While El Salvador might not be considered a major hotspot for the Mayan Civilization today, it was going to be. Yet when Mount Ilopango erupted between 430 and 450 CE, it destroyed entire Mayan cities in the region and resulted in the civilization moving closer to Guatemala. This major eruption ended up creating a major caldera that houses Lake Ilopango today. At the time, it is said that the ash-cloud fallout from the eruption would have blanketed at least 3,800 square miles in roughly waist-deep pumice and ash. Agriculture in the territory would have been nonexistent for decades.
The weather event in this territory would have made it much harder to breathe here, and much cooler than it should be. That would lead to several deaths of plants, then animals, and without any food resources or safe drinking water, any humans remaining would have died off. Overall, the volcanic event is considered one of the largest in the history of Earth in the last 7,000 years. While El Salvador was hit hard by this, the territory eventually bounced back. Leading people to come back and settle in the nation once again. Thankfully, no major volcano eruptions have taken place since.
When Johnny Cash sang about a “ring of fire,” did you assume he just grabbed this out of thin air? Oh no, the ring of fire is technically a real thing. It is found in Alaska (among other areas), and it was formed thanks to the volcanoes in the region. One of which is Novarupta, which actually formed in 1912. That makes it likely the youngest volcano on this list. The eruption that led to Novarupta forming was massive and reached a level 6 on the VEI scale. The violent eruptions began on June 6, 1912, and would last for 60 hours before stopping. By the time it did, roughly 3.1 to 3.6 cubic miles of ash were expelled in the region.
The erupted magma consisting of andesite, dacite, and rhyolite led to 4.1 cubic miles of air fluff as well as 2.6 cubic miles of pyroclastic ash-flow fluff. While several eruptions were at the same magnitude or greater, the fact that an eruption was so impactful that an entirely new volcano formed is amazing. How often can we see such an event take place? Sure, it led to roughly one foot of ash covering the territory and likely displacing many from their homes. Yet it cannot be overlooked that a freakin volcano came out of all of this. Volcano eruptions like this go down as legendary.
Mount Thera managed to do something that very few other volcanoes can claim. This volcano, located on the island of Thera in the Aegean Islands was essentially world-changing. This was a major event in human history that wiped out the Minoan civilization that lived on the island of Thera. Geologists now believe it was likely the strongest explosion that was ever personally witnessed by a human. Thera erupted with the measured energy of several hundreds of atomic bombs in just a fraction of a second.
Some people believed that the volcano was actually close to blowing and left the settlement before the volcano erupted. Yet many residents remained behind and were caught in the after-effects. On top of this, even those who left the civilization likely dealt with many issues. As the volcano massively disrupted the local culture from major temperature declines to even tsunamis. Not to mention the massive amount of sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere. Places like Crete were hit by earthquakes and tsunamis, as well as volcanic lightning. Agriculture and animals in the region were likely wiped out too, causing severe famine.
These Alaskan volcanoes are something else. The Semisopochnoi Island feels like a place you’d see after a nuclear explosion wiped out life on the planet. It is uninhabited and does not contain ANY mammals. This works out well for many maritime birds that utilize the place for nesting as a result. The island is actually home to several volcanoes, including Mount Cerberus. The main volcano, the Semisopochnoi, is the largest subaerial volcano in the western Aleutians. It stands at a little over 12 miles wide above sea level while it contains a caldera that measures out at nearly 5 miles in width.
It’s assumed that most of these volcanoes in the chain here as well as the ring of fire itself came from some sort of major volcanic eruption that took place around 8,000 BCE. It is not shocking to hear of volcanoes forming roughly 10,000 years ago from this timeframe. Yet that means it would have caused a lot of damage in the region. That said, Alaska has been a place where people have settled for thousands of years. Therefore, it is likely that mammals like us stayed away from settling here because of the baron landscape and potential volcanic activity. This is likely why very few plants grow in the area and land animals are scarce.
In the southwest territory of the Pacific Ocean, you’ll find several small islands. Around this territory, you’ll find Ambrym Island which happens to be part of the Republic of Vanuatu. This happens to be the site of a major eruption that took place in 50 BCE. While volcanic eruptions can be powerful, very few are able to create a caldera on an island that is 7.5 miles wide. Upon erupting, volcanic ash and debris were sent for thousands of miles. The eruption, to the shock of no one, was rated a 6 under the Volcanic Explosivity Index. What might freak you out more is that this very same basaltic volcano is still active to this day!
