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Types of Volcanoes

The Earth has several types of volcanoes in order to let off steam once in a while. Sometimes it can get a little explosive.

An image of an active volcanic eruption.

A volcanic eruption. Can you guess which type of volcano it’s coming from?

There are a few types of volcanoes. We define a volcano as vents in the Earth’s crust that push out lava, rock fragments, gases, and hot vapor. We tell volcanoes apart by their by their size, eruption style, and what they are made of. There are three major types of volcanoes: shield, cinder cone, and composite cone. But there are other forms of volcanic-like things as well, such as calderas and fissures.  

Types of volcanoes


Shield volcanoes get their name from what they look like from above. From a plane, they look like a round shield. These volcanoes don’t end up very tall but they can spread over a big area. This is because the lava that they push out is very fluid and spreads out instead of building up. Mauna Loa, a shield volcano in Hawaii, reaches 100 miles across its base. 

Composite Cone

Composite cone volcanoes are cone-shaped volcanoes. Also known as ‘stratovolcanoes’ or ‘composite volcanoes.’ Layers of lava, ash, and rock collected over time around them and build them up. Composite cone volcanoes are what we often picture when we think about what a volcano looks like. These volcanoes can reach great heights of 8,000 feet or more! Some examples of a cone composite volcano are Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainier.

An image of Mt. Rainier at sunrise.

Mount Rainier at sunrise. It looks like something out of a storybook.

Cinder Cone

Cinder cone volcanoes are typically found on the flanks of other volcanoes. Also known as pyroclastic cones, as the name suggests they are made up of cinder. These volcanoes form either with one single eruption or over time from smaller eruptions. The shield volcano Mauna Kea has 100 cinder cone volcanoes branching off of it. Cerro Negro is one of the most active known cinder cone volcanoes in the world.

An image of the volcano. Cerro Negro.

Cerro Negro. It looks a little strange in such a grassy place.

Other Volcanic Phenomenon


These are volcanoes that have no mountainous structure. Calderas are massive crater-like volcanic features. They can cover many tens of square miles. Lava vents are at the bottom of these sinkholes.  


Fissures are linear volcanic vents from which lava erupts. There is usually no volcanic explosions. Fissures are often part of the structure of shield volcanoes.

Other Great Resources:

Slideshow on Volcano Types: https://study.com/academy/lesson/types-of-volcanoes-shield-cinder-cones-composite-cones.html

Great Video on Volcano Types: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y2Yd-XzMcO4

Short NatGeo Overview on Volcanoes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZp1dNybgfc

Fissure Vent Facts by Kiddle: https://kids.kiddle.co/Fissure_vent

Written By: Monica Siegenthaler