This view is, very probably, applicable to many cases, and the exceedingly fine dust which so often rises from volcanoes has, doubtless, for one of its causes the sudden and explosive conversion of water into steam in the interior of ejected lava, thus rending it into innumerable fragments. But that this is the sole mode of action of water in volcanic eruptions is very questionable. It certainly does not agree with the immense volumes at times thrown out, while explosions of such extreme intensity as that of Krakatoa very strongly lead to the conclusion that a great mass of water has made its way through newly opened fissures to the level of molten rock, and exploded into steam with a suddenness which gave it the rending force of dynamite or the other powerful chemical explosives.
As the earthquake is so intimately associated with the volcano the causes of the latter are in great measure the causes of the former, and the forces at work frequently produce a more or less violent quaking of the earth’s surface before they succeed in opening a channel of escape through the mountain’s heart. One agency of great potency, and one whose work never ceases, has doubtless much to do with earthquake action. In the description of this we cannot do better than to quote from “The Earth’s Beginning” of Sir Robert S. Ball.
CAUSE OF EARTHQUAKES
“As to the immediate cause of earthquakes there is no doubt considerable difference of opinion. But I think it will not be doubted that an earthquake is one of the consequences, though perhaps a remote one, of the gradual loss of internal heat from the earth. As this terrestrial heat is gradually declining, it follows from the law that we have already so often had occasion to use that the bulk of the earth must be shrinking. No doubt the diminution in the earth’s diameter due to the loss of heat must be exceedingly small, even in a long period of time. The cause, however, is continually in operation, and, accordingly, the crust of the earth has from time to time to be accommodated to the fact that the whole globe is lessening. The circumference of our earth at the equator must be gradually declining; a certain length in that circumference is lost each year. We may admit that loss to be a quantity far too small to be measured by any observations as yet obtainable, but, nevertheless, it is productive of phenomena so important that it cannot be overlooked.
“It follows from these considerations that the rocks which form the earth’s crust over the surface of the continents and the islands, or beneath the bed of the ocean, must have a lessening acreage year by year. These rocks must therefore submit to compression, either continuously or from time to time, and the necessary yielding of the rocks will in general take place in those regions where the materials of the earth’s crust happen to have comparatively small powers of resistance. The acts of compression will often, and perhaps generally, not proceed with uniformity, but rather with small successive shifts, and even though the displacements of the rocks in these shifts be actually very small, yet the pressures to which the rocks are subjected are so vast that a very small shift may correspond to a very great terrestrial disturbance.