Today, everyone knows Ambrym Island as simply a volcanic island that now includes two different lava lakes. The two crater lakes actually happen to be the site of two volcanic cones known as Benbow and Marum. We’ve seen many Ambrym volcano eruptions that were quite destructive. While the eruption that took place in 50 BCE was huge, Mount Benbow actually erupted in 1913 too. When it did, it completely destroyed a nearby mission hospital. Gas emissions from the volcano have found it to be active, meaning Ambrym Island could see future eruptions at any time!
The Eyjafjallajökull volcano, located in Iceland, happens to be one of the few major volcano eruptions to occur in our lifetime. The eruptions here lasted for about 6 days starting on April 14th while localized disruption continued into May 2010. However, eruptive activity STILL kept going until June 2010. Finally, after another three months of activity, the eruptions were finally over in October 2010. From April 14th to the 20th, ash from the eruption covered large areas of Northern Europe. All in all, around 20 countries were affected so badly by it that they had to close off air travel to commercial flights.
This affected millions of people, but things could have been much worse. Geologists, as well as volcanic experts, had been keeping an eye on Eyjafjallajökull for a while. However, they noticed near the end of 2009 that seismic activity had started and ended up increasing far more by March 2010. This is when a small eruption took place, but by April 2010, it officially went into crazy mode. It ejected around 250 million cubic yards of tephra and an ash plume rose to 30,000 feet. By June 2010, a small but new crater opened up on the west side of the main crater. Overall, it was one of the most impactful eruptions in recent memory.
Mount Mazama is considered a complex volcano, which consists of volcanic centers and has a mixed landform. They tend to form due to changes in eruptive habits or in the location of the principal vent area of another volcano. Most of these mountains in the Cascade Volcanic Arc formed around 7,700 years ago. The collapse of the volcano formed a caldera that now holds “Crater Lake.” Mount Mazama was originally 12,000 feet but the climactic eruption and subsequent caldera took it down to 8,157 feet. Crater Lake itself is actually 1,943 feet deep. This is the deepest freshwater body source in the United States and the second deepest in North America.
Overlapping volcano edifices including shield volcanoes and composite cones became active at the same time, eventually resulting in a major eruption sometime between 5900 to 5680 BCE. The eruption destroyed Mazama’s summit but led to the major volcano and crater lake we see today. Interestingly, the volcanic activity here is taking place due to the subduction of the offshore oceanic plate, which influences local extensional faulting. While Mazama might be dormant, scientists claim smaller eruptions are still likely and could cause major problems to the surrounding cities.
Part of the Central Volcanic Zone in the Andes Mountains, Cerro Blanco is a volcanic collapse structure located at an altitude of around 15,320 feet within a depression. The caldera itself has been active for at least eight million years, but not consistently. The many eruptions have since created many ignimbrites. While several major eruptions have taken place, one of the biggest occurred around 2300 BCE. It is the largest eruption of the Central Andes, rated at a 7 on the VEI rating scale. It actually formed the most recent caldera in the Cerro Blanco territory, along with some thick ignimbrite laters.
During the eruption, around 41 cubic miles of tephra were emitted by the volcano, and it went dormant after this. The eruption also caused giant ripple marks to form along the ignimbrite fields, and the shifting gravel and sand helped to form wave-like structures. The ripple marks here are the largest on the planet as well at 7 feet, 7 inches. Some deformation has also taken place along with a little geothermal activity. This is why many believe one should not live nearby, for if we see another eruption from this volcano, it could devastate many local communities nearby.
Yellowstone National Park is absolutely beautiful, but it houses one of the most powerful supervolcanoes on the planet. In fact, an eruption from this volcano would be so significant to the planet that it is classified as a “doomsday event.” What is so interesting is that this volcano erupted in the past but it was long before any present-day humans were around. In fact, the last time it erupted, humans looked very different. The Yellowstone volcano erupted 640,000 years ago and actually made such an impact when it did, that the entire park you see today was shaped by this eruption.
Not only that, but U.S. states like Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho were heavily impacted by the eruption too. The way they look today is also thanks to the supervolcano, which is insane when you really think about it. Roughly 3,500 square miles of Earth were created from the last eruption, putting it at a 7 to 8 on the VEI scale. Today, you need to look no further than Yellowstone’s infamous geysers to see a constant reminder of the volcano just underneath. The thing that worries many is that the volcano should have already erupted by now due to its timing, meaning we’re due for another major eruption literally any time now.
