Active and Dormant Volcanoes: Difference Types of Volcanoes

The main difference between active and dormant volcanoes is that active volcanoes are likely to erupt again, while dormant volcanoes may erupt again in the future but have not done so for a long time.

Active Volcanoes

Active volcanoes have a recent history of eruptions, typically within the last 10,000 years. They may be erupting currently, or they may be in a period of dormancy between eruptions.

An "Active volcano" can be best described as one that's currently in a state of regular eruptions. Maybe it's going off right now, or had an event in the last few decades, or geologists expect it to erupt again very soon. In short, if its spewing fire or likely to again in the near future, then it's active!

Active and Dormant Volcanoes: Difference Types of Volcanoes
Active and Dormant Volcanoes: Difference Types of Volcanoes. The Soufrière Hills volcano erupts on Montserrat in January 2010.
Photograph by Wayne Fenton

Dormant Volcanoes

Dormant volcanoes have not erupted in historical times, but they are still considered to be active because they have the potential to erupt again. They may show signs of activity, such as seismic activity, ground deformation, or the presence of hot springs and fumaroles. Some examples of dormant volcanoes include Mount Hood in Oregon, Mount Shasta in California, and Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

The main difference between active and dormant volcanoes is the frequency of their eruptions. Active volcanoes erupt more frequently than dormant volcanoes. However, there is no clear-cut definition of what constitutes "recent" or "frequent" eruptions. 

Extinct Volcanoes 

An extinct volcano is a volcano that is not expected to erupt again. Volcanoes that have become cut off from their magma supply. For example, the Shiprock volcano, which stands in Navajo Nation territory in New Mexico, is an example of a solitary extinct volcano. Edinburgh Castle, located just outside the capitol of Edinburgh, Scotland, is famously located atop an extinct volcano.

Examples of Active and Dormant Volcanoes

  • Active volcanoes: Mauna Loa (Hawaii), Kilauea (Hawaii), Mount St. Helens (Washington), Mount Fuji (Japan), Mount Etna (Italy)

  • Dormant volcanoes: Mount  Hood (Oregon), Mount Shasta (California), Mount Rainier (Washington),  Yellowstone Caldera (Wyoming), Mount Kilimanjaro (Africa)

It is important to note that the distinction between active and dormant volcanoes is not always clear-cut. Some volcanoes may be classified as dormant, but they may still be showing signs of activity. 

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