous pockets and holes that develop in the cooling lava.


Mapping Mt. Rainier

Beneath the glacier-clad summit of Mt. Rainier lies an active volcano, which has more than once produced enough molten rock to bury an area the size of Tacoma and Seattle combined almost 10 feet under.

plates ont the move

Plates on the Move

A volcanic eruption that could be felt across an ocean, an earthquake that sparked landslides, massive tsunamis, and a volcanic eruption ... Examine the world-changing results of plates on the move.



Volcanoes provide an efficient way for solid planets and moons to shed their internal heat. Much of this heat arises from radioactivity in their interiors.


Follow the Magma

In 1669, the fastest and largest lava flow documented for Mount Etna on the island of Sicily killed most of Catania's 20,000 residents and destroyed much of the city. 


Volcanoes: Magma Rising

What causes volcanoes to erupt? How do scientists study them? Explore one of the most powerful, destructive volcanic eruptions in history.

Lava Flow


Volcanoes are one of Earth’s most terrifying—and exhilarating—spectacles. These vents in the ground issue lava, ash, and noxious gases at temperatures as high as 2,100°F (1,150°C) and are the closest we’ve ever gotten to the churning engine that keeps our planet running. What causes them to erupt?

Figure 10: Brrr! It was cold in th cave! Note the crevices in the sides and the fallen boulders

My Expedition to the Lava River Cave

To gain a better understanding of volcanoes, this eighth-grader from Arizona decided to go spelunking. Take her tour of the Lava River Cave, formed by a volcanic eruption 675,000 years ago.

Monitoring Mount Etna: Magma on the Move

Monitoring Mount Etna: Magma on the Move

Scientists in Sicily are collecting an enormous amount of data to monitor moving magma inside Mount Etna, one of the most active volcanoes in the world.


Recipes for Eruption

Museum researchers use different combinations of heat, pressure, and rocks to uncover the science behind volcanic eruptions.

Edmund Hovey

Expedition to a Modern Pompeii

The Nature’s Fury exhibition features chilling artifacts from a volcanic eruption that destroyed a bustling Caribbean city in 1902.

American Museum of Natural History

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