You can find this amazing stratovolcano on the island of Martinique, which happens to be a French-owned island in the Caribbean. Mount Pelée is likely what made this island famous, and it is quite a beautiful thing to see. It has several stratified layers of hardened ash and solidified lava that shows its past well. While it has not erupted since 1932, it could erupt at any point. Experts who studied the volcano believe it is still very much active, and should not be overlooked. The last time it was overlooked though, many people died.
The eruption in 1902 completely leveled the nearby town of Saint-Pierre. In just a few minutes, not only was the town gone but between 29,000 to 30,000 people were killed. This makes the 1902 Mount Pelée eruption one of the worst volcano eruptions in the 20th century in terms of lives lost alone. The main eruption took place on May 8th and kept going for a little longer. Only two people in the direct path of the blast flow survived. The first was Ludger Sylbaris, who survived only because he was in a very poorly ventilated, dungeon-like prison. Léon Compère-Léandre also survived, due to living on the edge of the city but still suffered severe burns.
Estimated Date:4000 BCE, 1370 BCE, 710 CE, 1933 CE
Location:West New Britain Province, Papua New Guinea
The Pago Volcano in the West New Britain Province of Papua New Guinea is not the most active volcano. As in, it does not erupt a lot. However, when it has…it did so in some of the most horrific ways one could ever see. Funny enough, Pago is relatively young in terms of volcano age but it has made its impression on Papua New Guinea. Several major eruptions took place here, so it is hard to pick just one. It should be known that as of today, the volcano has erupted a total of eight times in 500 years. That includes the major eruption from 1933 that nearly leveled everything.
In 2002, the mere threat of its eruption led to the evacuation of 15,000 people and several ash-plume advisories were issued in 2012. However, the eruptions that made Pago famous took place around 4000 BCE, 1370 BCE, and 710 CE. Each one was rated a level 6 under the VEI rating scale. Yet another eruption took place in 610 CE but only earned a level 5 rating, which is still pretty destructive. Pago happens to be in the Bismarck Volcanic Arc, which is filled with active volcanoes that have made quite an impression on the Earth around them.
Location:East New Britain Province, Papua New Guinea
VEI Rating: 6
Sticking with the Bismarck Volcanic Arc of volcanos, the Rabaul Volcano is not very far from Pago. It happens to be located in the East New Britain Province. Also known as the Rabaul Caldera, the volcano has sub-vents such as one referred to as Tavurvur which has done significant damage with its eruptions. Several major eruptions have taken place here over. The first eruption that seemed to be massive was the one that took place in 535 CE, but the one confirmed from that early period to have done major damage took place in 683 CE. It was rated a level 6 on the VEI scale. Many even believe this was what formed the current caldera there.
The Vulcan sub-vent formed in 1878 due to a large eruption, which is critical to remember. In 1937, a level 6 eruption took place when both Vulcan and Tavurvur erupted at the same time. This eruption led to the death of 508 people nearby. The last time both erupted together was in 1994, which resulted in the destruction of the Rabaul Airport and the near covering of the entire town of Rabaul due to heavy ashfall. In 2006, Tavurvur erupted once more and broke windows up to 7.5 miles away, and sent ash into the air up to around 10 miles away.
Mount Etna is easily feared by all for many reasons. It is a historic volcano in Sicily that at one point was the stuff of legend. When the Carthaginians attempted to sack Syracuse during the Second Sicilian War in 396 BCE, Etna actually erupted. This made the Carthaginians back off and completely thwarted their attempt. Some saw this as Etna refusing to let them take her land. However, it is not as if Mount Etna was always a fan of those on her island. If you believe in volcano Gods in some way, you’d likely assume Etna wanted everyone out of Sicily in 122 BCE.
The violent eruption caused heavy tephra falls that landed in the town of Catania. Roofs collapsed as a result of this. However, nothing truly beats the 1669 CE eruption. It began on March 11th and produced enough lava flows to destroy 10 villages on its southern flank, and even managed to reach the city walls of Catania roughly five weeks later on April 15th. There, the lava destroyed a few buildings before finally stopping at the Benedictine Monastery. While some claimed it took 15,000 lives, no confirmed deaths took place during this eruption. However, agriculture and land would have been destroyed and likely ruined the economy here.
Located in New Zealand, the Taupō Volcano erupted violently sometime between 180 to 223 CE. Often referred to as the “Hatepe eruption” due to the Hatepe Plinian pumice tephra layer, this eruption is considered the most violent eruption in New Zealand in 20,000 years. The eruption ejected 29 cubic miles of inner volcanic goodness. In fact, 7.2 cubic miles of the stuff was ejected in less than 5 minutes! The eruption took place through stages, with six markers later identified. The pyroclastic flow of the volcano completely devastated nearby areas.
