In size, volcanoes vary from mere mounds a few yards in diameter, such as the salses or mud volcanoes near the Caspian, to Etna, 10,800 feet high, with a base 30 miles in diameter; Cotopaxi, in the Andes, 18,887 feet high; or Mauna Loa, in the Sandwich Isles, 13,700 feet high; with a base 70 miles in diameter, and two craters, one of which, Kilauea, the largest active crater on our earth, is seven miles in circuit. Larger extinct craters occur in Japan; but all our terrestrial volcanic mountains are dwarfed by those observed on the surface of the moon, which, owing to its smaller size, has cooled more rapidly than our earth. It is, of course, the explosive force from below which keeps the crater clear, as a cup-shaped hollow, truncating the cone; and all stones falling into it would be only thrown out again. It may at the close of an eruption cool down so completely that a lake can form within it, such as Lake Averno, near Naples; or it may long remain a seething sea of lava, such as Kilauea; or the lava may find one or more outlets from it, either by welling over its rim, which it will then generally break down, as in many of the small extinct volcanoes ("puys”) of Auvergne, or more usually by bursting through the sides of the cone.
It is not generally until the volcano has exhausted its first explosive force that lava begins to issue. Several streams may issue in different directions. Their dimensions are sometimes enormous. Lava varies very much in liquidity and in the rate at which it flows. This much depends, however, upon the slope it has to traverse. A lava stream at Vesuvius ran three miles in four minutes, but took three hours to flow the next three miles, while a stream from Mauna Loa ran eighteen miles in two hours. Glowing at first as a white-hot liquid, the lava soon cools at the surface to red and then to black; cinder-like scoriaceous masses form on its surface and in front of the slowly-advancing mass; clouds of steam and other vapor rise from it, and little cones are thrown up from its surface; but many years may elapse before the mass is cooled through. Thus, while the surface is glassy, the interior becomes crystalline.
As to what are the causes of the great convulsions of nature known as the volcano and the earthquake we know very little. Various theories have been advanced, but nothing by any means sure has been discovered, and considerable difference of opinion exists. In truth we know so little concerning the conditions existing in the earth’s interior that any views concerning the forces at work there must necessarily be largely conjectural.