Formation of Volcanic Islands

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  • Topic: Plate tectonics, Volcano, Convergent boundary
  • Pages : 5 (1654 words )
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  • Published : May 4, 2008
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Formation of Volcanic Islands
When people think of volcanoes, most would imagine a deadly explosion of liquid hot magma that ruthlessly obliterates anything in plain view. If volcanoes demolish everything in sight then how did life become what it is today? Volcanoes are not just a source of destruction and mayhem, long before civilization, while the earth was still being developed its apocalyptic surface consisted of nothing but molten rock and volcanic eruptions were a common occurrence; it was literally hell on Earth. No life, no oceans, no nothing just a sphere of fire and lava, but look at Earth today; a gorgeous blue fills all of the sky along with vast vivacious oceans containing all sorts of remarkable creatures. These “geological monsters” are actually capable of producing beautiful habitual islands such as Iceland and the entire Hawaiian chain.

Volcanic islands are made possible through their architect, plate tectonics; which is a combination of the theory of continental drift, by Wegener, and seafloor spreading, by Hess. Continental drift is the idea that at one point in time all of the continents formed a super continent called Pangea. Looking at the globe of the world, every continent looks as if it were a piece to a puzzle; which if placed back together, Pangea is made (3, Ref). Sea floor spreading on the other hand, is the theory of an underwater mountain range, the mid ocean ridge, which produces molten lava. As it cools it pushes previous plates away; creating new magma to replace what has moved. Now, the theory of plate tectonics shows there are moving plates which make up the crust of the Earth. There are only two types of plates that compose the earth’s crust which are oceanic and continental, and among these plates there are three sorts of plate boundaries. The first is transformal, which means two plates are sliding past one another side by side such as the San Andreas Fault in California. The second type is divergent, meaning two plates are moving away from each other, mainly happening along the mid ocean ridge. The third, and most important when it comes to volcanic islands, is convergent boundary; where two plates collide into each other (4, Trujillo). With these three kinds of boundaries and two different types of crusts, many scenarios can potentially occur. Whether it is ocean to continent transformal, continent to continent divergent, or continent to ocean convergent, but the key to unlock volcanic islands is oceanic to oceanic convergent boundary where two ocean plates collide. When this happens the older plate carrying the heavier oceanic crust will plunge under since the older plate becomes more dense as it cools and travels farther from the mid ocean ridge, while the younger and lighter plate will glide over on top of it creating a subduction zone (1, Ref). Within this subduction zone the denser plate diving into the asthenosphere is heated from the gases and pressure causing it to melt. Since molten rock is less dense, the lava rises up and creates an underwater volcano. As millions of years go by, the volcano continues to erupt underwater as long as there is a supply of magma. This generates an underwater mountain, known as a seamount (4, Trujillo). Eventually the underwater volcano piles so much erupted material, which cools on top of itself, that it breaks sea level thus creating a volcanic island, also known as an island arc. They’re named island arcs because an elegant shape of an arc is made as the volcano chain creates islands (1, Ref). An example of an Island chain is the Aleutian Islands which are located off the coast of Alaska. All along the mid ocean ridges lies countless amounts of seamounts that couldn’t reach up to the surface to become an island. Since the mid ocean ridge is a divergent plate boundary, the plates consistently move away from the volcanic activity as new lava seeps up and cools. Existing seafloor is pushed away as new seafloor is...
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