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Volcanoes – Get the facts

How many?

There are over 1,500 potentially-active volcanoes world-wide and eight to ten can be erupting at one time.

There are many more volcanoes under the ocean or dormant volcanoes around the world.

Types of volcanoes

There are many types of volcanoes. Here are the five major types of volcanoes:

  1. Caldera – a large depression in the Earth that is created when a volcano collapses.
  2. Cinder Cone – a volcano that is built from blobs of lava that are ejected from a single vent.
  3. Shield Volcano – volcano that builds up from countless outflows of fluid lava.
  4. Stratovolcano – volcanoes that are made up of layers of ash, lava and volcanic debris.
  5. Lava Dome – large mounds that form from lava that piles up around a vent.


Although the vast majority of volcanoes in Australia are extinct, scientists believe further minor volcanic activity is possible from long-dormant ones in South Australia and Victoria.

There are two active volcanoes in the Australian Antarctic Territories of Heard Island and McDonald Island. The bigger of these two volcanoes is called Big Ben (2750 metres). The volcano on McDonald Island is an active volcano, having erupted for the first time in 1992 and again in August 2005.

The Ring of Fire

The image below shows that about 80 per cent of the world’s volcanoes form a circle around the Pacific Ocean in a belt known as the 'Ring of Fire'.

The 'Ring of Fire' in the Pacific The 'Ring of Fire' in the Pacific
The 'Ring of Fire' in the Pacific
(see text on the left for more information)

In the Australian region, the ‘Ring of Fire’ volcanoes in Indonesia and the Philippines have erupted as recently as 1982 when the Galunggung volcano in West Java caused the engines of a passenger plane to stop as it was flying towards Australia.

In 1991, Mt Pinatubo in the Philippines erupted threatening the lives of a million people. A giant ash cloud rose 35 kilometres into the sky. The Philippine authorities were able to evacuate 60,000 people from the slopes and valleys, and the American military evacuated 18,000 people from a nearby base.

Our closest neighbours

In Papua New Guinea, two volcanoes, Vulcan and Tavurvur, erupted and literally buried the town of Rabaul under millions of tonnes of ash and made 80,000 people homeless.

In New Zealand, Mt Ruapehu erupted in late 1995 and June 1996, closing ski fields, causing floods from its crater lake and interrupting air traffic in the North Island.

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