Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Why Dormant Volcanoes?
Name: Susan
Status: Educaotr
Grade: K-3
Location: CA
Country: United States
Date: November 2008

One of my students asked, "What causes volcanoes NOT to erupt?"


I would use a bottle of carbonated drink as a metaphor. If the container is sealed tight, then no eruption (no over-flowing fizz) happens. If the bottle is kept calm and opened gently, there may be some hissing as the pressure escapes, but no overflow. If the bottle is shaken and given a lot of energy and then opened, there is an eruption.

Pretty good question. Your student is obviously doing some good thinking and the answer, "It is missing what makes it erupt", may not satisfy them at first, but that is the answer.

Volcanoes erupt when melted rock, called magma, hot water and gasses come near the surface of the ground from below. The rock eventually makes it up to the surface or very near it and the volcano erupts.

A volcano stops erupting when it loses, or uses up the source of heat that melts the rock. If the source of heat returns at a later date, the volcano will erupt again.

Think of a pot of boiling water. If you are boiling water (the volcano is erupting) and turn the stove off (the volcano loses or uses up its source of heat), the water stops boiling (the eruption stops).

If you turn the heat back on later, the water will boil again (the volcano erupts after lying dormant).

Where the heat for volcanoes comes from and how volcanoes lose or use up this heat is fairly complex unless the student understands “Continental Drift” (Plate Tectonics).

Bob Avakian
Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology

Good question. For a volcano to erupt, there must be some sort of heat source (usually pressure and/or heating from the interior of the Earth). If there is no heat source, there really is no way for the volcano to erupt. So, what causes a volcano not to erupt? Lack of energy/heat.

If she or he is wondering if we can stop a volcano from erupting, right now the answer is no, scientists do not know of any way to stop it.

Patricia Rowe

Click here to return to the Environmental and Earth Science Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory