Geological Formations

Pictures here are of a large range of beautiful and mysterious geological formations, one or two of them helped by man.

See also Volcanic Island Chains on the Galápagos Islands.

Volcanoes and Geysers

The Pacific Ring of Fire

The Ring of Fire is a 40,000 km horseshoe shaped area in the basin of the Pacific Ocean where a large number of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur. It is associated with a nearly continuous series of oceanic trenches, volcanic arcs, and volcanic belts and/or plate movements. It has 452 volcanoes and is home to over 75% of the world’s active and dormant volcanoes. About 90% of the world’s earthquakes and 81% of the largest earthquakes occur along the Ring of Fire.

All but three of the world’s 25 largest volcanic eruptions of the last 11,700 years occurred at volcanoes in the Ring of Fire.

The Ring of Fire is a direct result of plate tectonics and the movement and collisions of lithospheric plates. The eastern section of the ring is the result of the Nazca plate and the Cocos plate being subducted beneath the westward moving South American plate. The Cocos plate is being subducted beneath the Caribbean plate in Central America. A portion of the Pacific plate and the small Juan de Fuca plate are being subducted beneath the North American plate. Along the northern portion, the northwestward-moving Pacific plate is being subducted beneath the Aleutian Islands arc. Farther west, the Pacific plate is being subducted along the Kamchatka Peninsula and arcs on south past Japan. The southern portion is more complex, with a number of smaller tectonic plates in collision with the Pacific plate from the Mariana Islands, the Philippines, Bougainville, Tonga, and New Zealand; this portion excludes Australia, since it lies in the centre of its tectonic plate. Indonesia lies between the Ring of Fire along the northeastern islands adjacent to and including New Guinea and the Alpide belt along the south and west from Sumatra, Java, Bali, Flores and Timor.

The famous and very active San Andreas fault zone of California is a transform fault which offsets a portion of the East Pacific Rise under southwestern United States and Mexico. The motion of the fault generates small earthquakes many times a day, most of which are too small to be felt. The active Queen Charlotte fault on the west coast of the Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, Canada, has generated three large earthquakes during the 20th century: a magnitude 7 event in 1929; a magnitude 8.1 in 1949 (Canada’s largest recorded earthquake); and a magnitude 7.4 in 1970.

Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

Kīlauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, has been oozing lava non-stop for the last 30 years. It typically flows downhill from the active vent toward the ocean through a series of tubes and surface flows. Here are some photos of it taken in August 2013; go to frequent updates on its state if you plan to visit Hawaii.

Increasing volcanic activity has been observed at Kīlauea Volcano, after a new vent sent lava shooting 65 feet in the air. The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) stated that rapid deflation at one of the volcanic crater floor, Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō led to the eruption of fissure. “This event is remarkably similar to a 1997 eruption in and near Napau Crater, which lasted less than 24 hours,” said Jim Kauahikaua, HVO’s Scientist-in-Charge.

Indonesian Volcanic Eruption

Hundreds of people were evacuated when Mount Karangetang in Indonesia began erupting; the Indonesian authorities issued a red alert. About 600 people live in three villages located four kilometres from the volcano’s western tip, which continued to erupt lava, a government volcanologist said. He added, “The evacuation of over 582 villagers are all in shelters, and nobody was injured, though the volcano is still in erupting.”

Karangetan, altitude 1,784 metres, is on Siau island in North Sulawesi province. The previous August, four people died after it erupted.

The Indonesian archipelago is located on the Ring of Fire, where volcanic and seismic activity is very intense, and dozens of volcanoes are active. Its most active volcano, Mount Merapi in central Java has killed more than 350 people following a series of violent eruptions which started in late October 2013.

Grímsvötn Volcano, south-east Iceland

Grimsvotn Volcano

Grímsvötn is said to be the subglacial dweller in Iceland’s Vatnajökull.

Vatnajökull ice cap, the home of the Grímsvötn volcano, covers around 8300 km2 (8%) of the landmass of Iceland. As well as Grímsvötn, the ice cap covers at least six other subglacial volcanoes, including Öræfajökull. Each of the volcanoes is part of a volcanic fissure system traversing the whole area.

Mount Vesuvius, east of Naples

Mount Vesuvius

Mount Vesuvius is the only volcano on the European mainland to have erupted within the last hundred years, but is best known for its eruption in AD 79 that led to the destruction of the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. It has erupted many times since and is today regarded as one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world. (See also a weird cloud over Mount Etna in Sicily.)

Vesuvius is part of the Campanian line of volcanoes that formed over a subduction zone created by the convergence of the African and Eurasian plates. This subduction zone stretches the length of the Italian peninsula. Under Vesuvius, the lower part of the subducting slab has torn and detached from the upper part to form what is called a slab window. This makes Vesuvius’ rocks slightly different chemically from the rocks erupted from the other Campanian volcanoes.

