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Shield Volcanoes

The shield volcano is a special type of volcano. A shield volcano may not look like a volcano because it has gentle and long slopes. It looks like a low mountain or a high hill. This type of volcano looks like a giant shield lying on a plain. Thus people named it a “shield volcano”.

An image of a shield volcano in Hawaii.

Shield volcanoes have gentle slopes and cover a massive amount of the land. The shield volcano in this picture is Mauna Loa in Hawaii.


One distinct characteristic of the shield volcano is its highly fluid lava. When a shield volcano erupts, the lava travels in all directions. In addition, the eruption of a shield volcano is more frequent but less violent than other eruption types. 

What makes the lava so fluid? The answer is the extremely high temperature underneath the shield volcano. Its temperature is much higher than other types. As a result, the lava is much softer and spreads further from the center. The lava from shield volcanoes often travels long distances. Because of this, it causes much more destruction to nearby areas. 

An image of a shield volcano erupting in Ethiopia.

The wide spread of lava that erupts from a shield volcano in Ethiopia.

When a lava flow cools down, it forms solid igneous rocks. After a long time, hardened lava accumulates. This is how shield volcanoes build themselves up. The steady accumulation of hardened lava expands the volcano’s size and builds up its height. 
The following video may be helpful for you to further understand the distinct characteristics of shield volcanoes.

The Volcanoes on Hawaii Islands

Did you know that one of the Hawaii Islands is actually a large shield volcano with the majority under the sea level? In fact, the four islands of Hawaii are the products of the accumulation of hardened lava. The islands are still growing now.

An image of a Hawaiian island.

The beautiful landscape of Hawaii.

Mauna Loa in Hawaii is the largest shield volcano on Earth. It is one of the most active volcanoes as well. The video below is a great resource to learn more about the biggest shield volcano on our planet.
An interesting fact is that shield volcanoes are also found on other planets in the solar system. The largest shield volcano is actually on Mars, called Olympus Mons. In general, the sizes of shield volcanoes on other planets are higher and bigger than those on Earth. This is due to the differences in gravity.

Other Great Resources:

Examples and Diagrams of Shield Volcanoes: https://sciencetrends.com/shield-volcano-interesting-facts-examples-diagrams/

‘Shield Volcano Facts:’ http://www.softschools.com/facts/geography/shield_volcano_facts/2246/

Hawaii 3D Map: https://www.hawaii-guide.com/content/posts/hawaii-3d-map-images

As we can see on the above website, the four islands are actually connected under the sea.

Written by ChungLing Wong