Touring the world's deadliest and most active volcanoes
They're strung across the breadth of the Earth like glowing necklaces. They cluster densely along geologic boundaries where tectonic plates collide. They threaten millions of people who live within their shadows. They may lie dormant for centuries and then, overnight, spew cubic miles of molten rock and ash.
Scroll down to peer into the planet's most dangerous mountains.
Left: Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull erupts at dusk on March 27, 2010.
Mapping the Ring of Fire
Hundreds of volcanoes fringe the vast Pacific Ocean in a Ring of Fire. Most of these volcanoes are the result of the collision of tectonic plates. As oceanic crust slips beneath other oceanic plates or thicker but lighter continental plates, water is released and moves upward, causing melting of surrounding rock. The resulting magma pushes upward and ultimately breaks through the crust, spawining volcanoes.
Millions of people, from the Philippines to Japan, from the Pacific Northwest to the Andes of South America, live with the double threat of volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, the latter triggered as subducting crust moves in fits and starts beneath continental edges and island arcs.
In the middle of the Pacific, a hotspot--a plume of magma rising from deep within Earth's mantle--has created the Hawaiian Islands. As the Pacific Plate has crept northward and westward, the stationary hotspot has left behind a chain of mountains hundreds of miles long.
Pan, zoom, and click on the map to explore volcanoes and plate boundaries.
In the wee hours of Tuesday morning, March 3, 2015, Villarica, a highly active volcano located 400 miles south of Santiago, Chile's capital, came to life in a spectacular eruption. More than 3,000 people were evacuated from the area.
ITALY: Mount Vesuvius
Italy's storied Vesuvius looms over Naples, posing a direct threat to more than a half-million people. The mountain has erupted many times in recorded history. A 1631 event killed 3,000 people. The most famous eruption was in 79 A.D. when pyroclastic flows obliterated Pompeii and Herculaneum. Pliny the Younger, in an eyewitness account of the eruption, wrote that "a fearful black cloud was rent by forked and quivering bursts of flame, and parted to reveal great tongues of fire, like flashes of lightning magnified in size."
The mountain's last major eruption was in 1944, as reported in the newsreel above.
WASHINGTON: Mount St. Helens
United States Geological Survey
On Sunday, May 18, 1980, the north slope of Mount St. Helens in southern Washington state collapsed in a gigantic landslide. The slope had bulged and weakened over the previous several weeks as magma pushed toward the surface beneath it. The landslide triggered an explosive eruption that killed 57 people and sent a column of smoke and ash 80,000 feet into the air. Thousands of acres of forest were flattened.
St. Helens has become a laboratory for vulcanologists and ecologists; the latter are observing the return of forest to the volcano's slopes and surrounding area. The NASA satellite images also document the re-greening of the landscape. Click on the dates below:
June 17, 1984 August, 21, 1996 August 20, 2013
For many years following the eruption, thousands of logs clogged the surface of Spirit Lake (below), a few miles north of the mountain.
Photo by Stephan Schultz
ALASKA: Mount Katmai
United States Geological Survey. Information about the map The June 1912 Katmai eruption was the largest on the entire planet during the twentieth century. The actual site of the eruption was several miles west of the crater lake in the image (foreground in scene at left and tan area in the geologic map above); however, the eruption caused the collapse of Mount Katmai, forming a crater which later partially filled with water. About 28 cubic kilometers of material was ejected in the eruption.
Katmai is part of a cluster of volcanoes that includes this crater. Photo: National Park Service
Stromboli, a highly active volcano that dominates an island north of Sicily, has a penchant for hurling boulders--volcanic bombs--into the air. This violent, "strombolean" form of eruption has been observed on many other volcanoes worldwide. The island of Stromboli is inhabited (pan toward the northeast and southwest on the image at left), but most of the mountain's wrath is aimed seaward and toward the northwest.
Lithograph by Parker & Coward, UK The cluster of small islands in the foreground at left are the remnants of the mountain that was obliterated in the famous 1883 eruption of Krakatoa. The eruption spawned tsunamis that killed some 38,000 people.
This Icelandic volcano is as difficult in its behavior as its name is to pronounce (click here for an audio sample). Its last major eruption, in the spring of 2010, created an ash cloud that closed many airports in Europe, forcing the cancellation of thousands of flights.
UNITED STATES: Yellowstone Caldera
Photo by Greg Willis Yellowstone National Park sits atop a giant caldera, the thermal energy of which powers Old Faithful (above) and many other geysers. The caldera in turn is the surface expression of a hotspot that has left a path of lava fields across the western United States as the North American plate has moved over it.
The last major eruption of the Yellowstone Caldera occurred about 640,000 years ago—a blink of the eye in geologic time. The eruption ejected about 1,000 cubic kilometers of material; thus a repeat of this sort of event would be a very big deal.
UNITED STATES: Mauna Loa and Kilauea
United States Geological Survey
Mauna Loa (foreground in view on left) is the largest of five volcanoes on Hawaii's Big Island. Together these volcanoes are the largest on Earth; in fact, measured from their seafloor base to their summit they comprise the largest mountain on the planet.
Both Kilauea and its neighbor to the east, Mauna Loa, are highly active. But their lava is low in silica, resulting in eruptions that, although sometimes spectacular, are for the most part non-explosive. Below is an exception: lava from Kilauea explodes as it meets the waters of the Pacific.
Photo by United States Geological Survey
REUNION ISLAND: Piton de la Fournaise
"Peak of the Furnace" is the English version of the name of one of Earth's most active volcanoes. It, like Hawaii's volcanoes is of the shield type, with broad, gradual slopes and eruptions that, for the most part, are not explosive.
ANTARCTICA: Mount Erebus
Topographic map of Ross Island by the U.S. Geological Survey Mount Erebus looms over Ross Island, just off the icy coast of Antarctica. It is the southernmost active volcano in the world. Despite its remote location, it is thoroughly studied due to its high degree of activity and its proximity to two Antarctic research stations.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO: Mount Nyiragongo
Nyiragongo is well-known among volcano experts for its frequently occurring, cauldron-like lava lake which can span as much as two kilometers.
The mountain is one of a long string of volcanic formations associated with the Albertine Rift, caused by the slow separation of the Somali Plate from the African Plate.
SOLOMON ISLANDS: Mount Tinakula
Commemorated on a stamp, Tinakula erupts almost hourly. It has killed or chased off its island's human population at least twice, in 1951 and in 1971.
Time-Lapse Videos of The World's Most Active Volcanoes
Without several thousand years of observation it's impossible to definitively rank the world's most active volcanoes. But this video hints at the power and peril of volcanic eruptions.
This radar image of Tokyo was acquired by the European Space Agency's Sentinel-1A satellite earlier this year. The data is so accurate that it can monitor ground movements down to a few millimetres--which helps urban planners know where they can and can't build. [ESA]
“Google and Esri are working closely together to provide replacement software and training to all of Google’s enterprise customers and partners that have implemented Google Earth Enterprise and Google Maps Engine technology. Esri will be providing the new 10.3 version of ArcGIS for Server and related client/app technology to all Google Earth Enterprise and Google …
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