Volcanic rock

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Ignimbrite is a deposit of a pyroclastic flow. Ignimbrite.jpg
Ignimbrite is a deposit of a pyroclastic flow.

Volcanic rock (often shortened to volcanics in scientific contexts) is a rock formed from magma erupted from a volcano. In other words, it differs from other igneous rock by being of volcanic origin. Like all rock types, the concept of volcanic rock is artificial, and in nature volcanic rocks grade into hypabyssal and metamorphic rocks and constitute an important element of some sediments and sedimentary rocks. For these reasons, in geology, volcanics and shallow hypabyssal rocks are not always treated as distinct. In the context of Precambrian shield geology, the term "volcanic" is often applied to what are strictly metavolcanic rocks. Volcanic rocks and sediment that form from magma erupted into the air are called "volcaniclastics," and these are technically sedimentary rocks.

Magma Mixture of molten or semi-molten rock, volatiles and solids that is found beneath the surface of the Earth

Magma is the molten or semi-molten natural material from which all igneous rocks are formed. Magma is found beneath the surface of the Earth, and evidence of magmatism has also been discovered on other terrestrial planets and some natural satellites. Besides molten rock, magma may also contain suspended crystals and gas bubbles. Magma is produced by melting of the mantle and/or the crust at various tectonic settings, including subduction zones, continental rift zones, mid-ocean ridges and hotspots. Mantle and crustal melts migrate upwards through the crust where they are thought to be stored in magma chambers or trans-crustal crystal-rich mush zones. During their storage in the crust, magma compositions may be modified by fractional crystallization, contamination with crustal melts, magma mixing, and degassing. Following their ascent through the crust, magmas may feed a volcano or solidify underground to form an intrusion. While the study of magma has historically relied on observing magma in the form of lava flows, magma has been encountered in situ three times during geothermal drilling projects—twice in Iceland, and once in Hawaii.

Volcano A rupture in the crust of a planetary-mass object that allows hot lava, volcanic ash, and gases to escape from a magma chamber below the surface

A volcano is a rupture in the crust of a planetary-mass object, such as Earth, that allows hot lava, volcanic ash, and gases to escape from a magma chamber below the surface.

Igneous rock Rock formed through the cooling and solidification of magma or lava

Igneous rock, or magmatic rock, is one of the three main rock types, the others being sedimentary and metamorphic. Igneous rock is formed through the cooling and solidification of magma or lava. The magma can be derived from partial melts of existing rocks in either a planet's mantle or crust. Typically, the melting is caused by one or more of three processes: an increase in temperature, a decrease in pressure, or a change in composition. Solidification into rock occurs either below the surface as intrusive rocks or on the surface as extrusive rocks. Igneous rock may form with crystallization to form granular, crystalline rocks, or without crystallization to form natural glasses. Igneous rocks occur in a wide range of geological settings: shields, platforms, orogens, basins, large igneous provinces, extended crust and oceanic crust.


Volcanic rocks are among the most common rock types on Earth's surface, particularly in the oceans. On land, they are very common at plate boundaries and in flood basalt provinces. It has been estimated that volcanic rocks cover about 8% of the Earth's current land surface. [1]

A flood basalt is the result of a giant volcanic eruption or series of eruptions that covers large stretches of land or the ocean floor with basalt lava. Flood basalt provinces such as the Deccan Traps of India are often called traps, after the Swedish word trappa, due to the characteristic stairstep geomorphology of many associated landscapes. Michael R. Rampino and Richard Stothers (1988) cited eleven distinct flood basalt episodes occurring in the past 250 million years, creating large volcanic provinces, plateaus, and mountain ranges. However, more have been recognized such as the large Ontong Java Plateau, and the Chilcotin Group, though the latter may be linked to the Columbia River Basalt Group. Large igneous provinces have been connected to five mass extinction events, and may be associated with bolide impacts.


