Volcanoes are one of nature’s deadliest and destructive forces, able to maim and destroy within seconds and without warning.
Hundreds of volcanoes dot the globe, but only a handful are known for their particularly violent pasts. Some of these infamous peaks have caused mass casualties; others have destroyed whole cities.
Here are 12 of the world’s most dangerous volcanoes, which could erupt at any time, and a brief history of their explosive power.
1. Cumbre Vieja Volcano – La Palma, Canary Islands, Spain
Satellite photo of Caldera de Taburiente and Cumbre Vieja, La Palma, Canary Islands. South is above; North below. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Image Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center)
A future eruption of Cumbre Vieja could be catastrophic. Geological evidence revealed failure of the volcano’s west flank is possible, according to Volcano Live, and would result in a massive tsunami “which would cover the whole Atlantic Ocean.” The mountain is the Canary Islands’ most active volcano.
2. Katla Volcano – Iceland
Photograph of Katla volcano erupting through Mýrdalsjökull ice cap in 1918. This eruption deposited a huge volume of tephra on the ice cap and surrounding landscape, and unleashed a catastrophic flood of melted water and sediment over Mýrdalssandur. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Nordic Volcanological Center)
The dangerous Katla volcano in Iceland, nestled under Myrdalsjökull icecap, is known to cause devastating glacial flooding, according to the Smithsonian Institution Global Volcanism program. In 934, the volcano erupted, producing a massive lava flow that is known to be one of the largest of its kind during that period. Authorities are monitoring the volcano due to its increasing unrest.
3. Krakatoa Volcano – Krakatoa, Indonesia
Krakatoa eruption in 2008. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Thomas.Schiet)
In August 1883, one of modern history’s deadliest volcanic eruptions occurred in Indonesia, resulting in the deaths of more than 36,000 in Java, Sumatra and smaller islands. After Krakatoa erupted, the volcano collapsed and triggered a tsunami that claimed several lives, Live Science says. Many other victims succumbed to thermal injuries due to hot gas and other material spewed during the eruption.
4. Mauna Loa – Big Island, Hawai’I, U.S.
Erupting vents on Mauna Loa’s northeast rift zone near Pu‘u‘ula‘ula (Red Hill) on Mar. 25, 1984, sent massive ‘a‘ā lava flows down the rift toward Kūlani. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/United States Geological Survey)
Mauna Loa, or “Long Mountain” in Hawaiian, is nestled in paradise and known as Earth’s largest volcano, says Volcano Discovery. The town of Hilo has been threatened several times by the mountain’s explosive eruptions, which produce giant rivers of lava. Mauna Loa is a very active volcano, having erupted 33 times since 1843, according to the U.S. Geological Service. It lies near Mount Kilauea, which tends to erupt more frequently and is currently being monitored by geologists due to increasing seismic activity.
5. Mount Merapi – Java, Indonesia
Mount Merapi, viewed from Umbulharjo in 2014. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/ Crisco 1492)
Merapi, or “the one making fire” in old Javanese, has experienced several violent eruptions, resulting in destruction, casualties and evacuations. In October 2010, Merapi erupted violently, producing ashfall and pyroclastic flows, which killed more than 190 people. Compared to volcanoes around the world, Merapi has produced the highest number of pyroclastic flows, or currents composed of hot gas and rock.
6. Mount Pelée – Martinique, Lesser Antilles, Caribbean
Photograph of Mt. Pelee during the 1902 eruption by Angelo Heilprin (United States 1853-1907). (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/RGM-commonswiki)
Mount Pelée erupted violently in 1902, killing 30,000 people and destroying the island’s largest town, St. Pierre, according to ExploreVolcanoes.com. Pelee is the Caribbean’s most regularly active volcano.
7. Nevado del Ruiz – Central Columbia
Río Lagunillas, former location of Armero. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/USGS Jeffrey Marso, USGS Geologist)
Columbia’s Nevado del Ruiz volcano isn’t known for large-scale eruptions. Instead, the mountain has a history of small-scale eruptions that trigger deadly mudflows, says San Diego State University’s Department of Geology. Nevado has killed thousands over the course of its history. One of the most disastrous incidents occurred on November 13, 1985, when the volcano erupted, generating a mudflow that killed over 23,000 people, including most of the residents of the town of Armero. This catastrophe could have been evaded had authorities headed volcanologists’ warnings, Volcano Discovery noted.
8. Popocatépetl – Mexico
Popocatépetl, or Popo, the active volcano located about 70 km southeast of Mexico City, sends a plume south on January 23, 2001. The astronaut crew on the International Space Station Alpha observed and recorded this image as they orbited to the northeast of the volcano. The perspective from the ISS allowed the astronauts this unique 3-dimensional view. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Image Science and Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center)
Popocatépetl, or “Smoking Mountain” in the Aztec language, has a violent history, including burying Aztec settlements beneath mudflows, says Volcano Discovery. Popo lies just 43 miles southeast of Mexico City and has produced several powerful explosions since reawakening in 1994. It is one of the country’s most active volcanoes.
9. Mount St. Helens – Washington, USA
Car of Reid Blackburn, a photographer for National Geographic and The Columbian in Vancouver, about 10 miles from Mount St. Helens after the 1980 eruption. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/United States Geological Survey)
Mount St. Helens’ beautiful façade hides its deadly past, including a horrifying eruption the morning of May 18, 1980. Fifty-seven people were killed on the mountain’s north flank as a result of the explosion, says Live Science. The eruption devastated the area, making it the most destructive in U.S. History. Hundreds of homes were destroyed, miles of roads and railways were damaged
10. Mount Tambora – Sumbawa, Indonesia
Aerial view of the caldera of Mount Tambora on the island of Sumbawa, Indonesia. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/JialiangGao)
Mount Tambora was the catalyst of one of history’s deadliest disasters. Its massive eruption in 1816 is known as “the largest volcanic explosion in recorded history,” says the UCAR Center for Science Education, effecting continents on the other side of the globe. It is estimated 92,000 people were killed in the eruption, says Volcano World. The year 1816 was dubbed “The Year Without a Summer”, says UCAR, as the average global temperature fell 3 degrees Celsius due to the ash and aerosols released by the volcano. There was widespread crop failure and a food shortage.
Interesting Tidbit: As crops failed, horses became too expensive to feed. These animals were vital to transportation, and due to the expenses, travel became more costly, says UCAR. This may have led to the brilliant invention of German inventor Karl Drais — the bicycle.
11. Unzen Volcano – Nagasaki Prefecture, Japan
Devastation resulting from the eruption of Mt. Unzen, Nagasaki Prefecture. (Photo Credit; Japan Wikimedia Commons/Fg2)
Unzen is not one single volcano but is instead multiple overlapping stratovolcanoes, according to Volcano Discovery. Unzen made history when one of its lava domes collapsed in 1792, generating a massive tsunami that killed nearly 15,000. The volcano caused the death of another 43 people in June 1991 when it erupted, says Volcano Discovery. World famous French volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft were among the victims.
12. Mount Vesuvius – Province of Naples, Italy
Vesuvius towers above the ruins of Pompeii. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Citypeek)
The infamous Vesuvius became one of history’s most tragic tales after the giant volcano erupted in 79 A.D., burying the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum beneath a thick blanket of ash. Vesuvius may have claimed more than 16,000 lives during that eruption, according to Geology.com. It is mainland Europe’s only active volcano, Geology says, and a continuous danger to surrounding cities, including Naples.