“I have a dream I hope will come true
That you’re here with me and I’m here with you.
I wish that the earth, sea, the sky up above
Will send me someone to lava.”

Leave it to Pixar to deliver an emotional computer-animated short about a singing volcano searching for love in the vast, isolated ocean.  Over time, as the volcano sings about his hope for love, he slowly sinks into the ocean, only for a new volcano to erupt just as he disappears below the sea.  As the new volcano sings, the first volcano hears her songs and is inspired to sing again, pushing himself up above the surface to join his true volcano love.

The song that accompanies the short was stuck in my head for about a week when I first heard it.  Eventually it subsides into the depths of my consciousness, only for it to erupt again once in a while, much like the love-seeking volcano rose again.

You could interpret the short as an inspirational story of perseverance and love…  Or you could interpret the volcanoes’ song as a symbol of lava in the creation of a volcanic island.

A volcanic island forms by the accumulated volcanic activity on the seabed.  In the case of the volcanoes from Lava, which are modeled after the Hawaiian Islands, a hotspot creates an environment with high heat and low pressure.  This pushes molten or semi-molten material called magma upwards, erupting on the sea floor.  The magma, also known as lava, cools and solidifies.  Layers of lava build on each other over time until the resulting mass breaks the water surface, creating an island.

volcanic islands_sketch

In Lava, the volcano releases lava by way of song and builds up into the sky.

The source of magma may be cut off from a volcano by the shifting of tectonic plates, or the pieces of the Earth’s crust that move and float over the Earth’s mantle.  However, hotspots are believed to be relatively stationary, so as the plate moves, the volcanic island moves away from the hotspot and its supply of magma disappears.  Without the addition of new material, the volcanic island is open to erosion from wind and water (e.g. rain, streams).  Slowly, the island is chipped away until it “sinks” below the surface.  (Because the island doesn’t actually float on the water, it cannot truly sink- it just disappears under the water.)  Besides erosion, the rising global sea-level from thermal water expansion and melting land-based ice could also contribute to island sinkage.  Meanwhile, the hotspot works in a new area of the shifting tectonic plate, creating a new volcanic island.

In Lava, the magma source is taken away.  The volcano can no longer sing and grow and instead falls below the surface.  The other volcano takes over the song, rising above the sea with its magma source.


For a former volcanic island to rise again as a volcanic island, the tectonic plate would need to travel over another hotspot, where the magma can build up a land mass again.

When the sunken volcano in Lava found another hotspot, he could sing his song again and rise to join his volcano love.

Hotspots are not the only method of forming volcanic islands.  When two tectonic plates converge, they may form a subduction zone where one plate moves under another.  If the mantle of the subducted plate heats up, magma could rise, eventually creating volcanic islands.  Examples of this phenomenon include the Aleutian Islands and Mariana Islands.  Another volcanic island formation method involves divergent boundaries where two plates pull apart.  This allows magma to erupt and form an undersea ridge, which could eventually become an island.  Iceland contains many volcanoes formed by this method.

The entire lifecycle of a volcanic island can last millions of years, but ultimately the island will return to the sea.


That’s right- eventually the two singing volcanoes will erode away and sink into the ocean, which may be around the same time I finally get that song out of my head.

Keep calm and science on.

Featured Image Credit