How The Kilimanjaro Came To Be

How The Kilimanjaro Came To Be

Mount Kilimanjaro is one of the world’s most famous volcanoes.

Volcanoes, as everyone knows, are mountains that explode every once in a while, causing untold devastation… and then dying down again for thousands of years.

You have to wonder – how do these mountains get formed? Why do they explode? Why do they have craters on top? Most importantly – will the Kilimanjaro explode while I’m on it?

So many questions. But worry not, here are the answers.

First of all, the Kilimanjaro is not likely to erupt while you are on it, as it hasn’t exploded in at least 150,000 years. Right now, scientists are more concerned with the rapidly dissolving glaciers on the Kilimanjaro’s peak than the possibility of a volcanic eruption from its core.

However, the Kilimanjaro must have been an extremely active volcano to have reached the size it is at now – standing 4600 meters above its base, and with a peak height of 5832 meters.

Volcanoes originated when the mass of liquid that formed the earth slowly began to solidify on the surface. This is what gave birth to what we call “land” now. Land, however, was not continuous, and still is not so. The surface of the earth is divided into plates that rub against each other, and – just like using friction to strike a match – causes explosions whenever the force of this rubbing gets to be too much. The molten rock beneath the earth breaks through to the surface, and there we have a volcanic eruption.

Volcanic belts occur at the borders between tectonic plates, which are called fault lines. This also explains why volcanoes usually occur in ranges – the Kilimanjaro, as a free-standing volcano, is very much the exception.

However, tectonic plates move for some time, and then tend to settle down after a few hundred thousand years. Right now, the tectonic activity has settled down enough to make the Kilimanjaro dormant for longer than man has tracked it. Scientists say that there is volcanic activity going on beneath the surface, but even they are more interested in the shrinking icecaps at its peak than the rumblings and bubblings within. Mount Kilimanjaro has been firmly placed in the category of “dormant volcano” – one that shows some activity, but will not erupt in the foreseeable future.

According to its structure, Mount Kilimanjaro is what is called a stratovolcano – “strato” referring to the layered structure of the volcanic mound. A stratovolcano is the tall, steep volcanic mountain we associate with the image of a volcano, as opposed to the lower, wider structure of shield volcanoes. The difference in shape comes about due to the high viscosity of lava in stratovolcanoes as compared to shield volcanoes.

Highly viscous material cannot flow very far before it solidifies, so it solidifies close to the volcano’s mouth. With every eruption, more and more solidified lava is added to the volcano’s body, making it slowly grow in size and height. As eruptions do not happen continually, the lava of two successive eruptions will always look slightly different to the eye – which is what gives cross-sections of volcanic rock the distinctive “layered” appearance.

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