Setting and size

Classification of Volcaniclastic rocks and sediments [2] [3]
Pyroclastic deposit
Clast size in mmPyroclastPrimarily unconsolidated: tephraPrimarily consolidated: pyroclastic rock
> 64 mmBomb, blockAgglomerate, bed of blocks or bomb, block tephraAgglomerate, pyroclastic breccia
64 to 2 mmLapillusLayer, bed of lapilli or lapilli tephraLapilli tuff
2 to 1/16 mmCoarse ash grainCoarse ashCoarse (ash tuff)
< 1/16 mmFine ash grain (dust grain)Fine ash (dust)Fine (ash) tuff (dust tuff)


Photomicrograph of a volcanic lithic fragment (sand grain); upper picture is plane-polarized light, bottom picture is cross-polarized light, scale box at left-center is 0.25 millimeter. LvMS-Lvm.jpg
Photomicrograph of a volcanic lithic fragment (sand grain); upper picture is plane-polarized light, bottom picture is cross-polarized light, scale box at left-center is 0.25 millimeter.

Volcanic rocks are usually fine-grained or aphanitic to glass in texture. They often contain clasts of other rocks and phenocrysts. Phenocrysts are crystals that are larger than the matrix and are identifiable with the unaided eye. Rhomb porphyry is an example with large rhomb shaped phenocrysts embedded in a very fine grained matrix.


A xenolith is a rock fragment that becomes enveloped in a larger rock during the latter's development and solidification. In geology, the term xenolith is almost exclusively used to describe inclusions in igneous rock during magma emplacement and eruption. Xenoliths may be engulfed along the margins of a magma chamber, torn loose from the walls of an erupting lava conduit or explosive diatreme or picked up along the base of a flowing body of lava on the Earth's surface. A xenocryst is an individual foreign crystal included within an igneous body. Examples of xenocrysts are quartz crystals in a silica-deficient lava and diamonds within kimberlite diatremes. Xenoliths can be non-uniform within individual locations, even in areas which are spatially limited, e.g. rhyolite-dominated lava of Niijima volcano (Japan) contains two types of gabbroic xenoliths which are of different origin - they were formed in different temperature and pressure conditions.

Rock (geology) A naturally occurring solid aggregate of one or more minerals or mineraloids

Rock is a solid inorganic substance. It is defined by the minerals included, its chemical composition and the way in which it is formed. Rocks are usually grouped into four different main groups: igneous rocks, metamorphic rocks, sedimentary rocks and meteorites. The rocks are part of the bedrock that builds up the Earth's crust.


A phenocryst is an early forming, relatively large and usually conspicuous crystal distinctly larger than the grains of the rock groundmass of an igneous rock. Such rocks that have a distinct difference in the size of the crystals are called porphyries, and the adjective porphyritic is used to describe them. Phenocrysts often have euhedral forms, either due to early growth within a magma, or by post-emplacement recrystallization. Normally the term phenocryst is not used unless the crystals are directly observable, which is sometimes stated as greater than .5 millimeter in diameter. Phenocrysts below this level, but still larger than the groundmass crystals, are termed microphenocrysts. Very large phenocrysts are termed megaphenocrysts. Some rocks contain both microphenocrysts and megaphenocrysts. In metamorphic rocks, crystals similar to phenocrysts are called porphyroblasts.

Volcanic rocks often have a vesicular texture caused by voids left by volatiles trapped in the molten lava. Pumice is a highly vesicular rock produced in explosive volcanic eruptions.

Vesicular texture

Vesicular texture is a volcanic rock texture characterized by a rock being pitted with many cavities at its surface and inside. This texture is common in aphanitic, or glassy, igneous rocks that have come to the surface of the earth, a process known as extrusion. As magma rises to the surface the pressure on it decreases. When this happens gasses dissolved in the magma are able to come out of solution, forming gas bubbles inside it. When the magma finally reaches the surface as lava and cools, the rock solidifies around the gas bubbles and traps them inside, preserving them as holes filled with gas called vesicles.

Lava Molten rock expelled by a volcano during an eruption

Lava is molten rock generated by geothermal energy and expelled through fractures in planetary crust or in an eruption, usually at temperatures from 700 to 1,200 °C. The structures resulting from subsequent solidification and cooling are also sometimes described as lava. The molten rock is formed in the interior of some planets, including Earth, and some of their satellites, though such material located below the crust is referred to by other terms.

