Difference Between Lava and Magma

Lava vs Magma


Not many of us know that the temperature beneath the surface of the earth increases as we go down. In fact, the temperature at the centre or core, as it is called, is so high that it consists of nothing but molten rocks and other solid materials because of extremely high temperatures. This mixture of molten rocks is called magma. This magma resides in certain places called chambers that have passages up to volcanoes. When volcanoes erupt, it is this magma that is constantly fed into the volcanoes. When this magma comes out of volcanoes, it is referred to as lava. Though technically speaking, there is no difference between magma and lava as it is magma that is referred to as lava, there are many who remain confused about their differences. This article attempts to find out differences, if any, between magma and lava.

Now that we know that both magma and lava is molten rock, the differentiation between the two has to pertain to their different locations. We stand on cool earth, and cannot even think or imagine how hot down there at the center of the earth. As one travels down the crust and enters the mantle, the temperature gradually increases and there are pockets of mantle where one can find molten rock. This molten rock, called magma, finds its way up to the surface of the earth through fissures and cracks and also through chambers that fed into volcanoes.

The earths crust is made up of plates that keep on colliding with each other. Normally these plates fit together like pieces of a huge jigsaw puzzle, but when they move, they cause friction and release of lots of energy. When plates collide, one section slide over another, and the one beneath is pushed down. This cause molten rock or magma to squeeze up between the plates.

For those who think of volcanoes as fury of nature, they are actually giant safety valves that release the pressure that builds up because of high temperatures inside the earth. The magma that reaches the mouth of the volcano is around 700-1300 degrees Celsius. This magma, when it comes out of a volcano is termed as Lava. There are different types of lavas that are classified according to their consistencies or viscosity. Lava that is thin can flow downhill for kilometers and makes a gentle flow or slope. Thick lava finds it difficult to flow and the thickest lava does not even flow and plugs up the mouth of a volcano, causing great explosions in future.

In brief:

Difference between Lava and Magma

• Magma is the molten rock material deep inside earth’s crust, while the same magma, when it finds its way to a volcano through fissures and cracks, and comes out of the mouth of the volcano, is referred to as lava.

• So magma is deep underground, while lava is the hot mixture of gases and molten rocks that comes out of the volcano.

• The most notable difference between magma and lava pertains to their location.


Images Courtesy: Lava flow on Hawaii via Wikicommons (Public Domain)