In a volcano, molten rock from a region deep below, which we may call its reservoir, ascends through a pipe or fissure to the surface. The materials erupted may be spread over vast areas, or, as is commonly the case, may accumulate about the opening, forming a conical pile known as the volcanic cone. It is to this cone that popular usage refers the word volcano; but the cone is simply a conspicuous part of the volcanic mechanism whose still more important parts, the reservoir and the pipe, are hidden from view.
Volcanic eruptions are of two types,—effusive eruptions, in which molten rock wells up from below and flows forth in streams of lava (a comprehensive term applied to all kinds of rock emitted from volcanoes in a molten state), and explosive eruptions, in which the rock is blown out in fragments great and small by the expansive force of steam.
The Hawaiian volcanoes. The Hawaiian Islands are all volcanic in origin, and have a linear arrangement characteristic of many volcanic groups in all parts of the world. They are strung along a northwest-southeast line, their volcanoes standing in two parallel rows as if reared along two adjacent lines of fracture or folding. In the northwestern islands the volcanoes have long been extinct and are worn low by erosion. In the southeastern island. Hawaii, three volcanoes are still active and in process of building. Of these Mauna Loa, the monarch of volcanoes, with a girth of two hundred miles and a height of nearly fourteen thousand feet above sea level, is a lava dome the slope of whose sides does not average more than five degrees. On the summit is an elliptical basin ten miles in circumference and several hundred feet deep. Concentric cracks surround the rim, and from time to time the basin is enlarged as great slices are detached from the vertical walls and engulfed.
Such a volcanic basin, formed by the insinking of the top of the cone, is called a caldera.
On the flanks of Mauna Loa, four thousand feet above sea level, lies the caldera of Kilauea, an independent volcano whose dome has been joined to the larger mountain by the gradual growth of the two. In each caldera the floor, which to the eye is a plain of black lava, is the congealed surface of a column of molten rock. At times of an eruption lakes of boiling lava appear which may be compared to air holes in a frozen river. Great waves surge up, lifting tons of the fiery liquid a score of feet in air, to fall back with a mighty plunge and roar, and occasionally the lava rises several hundred feet in fountains of dazzling brightness. The lava lakes may flood the floor of the basin, but in historic times have never been known to fill it and overflow the rim. Instead, the heavy column of lava breaks way through the sides of the mountain and discharges in streams which flow down the mountain slopes for a distance sometimes of as much as thirty-five miles. With the drawing off of the lava the column in the duct of the volcano lowers, and the floor of the caldera wholly or in part subsides. A black and steaming abyss marks the place of the lava lakes. After a time the lava rises in the duct, the floor is floated higher, and the boiling lakes reappear.