Volcanoes become destructive when they are active – releasing hot magma along with ash and gas. The degree of such devastation depends upon a range of factors that may include the speed, height and duration of the eruption, as well as obviously the nature of human habitation in the area.
The danger of a volcano is always not measured with the direct eruption’s impact, as the post-eruption impact on the surrounding environment is an all the time factor. It’s not practical to portrait all the dangerous volcanoes however, so descriptions for only the top 10 list of the most active volcanoes are given below.
10 – Mount St. Helens, USA
Mount St. Helens is an active stratovolcano located in Skamania County, Washington, in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. It is 154 km south of Seattle, Washington, and 80 km northeast of Portland, Oregon. Mount St. Helens takes its English name from the British diplomat Lord St Helens, a friend of explorer George Vancouver who made a survey of the area in the late 18th century. The volcano is located in the Cascade Range and is part of the Cascade Volcanic Arc, a segment of the Pacific Ring of Fire that includes over 160 active volcanoes. This volcano is well known for its ash explosions and pyroclastic flows.
Mount St. Helens is most notorious for its catastrophic eruption on May 18, 1980, at 8:32 a.m. PDT, the deadliest and most economically destructive volcanic event in the history of the United States. Fifty-seven people were killed; 250 homes, 47 bridges, 24 km of railways, and 298 km of highway were destroyed. A massive debris avalanche triggered by an earthquake measuring 5.1 on the Richter scale caused an eruption that reduced the elevation of the mountain’s summit from 9,677 ft to 8,365 ft, replacing it with a 1.6 km wide horseshoe-shaped crater. The debris avalanche was up to 0.7 cubic miles in volume. The Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument was created to preserve the volcano and allow for its aftermath to be scientifically studied.
As with most other volcanoes in the Cascade Range, Mount St. Helens is a large eruptive cone consisting of lava rock interlayered with ash, pumice, and other deposits. The mountain includes layers of basalt and andesite through which several domes of dacite lava have erupted. The largest of the dacite domes formed the previous summit, and off its northern flank sat the smaller Goat Rocks dome. Both were destroyed in the 1980 eruption.
9 – Sangay, Ecuador
Sangay is one of the active stratovolcano in central Ecuador and is the most active volcano in Ecuador, having erupted three times in recorded history. It exhibits mostly strombolian activity; the most recent eruption, which started in 1934, is still ongoing. Geologically, Sangay marks the southern bound of the Northern Volcanic Zone, and its position straddling two major pieces of crust accounts for its high level of activity. Sangay’s approximately 500,000 year old history is one of instability; two previous versions of the mountain were destroyed in massive flank collapses, evidence of which still litters its surroundings today.
Because of its remoteness, Sangay hosts a significant biological community with fauna such as mountain tapirs, giant otters, cocks of the rock, and king vultures. Since 1983, its ecological community has been protected as part of the Sangay National Park. Although climbing the mountain is hampered by its remoteness, poor weather conditions, river flooding, and the danger of falling ejecta, the volcano is regularly surmounted, a feat first achieved by Robert T. Moore in 1929.
8 – Lascar, Chile
Lascar is located in the altiplano of the Antofagasta Region of northern Chile, east of the Salar de Atacama, immediately west of the Aguas Calientes volcano, and to the northeast of Laguna Lejía. Other volcanoes in the area include Acamarachi, which is dormant or possibly extinct, and Chiliques, which has developed a new hot spot in its summit crater beginning in 2002 after a period of at least 10,000 years in dormancy.
The largest eruption of Lascar took place about 26,500 years ago, and following the eruption of the Tumbres scoria flow about 9,000 years ago, activity shifted back to the eastern edifice, where three overlapping craters were formed. Frequent small-to-moderate explosive eruptions have been recorded from Lascar in historical time since the mid-19th century, along with periodic larger eruptions that produced ash and tephra fall up to hundreds of kilometres away from the volcano.
The largest eruption of Lascar in recent history took place in 1993, producing pyroclastic flows as far as 8.5 km northwest of the summit and ash fall in Buenos Aires, Argentina, more than 1,600 km to the southeast. The latest series of eruptions began on 18 April 2006 and were continuing as of 2011.
7 – Mount Yasur, Vanautu
Yasur is the most well known volcanoes of Vanuatu and one of the most active volcanoes in the world. Yasur is known for its spectacular persistent strombolian activity that consists of regular small to violent explosions from one or several vents.
Yasur, the best-known and most frequently visited of the Vanuatu volcanoes, has been in more-or-less continuous strombolian and vulcanian activity since Captain Cook observed ash eruptions in 1774. This style of activity may have continued for the past 800 years. Yasur, located at the SE tip of Tanna Island, is a mostly unvegetated 361-m-high pyroclastic cone with a nearly circular, 400-m-wide summit crater.