Mount Raung, Indonesia

Mount Raung

Raung is one of the most active volcanoes on the island of Java in Indonesia. It is located in the province of East Java and has a 2 km-wide caldera with a greyish rim. The difference in colour of the rim and the flanks of the volcanoes is due to the rim’s lack of vegetation compared with the healthy and extensive vegetation on the flanks.

With an altitude of 3,332 metres, Raung is the tallest volcano of its cluster. Although the valleys between the major volcanoes boast fertile, ash-enriched soil for agriculture, available land is very limited. Raung contains centres along a NE to SW line, with Gunung Suket and Gunung Gadung stratovolcanoes to the northeast and west respectively.

Raung is a big mountain that is different from the other mountains on Java in that its caldera, which about 500 metres deep and always smoking. It is an old mountain, with the caldera at its peak and surrounded by many small hills, it has a beautiful panorama looks beautiful. There are many types of flora and fauna.

Villarrica Volcano, Chile

Villarrica Volcano

Villarrica is the most active volcano in South America and is about 750 km south of Santiago, the capital of Chile. In Mapudungun, the local language, it is called “Ruka Pillañ”, meaning “House of the Spirit”. It is the westernmost of three large stratovolcanoes that run perpendicular to the Andean chain along the Gastre Fault. Villarrica, along with Quetrupillán and the Chilean portion of Lanín, are protected within Villarrica National Park. Guided ascents are popular during summer months.

Villarrica, with its lava of basaltic-andesitic composition, is one of a small number worldwide known to have an active (but in this case intermittent) lava lake within its crater. The volcano usually generates strombolian eruptions with ejection of incandescent pyroclasts and lava flows. Rainfall plus melted snow and glacier ice can cause massive lahars (mud and debris flows). Its most recent eruptions were in February 2015.

Black Rock Desert, Nevada

Black Rock Desert

The Black Rock Playa is one of the largest, flattest, surfaces on Earth, covering approximately 200 square miles. Standing on the playa taking in the 360° view is an experience you won’t forget. The continuous Fly Geyser [Photograph: Jeff Foott] of Fly Ranch is on private land and began when water-well drilling accidentally penetrated a geothermal source.

It was created accidentally from a geothermal test well inadequately capped. The scalding water has erupted from the well since then, leaving calcium carbonate deposits growing at the rate of several inches per year. The brilliant red and green colouring on the mounds is from thermophilic algae thriving in the extreme micro-climate of the geysers.

Dallol, a volcanic crater in Ethiopia


It has geothermal brine hot springs, salt terraces, and a salt lake. The Afar Region of Africa, named after the people who call it home, encompasses Djibouti, Eritrea, and the northeast corner of Ethiopia. A notable trait of the Afar Triangle is the Danakil Depression, the lowest point in Africa. The territory is one of the hottest on the planet, and features everything from earthquakes and volcanoes to geysers and salt canyons. During the early 1960s, an American mining company conducted a geological
survey of the Danakil. It was in Dallol the team measured the record average temperature of 35°C. The daily high will frequently eclipse 46°C. It is also home to Dallol, a remote mining camp accessible by camel. The now-abandoned town of Dallol was once a busy site, mining potash, sylvite, and salt during various times throughout its history. [Photograph: Dr. Richard Roscoe/Visuals Unlimited/Corbis]

Grand Prismatic Spring

Grand Prismatic Spring

The Grand Prismatic Spring can be seen in Yellowstone National Park. [Photograph: Xuan Che/Getty Images]

Grand Prismatic is the largest hot spring in Yellowstone, and is the third largest in the world after two in New Zealand. It sits upon a wide, spreading mound where water flows evenly on all sides forming a series of small, stair-step terraces. The surrounding colours begin with a deep blue centre followed by pale blue. Green algae forms beyond the shallow edge. Outside the scalloped rim a band of yellow fades into orange. Red then marks the outer border. Steam often shrouds the spring which reflects the brilliant colours. Grand Prismatic discharges an estimated 560 gallons per minute.

Strokkur Geyser

Strokkur geyser right before eruption

Strokkur (Icelandic for “churn”) is a fountain geyser in the geothermal area beside the Hvítá River in Iceland in the southwest part of the country, east of Reykjavík. It is one of Iceland’s most famous geysers, erupting about every 4 to 8 minutes 15 to 20 m high, sometimes up to 40 m high.

