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n. (context planetology geology vulcanology English) A volcano on an icy moon that ejects volatile materials rather than magma.


A cryovolcano (colloquially known as an ice volcano) is a volcano that erupts volatiles such as water, ammonia or methane, instead of molten rock. Collectively referred to as cryomagma or ice-volcanic melt, these substances are usually liquids and form plumes, but can also be in vapour form. After eruption, cryomagma condenses to a solid form when exposed to the very low surrounding temperature. Cryovolcanoes form on icy moons, and possibly on other low-temperature astronomical objects (e.g. Kuiper belt objects including dwarf planet Pluto).

One potential energy source on some solar system bodies for melting ices and producing cryovolcanoes is tidal friction. It has also been suggested that translucent deposits of frozen materials could create a subsurface greenhouse effect that would accumulate the required heat.

Signs of past warming of the Kuiper belt object Quaoar have led scientists to speculate that it exhibited cryovolcanism in the past. Radioactive decay could provide the energy necessary for such activity, as cryovolcanoes can emit water mixed with ammonia, which would melt at and create an extremely cold liquid that would flow out of the volcano.

Usage examples of "cryovolcano".

Now, in that smashed region—from cryovolcanoes kilometers wide—volatiles began to boil out of Triton’s interior: nitrogen, carbon dioxide, methane, ammonia, water vapor.