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What is a Mud Volcano?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 21, 2024
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A mud volcano, sometimes also called a gas-oil volcano, is geological formation created by the extrusion of pressurized gases and mud from below the Earth's crust. Just like igneous volcanoes, mud volcanoes can vary in size, and the strength of their eruptions is also quite diverse. The nation of Azerbaijan is famous for its mud volcanoes, most of which are located over petroleum deposits, but these volcanoes can be found all over the world.

An igneous or magma volcano erupts with lava, molten rock which pushes up through the surface of the Earth. Mud volcanoes, on the other hand, are essentially like steam vents for the planet: they erupt with pressurized gases, hot water, and various sediments. Many of them also contain petroleum products, which can cause the volcano to flare.

These volcanoes tend to start out as small bulges in the Earth which develop into cones. The bulge is created by a buildup of pressure underneath relatively plastic rock. Areas of increased tectonic activity are frequent sites for mud volcanoes, and these volcanoes can also appear over petroleum deposits, and in areas where volcanic activity is occurring. Geothermal springs are often associated with mud volcanoes as well, in which case they may erupt with superheated sprays of mineral water which can scald bystanders.

Some mud volcanoes erupt with relatively tame flows; a knee-high cone with a gentle trickle of mud is generally not terribly remarkable. Others erupt more explosively, shooting material into the air. This can be dangerous, as the material may be hot or actually on fire, causing damage wherever it lands. Many mud volcanoes are also very stinky, because they contain a variety of volatile gases.

A mud volcano is not the same thing as a mud pot, a pool of mud which bubbles as water and gases rise through it. Mud pots do not erupt, and they do not generally pose a safety hazard, although extremely hot or viscous mud pots can be dangerous for people who climb into them. While mud pots are sometimes used for recreation, this is not advisable with a mud volcano, due to the unpredictability of eruptions.

Sometimes, a mud volcano forces an evacuation. Extremely explosive eruptions or a heavy flow of mud can lead officials to decide that the neighboring population should be moved to a safer location. Residents of Porong, Indonesia, for example, were evacuated in 2008 after a mud volcano which had been erupting since 2006 became much more active, flooding roads and spewing black goo over the surrounding area.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is a mud volcano?

A mud volcano is a geological formation where subterranean gases and liquids, including water and mud, are expelled onto the surface. This occurs when underground pressure forces this mixture upwards through fissures in the Earth's crust. Unlike magmatic volcanoes, mud volcanoes do not produce lava and are generally not as hot, but they can still be quite spectacular.

How does a mud volcano form?

Mud volcanoes form when pressurized gases and mineral-rich water mix with subterranean mud. The pressure builds until it finds a weak spot in the Earth's surface, pushing the mud upwards. This process can be triggered by hydrocarbon gas accumulation, tectonic activity, or changes in the Earth's temperature and pressure conditions.

Where can mud volcanoes be found?

Mud volcanoes are found in regions with significant petroleum deposits and are associated with tectonic subduction zones and faults. They are prevalent in the Caspian Sea region, Indonesia, and parts of South America and Asia. According to the Geological Society of America, there are about 1,100 known mud volcanoes globally.

Are mud volcanoes dangerous?

Mud volcanoes can pose risks due to the sudden release of mud and gases, which can be explosive. The expelled materials can cover large areas and potentially cause damage to nearby structures. However, they are generally less destructive than magmatic volcanoes. In some cases, the released gases, like methane, can be flammable, adding to potential hazards.

Can mud volcanoes affect the environment?

Mud volcanoes can have a significant environmental impact. They release methane, a potent greenhouse gas, contributing to climate change. According to a study published in the journal "Geology," mud volcanoes contribute about 10% of the natural methane emissions to the Earth's atmosphere, influencing global warming.

Do mud volcanoes have any benefits?

Despite their potential hazards, mud volcanoes have benefits. They are natural indicators of underground petroleum reserves, aiding in exploration. The mud expelled is often rich in minerals and can be used for medicinal and therapeutic purposes. Additionally, mud volcanoes are unique natural attractions that can boost local tourism.

AllThingsNature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a AllThingsNature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By istria — On Mar 14, 2011

@glassaxe- A report came out recently that blames the giant mud volcano in Indonesia on oil exploration. The peer-reviewed study concluded that there were five major mistakes in the drilling of a well that caused the Lusi mud volcano to form. The volcano has killed numerous people, released huge amounts of toxic materials into the surrounding environment, and displaced a number of villages and factories in the area. The article I read said the volcano is pumping out about 50 Olympic swimming pools worth of mud per day, and will likely continue erupting for another 20+ years (it has already been erupting for five). The worst part about the story is that the drilling company is denying any involvement in an attempt to skirt liability for the accident.

By GlassAxe — On Mar 13, 2011

@amphbious54- There are a number of mud volcanoes continuously erupting in the United States. Probably the most notable is the Yellowstone mud volcano. These mud volcanoes are located in the Yellowstone National Park, and are created by magma form an active hotspot beneath the park.

Less well known are the mud volcanoes and the mud pots throughout California and along the west coast. There is an unnamed mud volcano off Redondo Beach that extends a thousand feet under the surface, and peeks through the ocean’s surface about 100 feet.

These types of volcanoes are also commonly found around oil wells. They can be caused by magmatic processes or by manmade causes. Oil exploration will often release pressure and gas in a geologically unstable area, causing a mud volcano.

By Amphibious54 — On Mar 12, 2011

Have there been any mud volcano eruptions in the United States?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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