“The cause of the rise of the molten rock in a volcano is still a matter for discussion. Certain geologists contend that steam is the sole motive power; while others consider that the lava is forced to the surface owing to pressure on the reservoir from which it comes. The view perhaps most favorably entertained at present, in reference to the general nature of volcanic eruptions, is that the rigid outer portion of the earth becomes fractured, owing principally to movements resulting from the shrinking of the cooling inner mass, and that the intensely hot material reached by the fissures, previously solid owing to pressure, becomes liquid when pressure is relieved, and is forced to the surface. As the molten material rises it invades the water-charged rocks near the surface and acquires steam, or the gases resulting from the decomposition of water, and a new force is added which produces the most conspicuous and at times the most terrible phenomena accompanying eruptions.”
The active agency of water is strongly maintained by many geologists, and certainly gains support from the vast clouds of steam given off by volcanoes in eruption and the steady and quiet emission of steam from many in a state of rest. The quantities of water in the liquid state, to which is due the frequent enormous outflows of mud, leads to the same conclusion. Many scientists, indeed, while admitting the agency of water, look upon this as the aqueous material originally pent up within the rocks. For instance Professor Shaler, dean of the Lawrence Scientific School, says:
“Volcanic outbreaks are merely the explosion of steam under high pressure, steam which is bound in rocks buried underneath the surface of the earth and there subjected to such tremendous heat that when the conditions are right its pent-up energy breaks forth and it shatters its stone prison walls into dust. The process by which the water becomes buried in this manner is a long one. Some contend that it leaks down from the surface of the earth through fissures in the outer crust, but this theory is not generally accepted. The common belief is that water enters the rocks during the crystalization period, and that these rocks through the natural action of rivers and streams become deposited in the bottom of the ocean. Here they lie for many ages, becoming buried deeper and deeper under masses of like sediment, which are constantly being washed down upon them from above. This process is called the blanketing process.
“Each additional layer of sediment, while not raising the level of the sea bottom, buries the first layers just so much the deeper and adds to their temperature just as does the laying of extra blankets on a bed. When the first layer has reached a depth of a few thousand feet the rocks which contain the water of crystalization are subjected to a terrific heat. This heat generates steam, which is held in a state of frightful tension in its rocky prison. Wrinklings in the outer crust of the earth’s surface occur, caused by the constant shrinking of the earth itself and by the contraction of the outer surface as it settles on the plastic centers underneath. Fissures are caused by these foldings, and as these fissures reach down into the earth the pressure is removed from the rocks and the compressed steam in them, being released, explodes with tremendous force.”