Strokkur was first mentioned in 1789, after an earthquake unblocked the conduit of the geyser. Its activity fluctuated in the 19th century; in 1815 its height was estimated to be as much as 60 metres. It continued to erupt until the turn of the 20th century, when another earthquake blocked the conduit again. In 1963, upon the advice of the Geysir Committee, locals cleaned out the blocked conduit through the bottom of the basin, and the geyser has been regularly erupting ever since.

Erta Ale, Ethiopia

Lava lake

Erta Ale (or Ertale or Irta'ale) is a continuously active basaltic shield volcano in the Afar Region of northeastern Ethiopia. It is situated in the Afar Depression, a badland desert area spanning the border with Eritrea. Erta Ale is the most active volcano in Ethiopia.

There was a major eruption in September 2005 which killed 250 head of livestock and forced thousands of nearby residents to flee. There was a further lava flow in August 2007, forcing the evacuation of hundreds and leaving two missing. An eruption in November 2008 was reported by scientists at Addis Ababa University.

Rock Formations

The Wave, Coyote Buttes, Arizona

The Wave

‘The Wave’ in Coyote Buttes is a 190 million year old Jurassic-age sandstone rock formation in Arizona, a part of the Paria Canyon–Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness area. [Photograph: Blaine Harrington III/Corbis]

Multicoloured, eroded rock formations dominate most of southeast Utah, though particularly outstanding is the desert either side of the Paria River, beneath the Vermilion Cliffs. The kaleidoscopic scenery extends a little way south into Arizona, before the land becomes more sandy and barren. It was unknown before the mid 1990s but is now quite popular because of just one formation, The Wave, a small ravine between eroded sandstone domes formed of amazingly beautiful rocks containing thin, swirling strata. The location was first publicized in Germany, and then was visited only by a small number of Europeans, becoming widely known just in the last few years.

Lena Pillars, Russia and the Lena River

Lena Pillars

Lena Pillars (Russian: Ленские столбы [Lenskiye Stolby]) is the name given to a natural rock formation along the banks of the Lena River in far eastern Siberia. The pillars are 150 to 300 metres high, and were formed 80 million years ago from Cambrian era sea-basin. This unique ecological and tourism location was submitted as a World Heritage site in 2006. Lena Pillars National Park lies less than a day’s boat ride upriver (south) from the city of Yakutsk, the autonomous capital of the Sakha Republic.

Mount Roraima in South America

Mount Roraima

Mount Roraima is at the triple border point between Venezuela, Brazil and Guyana in South America.

It was first described by the English explorer Sir Walter Raleigh in 1596, Mount Roraima’s 31 square kilometre summit area consists on all sides of cliffs rising 400 metres. Nearby, the Venezuela’s Canaima National Park offers weekend travellers time for leisure activities in this tranquil area with blue skies. Visitors can have a birds eye view from above and get an aerial perspective of the rock formations. The Park, a World Heritage Site is home to Angel Falls (Salto Ángel), the world’s highest waterfall, and to the unique flat top mesas known as Tepuis. [Photograph: Alamy]

Tundra Valley in Kamchatka

Tundra Valley in Kamchatka

This tundra valley lies between the Tolbachik (Толбачик) and Kamen (Кáмень) volcanoes.

In the background is a small crater separated by a cloud line from the huge base of Kamen Volcano, Kamchatka Peninsula (полуóстров Камчáтка), Russia.

There are few places in the world that can simultaneously enthral and disappoint quite like Kamchatka. It tends to hide its primal beauty behind a veil of thick clouds and fog. But when the skies finally clear and the powdered snouts of several dozen volcanoes appear through the clouds, all else melts away and you understand that you’re in a special place. No matter what you went through to get here, no matter how long you’ve spent grounded, it was all worth it.

Zhangye Danxia Landform

Zhangye Danxia

Danxia landform

View of colourful rock formations at the Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park in Gansu Province, China.

This geological phenomenon can be observed in several places in China.

The unusual colours of the rocks are the result of red sandstone and mineral deposits being laid down over 24 million years. [Photograph: Xin Ran/Corbis]

China Danxia is the name given in China to landscapes developed on continental red terrigenous sedimentary beds[1] influenced by endogenous[2] forces (including uplift) and exogenous[3] forces (including weathering and erosion). The site comprises six areas found in the sub-tropical zone of south-west China. They are characterized by spectacular red cliffs and a range of erosional landforms, including dramatic natural pillars, towers, ravines, valleys and waterfalls. These rugged landscapes have helped to conserve sub-tropical broad-leaved evergreen forests, and host many species of flora and fauna, about 400 of which are considered rare or threatened.

