These are the top ten famous volcanoes:
1. Mount Vesuvius
Mt. Vesuvius, the active volcano that looms over the Bay of Naples in southern Italy, has erupted well over 30 times that we know of. And yet its most famous eruption took place all the way back in A.D. 79, when a multiday eruption of lava and ash covered the cities of Pompeii and Stabilize in ash. Pliny the Younger, author of the only surviving eyewitness account, described a sudden explosion followed by blankets of ash that fell on people as they tried to escape. The total number of Vesuvius’ victims will most likely never be known, but archaeologists are aware of at least 1,000.
In 1883, the volcano on the Indonesian island of Krakatoa erupted with 13,000 times the power of an atomic bomb. The sound of the spewing smoke and rock was reportedly heard thousands of miles away, as far as islands off the eastern coast of Africa. Hundreds in a nearby Sumatran town died almost instantly when flaming ash incinerated their homes, and many more were washed away by subsequent mega-tsunamis. An estimated 36,000 or so perished in total. Krakatoa itself then slumped into the boiling depths of the ocean, but a new island at the site was spotted in 1927, and it still occasionally spits lava into the sky.
3. Mount St. Helens
Mount St. Helens was getting ready to burst for nearly two months before it exploded, not to mention the more than 120 years it lay dormant. While the eruption was anticipated, the manner in which it occurred was completely unprecedented. At 8:32 a.m. on May 18, 1980, a 5.1-magnitude earthquake triggered a sideways blast that swept the mountain’s north face away into a cascading landslide that shot hot ash and stone out some 15 miles at speeds of at least 300 m.p.h. At the same time, a mushroom-shaped plume of ash shot 16 miles into the air, eventually covering three states.
4. Mount Tambora
The Volcanic Explosivity Index goes up to 8. On that scale, the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora rates a very destructive 7. The explosion took place on the island of Sumbawa (then in the Dutch East Indies, now in Indonesia) and plunged the region into darkness, but its effects were anything but isolated. Tens of thousands of people were killed by the apocalyptic eruption, subsequent tsunamis and ensuing starvation and disease. The largest volcanic eruption in recorded history changed the world’s climate so much (even crops in Europe and North America failed) that 1816 became known as “the year without a summer.” Tambora itself shrank several thousand feet and traded its peak for a massive crater at its summit.
5. Mouna Loa
It’s fitting that the state created out of a chain of volcanic islands would be home to the world’s largest volcano. Mauna Loa is located on the Big Island of Hawaii and in addition to being the largest, with a summit nearly 13,700 feet high, it is also one of the world’s most active. Since 1843, Mauna Loa has erupted 33 times, most recently in 1984. At 60 miles long and 30 miles wide, Mauna Loa, the name of which fittingly means “Long Mountain” in Hawaiian, takes up about half of the Big Island. Its mass also amounts to 85% of all the other Hawaiian Islands combined.
It was like an overly contrived disaster flick: A mammoth cloud of ash from an Icelandic volcano creeps across the European continent, shutting down airports and stranding hundreds of thousands for days. Across the globe, people curse the volcano — or attempt to, since few can actually pronounce the name Eyjafjallajokull. And despite all our technological prowess, human ingenuity is shown to be futile in the face of an ash plume. Eyjafjallajokull, whose name means “Island Mountain Glacier” in Icelandic, first erupted this year on March 20. But it was the eruption that began April 14 that wrought all the havoc, ultimately costing the airline industry more than $1 billion.
7. Mount Pelée
Mount Pelée, standing more than 4,500 feet high on the French Caribbean island of Martinique, erupted violently in May 1902, killing nearly 30,000 people — effectively the entire port city of St. Pierre. The catastrophe was so devastating that the term pelean — to describe that particular kind of ash, gas and fiery cloud eruption — became part of volcanic vernacular. There had been warnings of steam, light earth shocks and raining ash, but they were ignored. After the town was wiped out, Pelée went dormant for some months, until geologists discovered a lava dome, dubbed the tower of Pelée, that rose to more than 1,000 feet above the crater floor before eventually crumbling in March 1903.
The volcano at Thera (later known as the Greek island of Santorini) exploded with what is estimated at four to five times the eruptive force of Krakatoa in 1883, blowing a hole into the Aegean isle and sending out shock waves that, according to historians, would reverberate for centuries to come. Stories of a world-shaking eruption linger in legends across the Mediterranean. For years, adventure-seeking archaeologists have even pored through Thera’s geological record in search of the fabled lost city of Atlantis.
9. Nevado del Ruiz
The eruption was small — in volcanic terms, that is — producing only about 3% of the ash ejected by Mount St. Helens in 1980. Instead, it was the mudflows that made Colombia’s 1985 Nevado del Ruiz explosion the second deadliest in the 20th century and the fourth deadliest in recorded history. The volcano has been blowing its top since the Pleistocene era and has erupted three times in modern history, including in 1595 and 1845. But on Nov. 13, 1985, a relatively small explosion unleashed floods that swept away 1,500 people on one side of the mountain.
10. Mount Pinatubo
When Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991, the amount of sulfuric ash it sent into the stratosphere cooled global ground temperatures by 1°F for the next two years. To be fair, it hadn’t erupted for six centuries, so there was some catching up to do.