Pumice Light coloured highly vesicular volcanic glass

Pumice, called pumicite in its powdered or dust form, is a volcanic rock that consists of highly vesicular rough textured volcanic glass, which may or may not contain crystals. It is typically light colored. Scoria is another vesicular volcanic rock that differs from pumice in having larger vesicles, thicker vesicle walls and being dark colored and denser.


Most modern petrologists classify igneous rocks, including volcanic rocks, by their chemistry when dealing with their origin. The fact that different mineralogies and textures may be developed from the same initial magmas has led petrologists to rely heavily on chemistry to look at a volcanic rock's origin.

The chemistry of volcanic rocks is dependent on two things: the initial composition of the primary magma and the subsequent differentiation. Differentiation of most volcanic rocks tends to increase the silica (SiO2) content, mainly by crystal fractionation.

Silicon dioxide chemical compound

Silicon dioxide, also known as silica, silicic acid or silicic acid anhydride is an oxide of silicon with the chemical formula SiO2, most commonly found in nature as quartz and in various living organisms. In many parts of the world, silica is the major constituent of sand. Silica is one of the most complex and most abundant families of materials, existing as a compound of several minerals and as synthetic product. Notable examples include fused quartz, fumed silica, silica gel, and aerogels. It is used in structural materials, microelectronics (as an electrical insulator), and as components in the food and pharmaceutical industries.

Fractional crystallization (geology) One of the main processes of magmatic differentiation

Fractional crystallization, or crystal fractionation, is one of the most important geochemical and physical processes operating within the Earth's crust and mantle. It is important in the formation of igneous rocks because it is one of the main processes of magmatic differentiation. Fractional crystallization is also important in the formation of sedimentary evaporite rocks.

The initial composition of most volcanic rocks is basaltic, albeit small differences in initial compositions may result in multiple differentiation series. The most common of these series are tholeiitic, calc-alkaline, and alkaline.

Basalt A magnesium- and iron-rich extrusive igneous rock

Basalt is a mafic extrusive igneous rock formed from the rapid cooling of magnesium-rich and iron-rich lava exposed at or very near the surface of a terrestrial planet or a moon. More than 90% of all volcanic rock on Earth is basalt. Basalt lava has a low viscosity, due to its low silica content, resulting in rapid lava flows that can spread over great areas before cooling and solidification. Flood basalt describes the formation in a series of lava basalt flows.

The tholeiitic magma series, named after the German municipality of Tholey, is one of two main magma series in igneous rocks, the other being the calc-alkaline series. A magma series is a chemically distinct range of magma compositions that describes the evolution of a mafic magma into a more evolved, silica rich end member. The International Union of Geological Sciences recommends that tholeiitic basalt be used in preference to the term "tholeiite".


Most volcanic rocks share a number of common minerals. Differentiation of volcanic rocks tends to increase the silica (SiO2) content mainly by fractional crystallization. Thus, more evolved volcanic rocks tend to be richer in minerals with a higher amount of silica such as phyllo and tectosilicates including the feldspars, quartz polymorphs and muscovite. While still dominated by silicates, more primitive volcanic rocks have mineral assemblages with less silica, such as olivine and the pyroxenes. Bowen's reaction series correctly predicts the order of formation of the most common minerals in volcanic rocks.

Occasionally, a magma may pick up crystals that crystallized from another magma; these crystals are called xenocrysts. Diamonds found in kimberlites are rare but well-known xenocrysts; the kimberlites do not create the diamonds, but pick them up and transport them to the surface of the Earth.


