Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: lava from Philip's Encyclopedia

Molten rock or magma that reaches the Earth's surface and flows out through a volcanic vent in streams or sheets. There are three main types of lava: vesicular, such as pumice; glassy, such as obsidian; and even-grained. Chemically, lavas range from acidic to ultrabasic. Basic lavas have a low viscosity and flow easily, covering large areas. Acidic lavas are highly viscous and rarely spread far.


Summary Article: lava
from The Columbia Encyclopedia

(lä'vӘ), molten rock that erupts on the earth's surface, either on land or under the ocean, by a volcano or through a fissure. It solidifies into igneous rock that is also called lava. Before reaching the earth's surface, the mixture of solid and liquid rock, and gases, is known as magma. Lavas are composed chiefly of silica and the oxides of aluminum, iron, magnesium, calcium, sodium, and potassium. Silica, with soda and potash, predominates in the light-colored, acid felsites; iron oxides, lime, and magnesia, in the dark-colored, basic basalts. Rock froth forms on the upper part of a lava flow if bubbles solidify before the gas can escape. Light-colored, glassy froth is pumice; dark, cindery or slaggy froth, of a coarser texture than pumice, forms what is known as scoriae. Lava flows which solidify as a mass of blocks and fragments with a rough surface are called block lava, or aa; those which solidify with a smooth, ropy, billowy surface are known as corded lava, or pahoehoe. Lava can sometimes cover wide regions through great fissures in the earth's surface, as in the ancient Columbia River plateau of the NW United States, where it is spread over 30,000 sq mi (77,700 sq km) and is up to 5,000 ft (1,524 m) deep. Other such regions are found in the Deccan plateau of India, in E Brazil, and in Iceland. Submarine lavas develop through volcanic activity along the mid-oceanic ridges and plate boundaries, where the mid-oceanic ridges produce more lava than any continental eruptions. Such underwater eruptions also harbor rich fauna unique to the vent area, such as red tube worms and giant clams, whose food supply is based on the hydrogen sulfide abundant in the vent waters. Unique features include black smokers, or hot springs of mineral-rich water that belch out from the ocean ridge where it is most active. In many instances the reasons for the heat and liquidity of magma, its exact source, and the causes of its rise in the earth are not clearly known, though the volcanic activity is often related to seafloor spreading. Other volcanic areas also lie along colliding plate boundaries and around hot spots believed to result from a plume of hot magma rising from the core-mantle boundary. See plate tectonics.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2018

Related Articles


Full text Article Lava Flows and Rheology
Encyclopedia of Volcanoes

Abstract This chapter deals with the morphology and rheology of terrestrial basaltic and silicic lava flows. Here we take a facies-based approach, d

Full text Article Lava Flow Hazards and Modeling
Encyclopedia of Volcanoes

Abstract Lava flows are outpourings of molten rock, or magma. On Earth, the overwhelming majority have silicate compositions, for which common melti

Full text Article Lava Dome Eruptions
Encyclopedia of Volcanoes

Abstract Lava domes form during volcanic eruptions in which highly viscous magma accumulates in the near-vent region. During this activity, gas pres

See more from Credo