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Volcano Shape

In this lesson you will explore a Google Earth file of over 10,000 volcanoes on Earth, zooming to specific volcanoes, closely examining their shape, and looking for patterns in their distribution.

New to Google Earth?

If you've never used Google Earth before or would just like a refresher on the basics, check out our Intro to Google Earth page with installation instructions, an overview of tool functions, and practice exercises.

Explore Volcano Shape with Google Earth

  1. Right-click (Win) or control-click (Mac) the Global Volcanism Program World Volcanoes KML file (KMLFile 733bytes Mar26 15) link and choose File > Save As... to save the Smithsonian Global Volcanism Program data to your computer. Save it somewhere it will be easy to find, like your desktop or in a new folder called EarthScope.
  2. Make a data table that includes Volcano Name, Volcano Shape, Summit Elevation (m), and Observations for the following volcanoes that represent the three classic volcano shapes.
    • Tambora, Indonesia
    • Krakatoa, Indonesia
    • Mount St Helens, Washington
    • Hualalai, Hawaii
    • Fernandina, Galapagos Islands
    • Mauna Kea, Hawaii
    • Sunset Crater, Arizona
    • Lava Butte, Oregon (There is no Global Volcanism Record for this volcano, but you can still view it in 3-D and describe its shape.)

  3. ge_win_icon Launch Google Earth by double-clicking its icon on your desktop or by clicking its icon in the doc (Mac) or Launch Bar (Win).

  4. Choose File > Open...., navigate to your EarthScope folder or directory, and open the GVPWorldVolcanoes.kml file that you downloaded.
  5. Ready to tour the Earth and explore the volcanoes? Type each volcano's name and location (as listed above) into the Search box to fly to the volcano's location.

  6. Zoom in on the volcano, rotating and tilting the view to it in 3-D. Remember, you can go to the Intro to Google Earth page anytime for tips on how to use Google Earth tools.

  7. Click on the red triangle to reveal descriptive information about the volcano.

  8. For each volcano, record the type of volcano that it is (stratovolcano, sheild, or cinder cone) and the summit elevation in your data table. When you have rendered it in 3-D, also record a few observations about its shape (For example, Does the volcano have steep, straight sides or are they more flat or rounded?).

  9. As you are exploring volcanoes, take a total of three screen shots, one for each type of volcano (stratovolcano, shield, cinder cone) that you render in 3-D. Click here if you need help taking a screenshot.

  10. Insert each of your three screen shots (one for each type of volcano: stratovolcano, shield, and cinder cone) into a Word processing or text document (e.g., Microsoft Word or Notepad). Beneath each image, write a brief description of the volcano's shape to accompany the screen shot. Save and print or email your document to turn it in to your teacher.
  11. Think About It

    Consider the locations of these volcanoes as you answer the following questions:

    1. How does the shape of a stratovolcano compare to that of a shield volcano?
    2. Which type of volcano are cinder cones most similar to, stratovolcaones or shield volcanoes?
    3. Where on Earth do stratovolcanoes tend to occur? (Hint: think about plate boundaries)
    4. Where on Earth do shield volcanoes tend to occur?