Yasur is largely contained within the small Yenkahe caldera and is the youngest of a group of Holocene volcanic centers constructed over the down-dropped NE flank of the Pleistocene Tukosmeru volcano. The Yenkahe horst is located within the Siwi ring fracture, a 4-km-wide, horseshoe-shaped caldera associated with eruption of the andesitic Siwi pyroclastic sequence. Active tectonism along the Yenkahe horst accompanying eruptions of Yasur has raised Port Resolution harbor more than 20 m during the past century.
See more about Mount Yasur
6 – Sta. Maria, Guatemala
Santa María Volcano is a large active volcano in the Western Highlands of Guatemala, close to the city of Quetzaltenango. Prior to the Spanish Conquest it was called Gagxanul in the local K’iche’ language. Its eruption in 1902 (VEI 6) was one of the three largest eruptions of the 20th century, after the 1912 Novarupta and 1991 Pinatubo eruptions. It is also one of the five biggest eruptions of the past 200 (and probably 300) years.
5 – Stromboli, Italy
Stromboli, a small island north of Sicily, is one of the most active volcanoes in the world and famous for its normally small, but regular explosions throwing out glowing lava from several vents inside its summit crater. This activity has been going on for at least 2000 years, as long as there is written memory of the activity, which Stromboli lended its name to, the so-called strombolian activity.
The N-most island of the Eolian Islands is famous for its spectacular incandescent nighttime explosions, that have long attracted visitors from all over the world and brought the volcano the nickname the “Lighthouse of the Mediterranean.” Stromboli has even given its name to this kind of typical small explosions.
As long as there are historical records, Stromboli has been constantly active, which makes it almost unique among the volcanoes in the world. Most of its activity consists of brief and small bursts of glowing lava fragments to heights of 100-200 m above the craters. Occasionally, much stronger explosions or periods of more continuous activity can occur. The most violent eruptions during the past 100 years, in 1919, 1930 and on 5 April 2003, were large enough to take lives and or destroy property even at considerable range from the craters, for example inside the inhabited areas.
Apart from explosive activity, effusive eruptions with outflow of lava occur at irregular intervals ranging from a few years to decades. The most recent one began on 28 December 2002 and ended in July 2003.
Stromboli offers visitors a unique possibility to watch its eruptions. From the rim of an older crater one can stand only 150-250 m almost directly above the active craters,- a perfect viewing terrace. It should be mentioned that this is regarded as surprisingly safe as well: even though there is a small risk of being involved in a sudden, larger explosion (which happen infrequently a few times per year), and then being hit, injured or killed by an ejected bomb from the crater, the risk in terms of numbers is probably much smaller than many other risks in everyday situations. The number of accidents on Stromboli, when compared to the number of visitors at the crater over the years, is extremely small.
For hose who know and learn to love it, Stromboli is a magical place,- even not only for its volcano, but also for its unique charm, its beautiful beaches, the lush vegetation and its characteristic and unspoiled architecture. See more on Stromboli
4 – Mount Nyiragongo, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Mount Nyiragongo is our another active stratovolcano with an elevation of 3470 m (11382 ft) in the Virunga Mountains associated with the Albertine Rift which is located inside Virunga National Park, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, about 20 km north of the town of Goma and Lake Kivu and just west of the border with Rwanda. The main crater is about two kilometres wide and usually contains a lava lake.
The crater presently has two distinct cooled lava benches within the crater walls – one at about 3,175 metres and a lower one at about 2,975 m. Nyiragongo’s lava lake has at times been the most voluminous known lava lake in recent history. The depth of the lava lake varies considerably. A maximum elevation of the lava lake was recorded at about 3,250 m prior to the January 1977 eruption – a lake depth of about 600 m. A recent very low elevation of the lava lake was recorded at about 2,700 m. Nyiragongo and nearby Nyamuragira are together responsible for 40% of Africa’s historical volcanic eruptions.
3 – Piton de la Fournaise, La Reunion Island
Piton de la Fournaise, a typical basaltic shield volcano, located on the French island La Réunion, is one of the world’s most active and productive volcanoes. It is in a phase of frequent but short-lived eruptions that start with lava fountains and produce large lava flows. Since the active areas of the volcano are not inhabited, its eruptions pose little danger and cause little damage.
Piton de la Fournaise is a typical example of a hot-spot volcano. The volcano is about 530,000 years old and during much of this time, its activity overlapped with eruptions of its older neighbor, the deeply dissected Piton des Neiges shield volcano to the NW.
