Active volcanic belts mark the eastern and western margins of the Caribbean plate. The Lesser Antilles on the east form a classic island arc, but Central America on the west is a continental volcanic belt and not particularly arcuate. The Central American volcanic belt is slightly longer than that of the Lesser Antilles, 1,100 km versus 750 km, but Central America has 40 Neogene volcanic centers to only 12 for the Lesser Antilles. Central American volcanoes have produced 16 km3 of volcanic products since 1680, whereas the Antillean volcanoes have produced only 1 km3 in the same time period (Wadge, 1984). The contrast is between one of the most active circum-Pacific volcanic belts and one of the least active. Silicic tephra is the dominant volcanic product in the Lesser Antilles; whereas in Central America, basalts and andesites are more abundant. The southern end of the Antilles volcanic front, near Grenada, has a high proportion of alkaline volcanic rocks. The few alkaline lavas found near the volcanic front in Central America occur in Costa Rica, also near the southern end of the volcanic front. In addition to the real physical differences between the two volcanic belts, published descriptions differ because few volcanologists have worked in both areas.
The interdisciplinary nature of volcanology results in a wide range of research efforts, including detailed studies of fumarole minerals, geophysical measurements of many types, a full range of petrologie and geochemical studies, and various methods of measuring and estimating volcanic gas contents, to list but a few.