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4 Types of Volcanoes According to Shape (With Photos)

Updated on January 13, 2016
Learn the different types of volcanoes
Learn the different types of volcanoes

Different Types of Volcanoes

When we think of volcanoes, often the image that comes to mind is a catastrophic Hollywood-worthy explosion. Actually, there are different types of volcanoes—some are in fact very dangerous, while others are not. In order to understand the true nature of a volcano, it is important to know what kind it is.

Generally, volcanologists divide volcanoes into four major types.

Different Types of Volcanoes

Type of Volcano
Cinder Cone, AKA Scoria Cone
Symmetrical cone
Up to 1,200 feet (370 meters)
30-40 degrees
Tall and broad
Up to over 30,000 feet (9,000 meters)
Roughly 10 degrees near the base and 5 degrees near the top
Composite, AKA Strato
Tall, steep, and symmetrical
Up to 8,000 feet (2,400 meters)
Roughly 6 degrees near the base and roughly 30 degrees near the top
Lava Dome
Up to 330 feet (100 meters)
25-30 degrees

What Is a Volcano?

A volcano is a vent that directly connects magma to the surface of the Earth.

Geologists and professional volcanologists usually classify volcanoes into four different types, based on their shape, magnitude, structure, material, and type of eruption.

An Eruption From an Active Volcano

Cinder Cones
Cinder Cones

One of the most common types of volcanoes is the cinder cone. Less dangerous compared to other types, cinder cones only grow to about 1,000-1,200 feet tall. Unlike some of the other types of volcanoes—namely, shield volcanoes and composite volcanoes—cinder cones are usually created from a single opening. The opening of a cinder cone is a cone-shaped structure, while the steeps are formed of the erupted, fragmented cinders that fall close to the chimney/vent.

The manner of eruption for cinder cones is relatively simple. When the lava erupts, cinders of it are blown into the air. These fragmented cinders fall a short distance from the opening, thus creating the cone.

Famous Examples

  • Paricutín in Mexico
  • Lava Butte
  • Sunset Crater

Shield Volcanoes
Shield Volcanoes

Another type of volcano is the shield volcano. Unlike cinder cones, shield volcanoes can be very, very big in size. However, they are not as dangerous as that size might make it seem. This is because the eruption of lava out of shield volcanoes is not accompanied by pyroclastic material (bursts of gas and particles).

Shield volcanoes may be tall but tend to be very broad, with less steep slopes than other volcanoes.

Shield volcanoes can be huge because of their ample supply of magma. For example, Mauna Loa is a shield volcano that rises more than 30,000 feet above its base on the bottom of the ocean.

Famous Examples

  • Hualalai
  • Mauna Loa
  • Kohala Volcano

Did You Know?

There are three states of volcanoes:

• Extinct: Will never erupt again.

• Dormant: Have been asleep for a long time—at least 2,000 years. However, they are not extinct, and therefore could erupt at any time.

• Active: Are considered immediate threats. They are at risk of erupting lava and gases or showing seismic activities.

Composite (AKA Strato) Volcanoes
Composite (AKA Strato) Volcanoes

Composite volcanoes are also known as strato volcanoes. Composite volcanoes are reasonably big and can rise up 8,000-10,000 feet. Moreover, they can range anywhere from 1-10 km in diameter. Their eruptions are dangerous and explosive in nature, with many layers of lava and pyroclastic materials, the current of rock and gas that can reach 1,800°F and 450 mph, killing any living organism in its path immediately. The citizens of Pompeii were killed by a composite volcano's pyroclastic flow.

The general structure of composite volcanoes is tall and symmetrical and with steep sides. Commonly, composite volcanoes erupt hot gases, ash, lava, and pumice as well as stiff, slow-moving lava. Moreover, deadly mudflows—also commonly known as ‘lahars’—can also accompany the eruption.

Composite volcanoes are believed to kill the most people because of their deadly nature and high numbers. Apart from their dangerous side, composite volcanoes are also famous because they comprise some of the most beautiful mountains on planet Earth. For example, Mount Fuji of Japan and Mount Shasta in California are two famous composite volcanoes.