Three calderas formed at about 250,000, 65,000, and less than 5000 years ago by progressive eastward slumping of the volcano. Numerous pyroclastic cones dot the floor of the calderas and their outer flanks. Most historical eruptions have originated from the summit and flanks of Dolomieu, a 400-m-high lava shield that has grown within the youngest caldera called the Enclos, which is 8 km wide and breached to below sea level on the eastern side. More than 150 eruptions, most of which have produced fluid basaltic lava flows, have occurred since the 17th century. Only six eruptions, in 1708, 1774, 1776, 1800, 1977, and 1986, have originated from fissures on the outer flanks of the caldera. The Piton de la Fournaise Volcano Observatory, one of several operated by the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, monitors this very active volcano. See more on Piton de la Fournaise
2 – Mount Etna, Italy
Mount Etna is an active stratovolcano on the east coast of Sicily, Italy, in the Province of Catania, between Messina and Catania. It lies above the convergent plate margin between the African Plate and the Eurasian Plate. It is the tallest active volcano on the European continent, currently 3,329m high, though this varies with summit eruptions. It is the highest mountain in Italy south of the Alps. Etna covers an area of 459 sq mi with a basal circumference of 140 km.
This makes it by far the largest of the three active volcanoes in Italy, being about two and a half times the height of the next largest, Mount Vesuvius. Only Mount Teide in Tenerife surpasses it in the whole of the European–North-African region. In Greek Mythology, the deadly monster Typhon was trapped under this mountain by Zeus, the god of the sky and thunder and king of gods, and the forges of Hephaestus were said to also be located underneath it.
Mount Etna is one of the most active volcanoes in the world and is in an almost constant state of activity. The fertile volcanic soils support extensive agriculture, with vineyards and orchards spread across the lower slopes of the mountain and the broad Plain of Catania to the south. Due to its history of recent activity and nearby population, Mount Etna has been designated a Decade Volcano by the United Nations. In June 2013, it was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
1 – Kilauea Volcano, USA
Kīlauea is a shield volcano in the Hawaiian Islands, the most active of the five volcanoes that together form the island of Hawaiʻi. Located along the southern shore of the island, the volcano, at 300,000 to 600,000 years old, is the second youngest product of the Hawaiian hotspot and the current eruptive center of the Hawaiian–Emperor seamount chain. Because it lacks topographic prominence and its activities historically coincided with those of Mauna Loa, Kīlauea was once thought to be a satellite of its much larger neighbor. Structurally, Kīlauea has a large, fairly recently formed caldera at its summit and two active rift zones, one extending 125 km (78 mi) east and the other 35 km west, as an active fault line of unknown depth moving vertically an average of 2 to 20 mm per year.
Kīlauea’s eruptive history has been a long and active one; its name means “spewing” or “much spreading” in the Hawaiian language, referring to its frequent outpouring of lava. The earliest lavas from the volcano date back to its submarine preshield stage, and have been recovered by ROVs from its submerged slopes; other flows have been recovered through core samples. Lavas younger than 1,000 years cover 90 percent of the volcano; the oldest exposed lavas date back 2,800 and 2,100 years. The first well-documented eruption of Kīlauea occurred in 1823, and since that time the volcano has erupted repeatedly. Most historical eruptions have occurred at the volcano’s summit or its southwestern rift zone, and are prolonged and effusive in character; however, the geological record shows that violent explosive activity predating European contact was extremely common, and should explosive activity start anew the volcano would become much more dangerous to civilians. Kīlauea’s current eruption dates back to January 3, 1983, and is by far its longest-lived historical period of activity, as well as one of the longest-lived eruptions in the world; as of January 2011, the eruption has produced 3.5 cubic kilometres (0.84 cu mi) of lava and resurfaced 123.2 km2 (48 sq mi) of land.
Kīlauea’s high state of activity has a major impact on its mountainside ecology where plant growth is often interrupted by fresh tephra and drifting volcanic sulfur dioxide, producing acid rains particularly in a barren area south of its southwestern rift zone known as the Kaʻū Desert. Nonetheless, wildlife flourishes where left undisturbed elsewhere on the volcano and is highly endemic thanks to Kīlauea’s isolation from the nearest landmass. Historically, the five volcanoes on the island were considered sacred by the Hawaiian people, and in Hawaiian mythology Kīlauea’s Halemaumau Crater served as the body and home of Pele, goddess of fire, lightning, wind, and volcanoes. William Ellis, a missionary from England, gave the first modern account of Kīlauea and spent two weeks traveling along the volcano; since its foundation by Thomas Jaggar in 1912, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, located on the rim of Kīlauea caldera, has served as the principal investigative and scientific body on the volcano and the island in general. In 1916 a bill forming the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson; since then the park has become a World Heritage Site and a major tourist destination, attracting roughly 2.6 million people annually.