IUGS classification of aphanitic volcanic rocks according to their relative alkali (Na2O + K2O) and silica (SiO2) weight contents. Blue area is roughly where alkaline rocks plot; yellow area where subalkaline rocks plot. Original source: *
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Le Maitre, R.W. (ed.); 1989: A classification of igneous rocks and glossary of terms, Blackwell Science, Oxford. Classification extrusive rocks EN.svg
IUGS classification of aphanitic volcanic rocks according to their relative alkali (Na2O + K2O) and silica (SiO2) weight contents. Blue area is roughly where alkaline rocks plot; yellow area where subalkaline rocks plot. Original source: *Le Maitre, R.W. (ed.); 1989: A classification of igneous rocks and glossary of terms, Blackwell Science, Oxford.
An aphanitic volcanic sand grain, with fine-grained groundmass, as seen under a petrographic microscope LvMS-Lvv.jpg
An aphanitic volcanic sand grain, with fine-grained groundmass, as seen under a petrographic microscope
Vesicular olivine basalt from La Palma (green phenocrysts are olivine). Olivine basalt2.jpg
Vesicular olivine basalt from La Palma (green phenocrysts are olivine).
A 15-centimeter (5.9 in) piece of pumice supported by a rolled U.S. $20 bill demonstrates its very low density. Pumice on 20 dollars.jpg
A 15-centimeter (5.9 in) piece of pumice supported by a rolled U.S. $20 bill demonstrates its very low density.

Volcanic rocks are named according to both their chemical composition and texture. Basalt is a very common volcanic rock with low silica content. Rhyolite is a volcanic rock with high silica content. Rhyolite has silica content similar to that of granite while basalt is compositionally equal to gabbro. Intermediate volcanic rocks include andesite, dacite, trachyte, and latite.

Pyroclastic rocks are the product of explosive volcanism. They are often felsic (high in silica). Pyroclastic rocks are often the result of volcanic debris, such as ash, bombs and tephra, and other volcanic ejecta. Examples of pyroclastic rocks are tuff and ignimbrite.

Shallow intrusions, which possess structure similar to volcanic rather than plutonic rocks, are also considered to be volcanic, shading into subvolcanic.

The terms lava stone and lava rock are more used by marketers than geologists, who would likely say "volcanic rock" (since lava is a molten liquid and rock is solid). "Lava stone" may describe anything from a friable silicic pumice to solid mafic flow basalt, and is sometimes used to describe rocks that were never lava, but look as if they were (such as sedimentary limestone with dissolution pitting). To convey anything about the physical or chemical properties of the rock, a more specific term should be used; a good supplier will know what sort of volcanic rock they are selling. [4]

Composition of volcanic rocks

`A`a next to pahoehoe lava at the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, Idaho, United States. Aa next to pahoehoe lava at Craters of the Moon NM-750px.JPG
ʻAʻā next to pāhoehoe lava at the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, Idaho, United States.
A German example of latite, a type of volcanic rock Latit - Boxberg, Hocheifel.jpg
A German example of latite, a type of volcanic rock

The sub-family of rocks that form from volcanic lava are called igneous volcanic rocks (to differentiate them from igneous rocks that form from magma below the surface, called igneous plutonic rocks).

The lavas of different volcanoes, when cooled and hardened, differ much in their appearance and composition. If a rhyolite lava-stream cools quickly, it can quickly freeze into a black glassy substance called obsidian. When filled with bubbles of gas, the same lava may form the spongy appearing pumice. Allowed to cool slowly, it forms a light-colored, uniformly solid rock called rhyolite.

A sample of rhyolite Rhyolite 2013.jpg
A sample of rhyolite
Basaltic scoria from Amsterdam Island in the Indian Ocean Scoria AmsterdamIsland 2 edit.jpg
Basaltic scoria from Amsterdam Island in the Indian Ocean

The lavas, having cooled rapidly in contact with the air or water, are mostly finely crystalline or have at least fine-grained ground-mass representing that part of the viscous semi-crystalline lava flow that was still liquid at the moment of eruption. At this time they were exposed only to atmospheric pressure, and the steam and other gases, which they contained in great quantity were free to escape; many important modifications arise from this, the most striking being the frequent presence of numerous steam cavities (vesicular structure) often drawn out to elongated shapes subsequently filled up with minerals by infiltration (amygdaloidal structure). [5] [6] [7] [8]

As crystallization was going on while the mass was still creeping forward under the surface of the Earth, the latest formed minerals (in the ground-mass) are commonly arranged in subparallel winding lines that follow the direction of movement (fluxion or fluidal structure)—and larger early minerals that previously crystallized may show the same arrangement. Most lavas fall considerably below their original temperatures before emitted. In their behavior, they present a close analogy to hot solutions of salts in water, which, when they approach the saturation temperature, first deposit a crop of large, well-formed crystals (labile stage) and subsequently precipitate clouds of smaller less perfect crystalline particles (metastable stage). [5]

