Volcanoes spit out magma onto the surface of the crust or crevices on the surface, but the magma comes (in effect) from the mantle right? If that's the case, isn't the mantle turning into the crust by the mantle hardening into mountains and volcanoes? Or maybe the mantle doesn't change size, it just melts more of the crust to suit its size needs. If that was the case, the areas of Earth that aren't constantly spitting magma onto the surface would eventually be thinned out to the point that a hole or giant crack would appear leading straight to the mantle and that would be bad.

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    $\begingroup$ Please consult Wikipedia on the topic of plate tectonics, this answers all your questions. $\endgroup$
    – Erik
    Aug 28 '19 at 7:08
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    $\begingroup$ keep in mind crust is also being turned back into mantle at subduction zones. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Aug 28 '19 at 14:04

The crust is actually getting thicker very gradually as the Earth cools down. This process is well seen on Mars, where due to its smaller size and greater distance from the sun, Mars is cooling faster than the Earth. No one knows exactly how thick the Martian crust is, but what we do know is that magma can no longer find its way to the surface. All the Martian volcanoes are extinct.

On Earth, the magma ejected from volcanoes is mostly recycled oceanic crust. Sea floor spreading from the mid-ocean ridge pushes the oceanic crust on the Pacific Plate toward the continental crust on,for example, the North American plate, where it is forced to dive beneath the continental crust and driven down into the mantle. For a number of reasons (friction, water content etc) this causes it to melt, and being lighter and more fluid than the mantle it rises to the surface, where it escapes through volcanism.

This is not the whole story, because if oceanic crust is disappearing as it is pushed below the continental crust of another plate, it must somehow be replaced. This happens at the mid ocean ridge, where a deep chasm plunges through the comparatively thin oceanic crust, enabling fresh magma from the mantle to rise up and create new ocean floor. This is constantly spreading out in opposite directions from the mid ocean ridge, hence the term 'sea floor spreading'.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you Michael Walsby! Exactly what I was looking for. $\endgroup$
    – Nathan
    Aug 29 '19 at 8:43
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    $\begingroup$ "the magma ejected from volcanoes is mostly recycled oceanic crust": no, it's not. In most cases it is the mantle that melts, the oceanic crust just brings the water which allows meting by metasomatism, but the source rock of the magma is peridotite. $\endgroup$ Dec 16 '19 at 9:49

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