Famous Examples

  • Mount Fuji
  • Mount Shasta
  • Mount St. Helens
  • Mount Rainier

Lava Domes
Lava Domes

Lava domes are the fourth type of volcano that we are going to discuss. Unlike composite and shield volcanoes, lava domes are of significantly smaller stature. They are formed when the lava is too viscous to flow to a great distance. As the lava dome slowly grows, the outer surface cools and hardens as the lava continues to pile within. Eventually, the internal pressure can shatter the outer surface, causing loose fragments to spill down its sides. Generally, such lava domes are found on the flanks of larger composite volcanoes.

Famous Examples

  • There are lava domes within the crater of Mount St. Helens
  • Chaitén lava dome
  • Lassen Peak


So, the bottom line is that there are four different types of volcanoes, each with a different set of characteristics and structure. Some are more dangerous and catastrophic than others. Having this knowledge keeps you informed about the different types of volcanoes.

Want to read further on how volcanoes form? Rosalyn M. C. Lopes' The Volcano Adventure Guide breaks the process down in detail starting on page 38.

Poll Time!

Have you ever seen a volcano? Which one was it?

See results


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      Deanna Amodeo 2 years ago from Big Island

      This is awesome. I lived on the big island in Pahoa, and had a lava flow not even a mile away from me!

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      this really helped me

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      King Peter the magnificent 2 years ago

      volcanoes are awesome

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      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      This was a fascinating hub on the different types of volcanoes. There are always beautiful to see and dangerous to be near at the same time. Voted up!

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      Jean DAndrea 3 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Volcanoes are awesome, and I've stood on the outer crater of one which was in minor eruption at the time. It was one of the great experiences of all time for me. We weren't allowed into the crater to the lower level though, as it was too active to go down and see the lava lake.

      Interesting article.

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      Ana Maria Orantes 3 years ago from Miami Florida

      I like your article on the volcanos. Volcanos are the most dangerous activity that the earth have. Volcanos are destructive . Every time, I see a volcano active on television. I feel worry about the scientists that work on the volcanos. Other people around , they are smart . They leave fast. You did a marvelous job on your hub. Thank you for sharing your good work.

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      Avinesh Prahladi 4 years ago from Chandigarh

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      Twilight Lawns 4 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

      Not so close neighbours now, my friend. I moved a few miles down the road to London, UK.

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      Syed Hunbbel Meer 4 years ago from Karachi, Pakistan.

      @Mel: Indeed. It is very scary, and walking there must be fascinating and interesting :)

      @vibesites: It must have been a great experience hiking there. Great to hear about that and thanks for stopping by :)

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      Syed Hunbbel Meer 4 years ago from Karachi, Pakistan.

      @Twilightlawns: Yes, I have :) In fact, consider me your neighbor. I'm from Karachi :)

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      vibesites 4 years ago from United States

      This is really interesting.. The Philippines' Mayon Volcano is also a good composite (and active) volcano btw, having the perfect shape. I've hiked there once and fortunately I've returned in one piece. :)

      The works of Mother Nature is always interesting and awe-inspiring

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      Mel Carriere 4 years ago from San Diego California

      Very concise and interesting summary. I have been to Sunset Crater and was fascinated walking through the lava flows. It is sort of scary to think that major cities like Seattle are located at the foot of deadly volcanoes. Nice work!

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      Twilight Lawns 4 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

      A really very interesting hub. Thank you.

      I have always been fascinated by volcanoes and loved it when we studied them at school.

      Your hub was easy to read and struck just the right balance between really interesting and very informative, without being tedious.

      By the way, I feel that my interest in volcanoes may stem from the fact that i was born in a city that is build in the crater of an extinct volcano.

      I think you must have heard of it... Quetta, in Baluchistan.

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      Syed Hunbbel Meer 4 years ago from Karachi, Pakistan.

      @Livingsta and @Joseph: Thank you for stopping by :)

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      Joseph Muendo 4 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

      Interesting and informative

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      livingsta 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      Interesting hub, thank you for sharing!

    • Hunbbel Meer profile image

      Syed Hunbbel Meer 4 years ago from Karachi, Pakistan.

      Thank you, Vellur, for stopping by. Volcanoes always intrigues me and I hope that by studying these 4 different types of Volcanoes, people will understand them better.

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      Nithya Venkat 4 years ago from Dubai

      Volcanoes very well explained, thank you for sharing this with us. Voted up and shared.