In igneous rocks the first generation of crystals generally forms before the lava has emerged to the surface, that is to say, during the ascent from the subterranean depths to the crater of the volcano. It has frequently been verified by observation that freshly emitted lavas contain large crystals borne along in a molten, liquid mass. The large, well-formed, early crystals (phenocrysts) are said to be porphyritic; the smaller crystals of the surrounding matrix or ground-mass belong to the post-effusion stage. More rarely lavas are completely fused at the moment of ejection; they may then cool to form a non-porphyritic, finely crystalline rock, or if more rapidly chilled may in large part be non-crystalline or glassy (vitreous rocks such as obsidian, tachylyte, pitchstone). [5]

A common feature of glassy rocks is the presence of rounded bodies (spherulites), consisting of fine divergent fibres radiating from a center; they consist of imperfect crystals of feldspar, mixed with quartz or tridymite; similar bodies are often produced artificially in glasses that are allowed to cool slowly. Rarely these spherulites are hollow or consist of concentric shells with spaces between (lithophysae). Perlitic structure, also common in glasses, consists of the presence of concentric rounded cracks owing to contraction on cooling. [5]

Volcanic rocks, Porto Moniz, Madeira Volcanic rock.jpg
Volcanic rocks, Porto Moniz, Madeira

The phenocrysts or porphyritic minerals are not only larger than those of the ground-mass; as the matrix was still liquid when they formed they were free to take perfect crystalline shapes, without interference by the pressure of adjacent crystals. They seem to have grown rapidly, as they are often filled with enclosures of glassy or finely crystalline material like that of the ground-mass . Microscopic examination of the phenocrysts often reveals that they have had a complex history. Very frequently they show layers of different composition, indicated by variations in color or other optical properties; thus augite may be green in the center surrounded by various shades of brown; or they may be pale green centrally and darker green with strong pleochroism (aegirine) at the periphery. [5]

In the feldspars the center is usually richer in calcium than the surrounding layers, and successive zones may often be noted, each less calcic than those within it. Phenocrysts of quartz (and of other minerals), instead of sharp, perfect crystalline faces, may show rounded corroded surfaces, with the points blunted and irregular tongue-like projections of the matrix into the substance of the crystal. It is clear that after the mineral had crystallized it was partly again dissolved or corroded at some period before the matrix solidified. [5]

Corroded phenocrysts of biotite and hornblende are very common in some lavas; they are surrounded by black rims of magnetite mixed with pale green augite. The hornblende or biotite substance has proved unstable at a certain stage of consolidation, and has been replaced by a paramorph of augite and magnetite, which may partially or completely substitute for the original crystal but still retains its characteristic outlines. [5]

See also

Related Research Articles

In geology, felsic refers to igneous rocks that are relatively rich in elements that form feldspar and quartz. It is contrasted with mafic rocks, which are relatively richer in magnesium and iron. Felsic refers to silicate minerals, magma, and rocks which are enriched in the lighter elements such as silicon, oxygen, aluminium, sodium, and potassium. Felsic magma or lava is higher in viscosity than mafic magma/lava.

Dacite Volcanic rock intermediate in composition between andesite and rhyolite

Dacite is an igneous, volcanic rock. It has an aphanitic to porphyritic texture and is intermediate in composition between andesite and rhyolite. The word dacite comes from Dacia, a province of the Roman Empire which lay between the Danube River and Carpathian Mountains where the rock was first described.

Trachyte igneous rock

Trachyte is an igneous volcanic rock with an aphanitic to porphyritic texture. It is the volcanic equivalent of syenite. The mineral assemblage consists of essential alkali feldspar; relatively minor plagioclase and quartz or a feldspathoid such as nepheline may also be present.. Biotite, clinopyroxene and olivine are common accessory minerals.