If, like me, you’ve never met these words before, here’s some help from my dictionary:

  1. terrigenous sedimentary beds – sediment derived from the erosion of land deposited either on land or in the sea
  2. endogenous – increasing by internal growth, formed within, (of depression) with no external cause
  3. exogenous – growing by successive additions to the outside, developing externally, having an external origin

Marble Caves, Patagonia

Marble Caves

The marble caves are along the shoreline of Lago Carrera in Patagonia, Chile.

The caves were formed by wave action, and water erosion on the marble. The lake straddles the border between Chile and Argentina. [Photograph: George Lepp/Corbis]

Giant’s Causeway, Ireland

Giant’s Causeway

Antelope Canyon, Arizona

Antelope Canyon is located on Navajo land east of Page, Arizona. It includes two separate, photogenic slot canyon sections, referred to individually as Upper Antelope Canyon or The Crack and Antelope Canyon or The Corkscrew.

The Navajo name for Upper Antelope Canyon is Tsé bighánílíní, which means “the place where water runs through rocks”. Lower Antelope Canyon is Hazdistazí (advertised as “Hasdestwazi” by the Navajo Parks and Recreation Department), or “spiral rock arches”. Both are located within the LeChee Chapter of the Navajo Nation.


The Door to Hell, Turkmenistan

The Door to Hell

Soviet geologists were drilling at the site in 1971 and tapped into a cavern filled with natural gas. But the ground beneath the drilling rig collapsed, leaving a hole with a diameter of 70 metres. Fearing that the hole would lead to the release of poisonous gases, the team decided to burn it off. It was hoped that the fire would use all the fuel within days, but the gas is still burning today.

There are no road signs to the pit in a natural gas field some 270 kilometres north of the capital, but guides know where to turn onto a track leading to a fantastic view. Flames dance out of cracks in its floor and around the sides, and a burning blast of air emanating from the pit shifts with the wind. The extreme heat and the roar of the flames have a mesmerizing effect.

Horsetail Fall, Yosemite National Park, California

Glowing Horsetail Fall in Yosemite

Pictured from a position along the Merced River off Southside Drive in Yosemite Valley just before sunset as it glows. The phenomenon of this vista only occurs for only few days in February each year when several weather and climatic conditions are just right. [Photograph: Phil Hawkins/Reuters].

(The “Yosemite Firefall” was a summer-time event that began in 1872 and continued for almost a century, in which burning hot embers were spilled from the top of Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park to the valley 3,000 feet below. From a distance it appeared as a glowing waterfall. The owners of the Glacier Point Hotel conducted the firefall. In January 1968 the National Park Service ordered it to stop because the overwhelming number of visitors that it attracted trampled meadows to see it.)


Ashley Lake in northwestern Montana

Deep lake

Ashley Lake is a deep water lake in northwestern Montana, USA.

The water is so transparent that it seems that this is a quite shallow lake. In fact, it is very deep down to 300 feet. Springs and various creeks feed the lake which has crystal clear water where one can see to 30 or 40 feet.

Emerald Lake

Emerald Lake

Emerald Lake is in the crater of an extinct volcano, Tongariro National Park, New Zealand.

Tongariro is the oldest national park in New Zealand, located in the central North Island. It has been acknowledged by UNESCO as one of the 28 mixed cultural and natural World Heritage Sites.

A Shower

.The 198-foot Palouse Falls are on the Palouse River in Washington state, USA.

Palouse Falls State Park is a 105-acre camping park with a unique geology and history. The park offers a dramatic view of one of the state’s most beautiful waterfalls. Palouse Falls drops with its highest volumes of water flow in spring and early summer.

Niagara Falls, Canadian “Horseshoe” Falls

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls is the collective name for three waterfalls that straddle the border between Canada and the United States. They form the southern end of the Niagara Gorge. The three waterfalls are the Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls. The Horseshoe Falls lie mostly on the Canadian side, separated from the US falls by Goat Island.

The Niagara River drains Lake Erie into Lake Ontario the combined falls forming the highest flow rate of any waterfall in the world, with a vertical drop of more than 50 m. Horseshoe Falls are the most powerful waterfall in North America, as measured by vertical height and flow rate.

Cascades d’Ouzoud

Cascades d’Ouzoud

Cascades d’Ouzoud

The Cascades D’Ouzoud are one of the most spectacular sights in Morocco. Located in a plush valley, within a Berber village are three beautiful tiered waterfalls with a series of spectacular wide to narrow plunges that drop 110 m into the river below.

Plate Tectonics

The Earth’s surface consists of several “plates” which slowly move relative to one another, one plate sliding under the other, or the pair sliding alongside each other, or separating allowing the formation of features like the mid-Atlantic Ridge. These movements form mountain ranges, chains of volcanos and earthquakes. More at plate tectonics and list of tectonic plates.