Where lava is emitted at one point and flows to a less distance there is gradually built up a dome of the shape of an inverted saucer with an immense base but comparatively low. Many lava domes have been discovered in Iceland, although from their exceedingly gentle slopes, often but two or three degrees, they long escaped the notice of explorers.
The entire plateau of Iceland, a region as large as Ohio, is composed of volcanic products,—for the most part of successive sheets of lava whose total thickness falls little short of two miles. The lava sheets exposed to view were outpoured in open air and not beneath the sea; for peat bogs and old forest grounds are interbedded with them, and the fossil plants of these vegetable deposits prove that the plateau has long been building and is very ancient. On the steep sea cliffs of the island, where its structure is exhibited, the sheets of lava are seen to be cut with many dikes,—fissures which have been filled by molten rock,—and there is little doubt that it was through these fissures that the lava outwelled in successive flows which spread far and wide over the country and gradually reared the enormous pile of the plateau.
In the majority of volcanoes the lava which rises in the pipe is at least in part blown into fragments with violent explosions and shot into the air together with vast quantities of water vapor and various gases. The finer particles into—which the lava is exploded are called volcanic dust or volcanic ashes, and are often carried long distances by the wind before they settle to the earth. The coarser fragments fall about the vent and there accumulate in a steep, conical, volcanic mountain. As successive explosions keep open the throat of the pipe, there remains on the summit a cup-shaped depression called the crater.
Stromboli. To study the nature of these explosions we may visit Stromboli, a low volcano built chiefly of fragmental materials, which rises from the sea off the north coast of Sicily and is in constant though moderate action.
Over the summit hangs a cloud of vapor which strikingly resembles the column of smoke puffed from the smokestack of a locomotive, in that it consists of globular masses, each the product of a distinct explosion. At night the cloud of vapor is lighted with a red glow at intervals of a few minutes, like the glow on the trail of smoke behind the locomotive when from time to time the fire bos is opened. Because of this intermittent light flashing thousands of feet above the sea, Stromboli has been given the name of the Lighthouse of the Mediterranean.
Looking down into the crater of the volcano, one sees a viscid lava slowly seething. The agitation gradually increases. A great bubble forms. It bursts with an explosion which causes the walls of the crater to quiver with a miniature earthquake, and an outrush of steam carries the fragments of the bubble aloft for a thousand feet to fall into the crater or on the mountain side about it. With the explosion the cooled and darkened crust of the lava is removed, and the light of the incandescent liquid beneath is reflected from the cloud of vapor which overhangs the cone.