Andesite An intermediate volcanic rock

Andesite ( or ) is an extrusive igneous, volcanic rock, of intermediate composition, with aphanitic to porphyritic texture. In a general sense, it is the intermediate type between basalt and rhyolite, and ranges from 57 to 63% silicon dioxide (SiO2) as illustrated in TAS diagrams. The mineral assemblage is typically dominated by plagioclase plus pyroxene or hornblende. Magnetite, zircon, apatite, ilmenite, biotite, and garnet are common accessory minerals. Alkali feldspar may be present in minor amounts. The quartz-feldspar abundances in andesite and other volcanic rocks are illustrated in QAPF diagrams.

Aphanite Igneous rocks which are so fine-grained that their component mineral crystals are not detectable by the unaided eye

Aphanite, or aphanitic as an adjective, is a name given to certain igneous rocks that are so fine-grained that their component mineral crystals are not detectable by the unaided eye. This geological texture results from rapid cooling in volcanic or hypabyssal environments. As a rule, the texture of these rocks is not the same as that of volcanic glass, with volcanic glass being non-crystalline (amorphous), and having a glass-like appearance.

Extrusive rock

Extrusive rock refers to the mode of igneous volcanic rock formation in which hot magma from inside the Earth flows out (extrudes) onto the surface as lava or explodes violently into the atmosphere to fall back as pyroclastics or tuff.This is as opposed to intrusive rock formation, in which magma does not reach the surface.

Tachylite A form of basaltic volcanic glass

Tachylite is a form of basaltic volcanic glass. This glass is formed naturally by the rapid cooling of molten basalt. It is a type of mafic igneous rock that is decomposable by acids and readily fusible. The color is a black or dark-brown, and it has a greasy-looking, resinous luster. It is very brittle and occurs in dikes, veins and intrusive masses. The word originates from the Ancient Greek takhus meaning swift.

Rock cycle Transitions through geologic time among the three main rock types: sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous

The rock cycle is a basic concept in geology that describes the transitions through geologic time among the three main rock types: sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous. As the adjacent diagram illustrates, each of the types of rocks is altered or destroyed when it is forced out of its equilibrium conditions. An igneous rock such as basalt may break down and dissolve when exposed to the atmosphere, or melt as it is subducted under a continent. Due to the driving forces of the rock cycle, plate tectonics and the water cycle, rocks do not remain in equilibrium and are forced to change as they encounter new environments. The rock cycle is an illustration that explains how the three rock types are related to each other, and how processes change from one type to another over time. This cyclical aspect makes rock change a geologic cycle and, on planets containing life, a biogeochemical cycle.

Quartz-porphyry A type of volcanic rock containing large porphyritic crystals of quartz

Quartz-porphyry, in layman's terms, is a type of volcanic (igneous) rock containing large porphyritic crystals of quartz. These rocks are classified as hemi-crystalline acid rocks.

Rock microstructure includes the texture of a rock and the small scale rock structures. The words "texture" and "microstructure" are interchangeable, with the latter preferred in modern geological literature. However, texture is still acceptable because it is a useful means of identifying the origin of rocks, how they formed, and their appearance.

In geology, igneous differentiation, or magmatic differentiation, is an umbrella term for the various processes by which magmas undergo bulk chemical change during the partial melting process, cooling, emplacement, or eruption.

Igneous textures include the rock textures occurring in igneous rocks. Igneous textures are used by geologists in determining the mode of origin igneous rocks and are used in rock classification. There are six main types of textures; phaneritic, aphanitic, porphyritic, glassy, pyroclastic and pegmatitic.

This glossary of geology is a list of definitions of terms and concepts relevant to geology, its sub-disciplines, and related fields. For other terms related to the Earth sciences, see Glossary of geography terms.

São Tomé and Príncipe both formed within the past 30 million years due to volcanic activity in deep water along the Cameroon line. Long-running interactions with seawater and different eruption periods have generated a wide variety of different igneous and volcanic rocks on the islands with complex mineral assemblages.

Microlites are minute crystals in an amorphous matrix. In igneous petrology, the term microlitic is used to describe vitric matrix containing microscopic crystals. Microlitic rocks are a type of hypocrystalline rocks. Unlike ordinary phenocrysts, which can be seen with little or no magnification, microlites are generally formed in rapidly cooled (quenched) basaltic lava, where cooling rates are too high to permit formation of larger crystals.


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