Why do volcanoes erupt?

Posted: 11:22 AM EDT Jul 28, 2011

Deep within the Earth it is so hot that some rocks slowly melt and become a thick flowing substance called magma.

Because it is lighter than the solid rock around it, magma rises and collects in magma chambers.

Eventually some of the magma pushes through vents and fissures in the Earth's surface.

A volcanic eruption occurs and the magma that has erupted is called lava.

Some volcanic eruptions are explosive and other are not.

How explosive an eruption is depends on how runny or sticky the magma is.

If magma is thin and runny, gases can escape easily from it, therefore this type of magma just flows out of the volcano.

Lava flows rarely kill people because they move slowly enough for people to get out of their way.

Lava flows, however, can cause considerable destruction to buildings in their path.

If magma is thick and sticky, gases cannot escape easily and the pressure builds up until the gases escape violently and explode.

In this type of eruption, the magma blasts into the air and breaks apart into pieces called tephra.

Tephra can range in size from tiny particles of ash to house-size boulders.