Difference between a shield volcano and a stratovolcano

10 Difference between a shield volcano and a stratovolcano

Shield volcanoes and stratovolcanoes are two distinct types of volcanoes with different characteristics.

Here are 10 differences between shield volcano and a stratovolcano:

Shape and Profile:

Shield Volcano: Shield volcanoes have a broad and gently sloping profile. They resemble a warrior’s shield in shape, hence the name.

Stratovolcano: Stratovolcanoes, also known as composite volcanoes, have a steep-sided profile with layers of volcanic material, including ash, lava, and volcanic rocks.

Eruption Type:

Shield Volcano: Shield volcanoes are primarily associated with non-explosive, effusive eruptions where basaltic lava flows steadily and spreads over large areas.

Stratovolcano: Stratovolcanoes can produce both explosive and effusive eruptions. Explosive eruptions are more common due to the buildup of pressure from trapped gases.

Lava Composition:

Shield Volcano: Shield volcanoes are typically formed from basaltic lava, which has low viscosity and flows relatively easily.

Stratovolcano: Stratovolcanoes are often composed of andesitic to rhyolitic lava, which is more viscous and can lead to explosive eruptions.

Eruption Style:

Shield Volcano: Eruptions of shield volcanoes are generally less explosive and produce relatively gentle lava flows.

Stratovolcano: Eruptions of stratovolcanoes can be highly explosive, producing ash clouds, pyroclastic flows, and lava flows.

Volcanic Hazards:

Shield Volcano: Shield volcanoes pose fewer immediate hazards to nearby communities due to their less explosive nature.

Stratovolcano: Stratovolcanoes can pose significant hazards due to their potential for explosive eruptions, pyroclastic flows, and lahars (volcanic mudflows).


Shield Volcano: Shield volcanoes can become very large, covering vast areas, but they tend to have a relatively low height.

Stratovolcano: Stratovolcanoes are often taller than shield volcanoes and can reach great heights, making them some of the tallest mountains on Earth.

Eruption Frequency:

Shield Volcano: Shield volcanoes often experience more frequent eruptions, with individual eruptions typically being less intense.

Stratovolcano: Stratovolcanoes may have less frequent eruptions, but when they do erupt, the eruptions can be more powerful and devastating.

Volcanic Features:

Shield Volcano: Shield volcanoes typically have a central vent or caldera but lack the pronounced summit crater often seen in stratovolcanoes.

Stratovolcano: Stratovolcanoes often have a distinct summit crater formed by previous eruptions.

Associated Rocks:

Shield Volcano: The rocks found in shield volcanoes are primarily basaltic, including basaltic lava flows and lava plateaus.

Stratovolcano: Stratovolcanoes contain a wider variety of volcanic rocks, including andesite and dacite.

Geographic Distribution:

Shield Volcano: Shield volcanoes are commonly found at hot spots, mid-ocean ridges, and intraplate regions.

Stratovolcano: Stratovolcanoes are often associated with subduction zones, where one tectonic plate is being forced beneath another.

Here’s a tabular comparison between a shield volcano and a stratovolcano:

AspectShield VolcanoStratovolcano
ShapeBroad, low-profile with gentle slopesSteep-sided and conical shape with a distinct summit
SizeGenerally large, covering extensive areasCan vary in size, ranging from small to large
Eruption TypeCharacterized by effusive eruptions, producing fluid lava flowsOften exhibits explosive eruptions, producing pyroclastic material
Lava CompositionPrimarily composed of basaltic lavaExhibits a variety of lava compositions, including andesitic to rhyolitic
Eruption StyleGenerally non-explosive and relatively calm eruptionsCan have both explosive and effusive eruptions
Volcanic HazardsLava flows and volcanic gases are primary hazardsPotential hazards include pyroclastic flows, lahars, and volcanic gases
Geological FeaturesCan have long, extensive lava flows and broad shield-like structuresOften exhibits layers of volcanic ash, lava flows, and pyroclastic deposits
ExamplesMauna Loa in Hawaii; Galápagos Islands; Icelandic shield volcanoesMount Fuji in Japan; Mount St. Helens in the United States

It’s important to note that shield volcanoes and stratovolcanoes are distinct types of volcanoes with different characteristics, eruption styles, and geological features. The table provides a general overview of their differences.


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