It climbed as high as 4,900 feet and could be seen higher than the Kaimanawa Ranges and Mount Tongariro. It would cover the land surrounding by up to 50 miles with ignimbrite. Luckily, the land had not been settled by any human populations yet. That did not happen until roughly 1,000 years later. This meant that no human life was lost from the eruption. However, it is possible that tsunamis created by the eruption would have hit both nearby and far away locations. That could have, in turn, resulted in the loss of human life in those locations.
It is rare that we throw around the word “catastrophic” when it comes to volcano eruptions all time. However, the eruption at Mount Samalas in 1257 CE was certainly just that. The Indonesian volcano managed to reach a level 7 on the VEI scale, making it one of the most violent eruptions of the Holocene. Today, we know the damage it did through its large caldera alone. It now serves as Lake Segara Anak. The eruption itself created eruption columns that reached several miles into the atmosphere. Most of Lombok Island was buried in pyroclastic flows.
It was so massive that this eruption did not just impact Lombok but also the neighboring island of Sumbawa. Most human settlements in the territory were destroyed, including Lombok’s entire capital city, Pamatan. Ash from the eruption went as far as 210 miles away. What was worse was that aerosols managed to get into the atmosphere and reduced solar radiation that could reach the Earth. This resulted in a volcanic winter event, cooling the entire territory for several years. It is thought that this volcano contributed to the Little Ice Age event that lasted for centuries.
Location:Ōsumi Islands of Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan
Also known as the Akahoya eruption, the Kikai Caldera was one of the largest eruptions in the Holocene. Unlike other volcanoes on this list, you likely cannot see the Kikai Caldera very well today as it is mostly submerged. It happens to be around 12 miles in diameter and does not operate as a lake due to the ocean submerging it underwater. Estimated to have erupted in 4300 BCE, pyroclastic flows reached the coast of what is now southern Kyūshū, roughly 62 miles away from the volcano itself. Ash even fell as far as Hokkaidō. Volcano eruptions that send ash flying like this can do major damage.
Rated a 7 on the VEI scale, at least 270 miles of tephra was produced from this eruption. This put it alongside other major volcanic eruptions in history, especially the Holocene. However, what makes Kikai so freaky is that it is still an active volcano to this day. In fact, as recently as June 2013, weak tremors were recorded and eruptions began off and on right after for several hours. Of course, none of these eruptions were considered significant like the one from over 6,000 years ago. Yet the fact that they happened at all is worthy of fear.
The 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo is one of the few major eruptions to take place within most of our lifetimes. While this volcano might be found in the Philippines, the eruption at Pinatubo was felt worldwide. We know today that the eruption was the second largest in the 20th century too. You’d be forgiven if you thought the end of the world was near. As this eruption was taking place, Typhoon Yunya threw a monkey wrench into everything. This brought a lethal level of ash and rain into cities surrounding the volcano. It resulted in tens of thousands of people evacuating the territory. Thousands of lives were saved through this, but 350 people died.
Nearby territories were severely damaged from the pyroclastic surges and falls. The flooding lahars caused by rainwater only helped to remobilize earlier volcanic deposits. River systems were massively damaged due to this for several years as a result. Roughly 10 billion metric tons of magma and 20 million metric tons of sulfur dioxide came out of this eruption, which brought toxic metals and minerals into the surface environment and into the stratosphere. For months, aerosols formed a global layer of sulfuric acid haze, and temperatures dropped worldwide by at least a degree Fahrenheit from 1991 to 1993. Along with heavy ozone depletion.
It is likely that when we think of something “huge,” we often hear the word “Krakatoa.” That is for a legitimate reason. In 1883, an eruption took place at the Krakatoa Caldera in the Sunda Strait. This is located in Indonesia between the islands of Java and Sumatra, within the province of Lampung. The overall caldera is part of a volcanic island group that comprises four islands. While the Lang and Verlaten islands were remnants of previous eruptions before 1883, Rakata happens to be the remnant of a much larger island that the 1883 eruption destroyed. People knew before 1883 that Krakatoa was a huge problem.
Seismic activity was intense for many years. Finally, in May 1883 a few lesser eruptions took place but soon after, the volcano began to release huge plumes of steam and ash that lasted until August. By late August, a series of four explosions nearly destroyed the island itself. The explosions were so loud that people in Perth, Australia could hear them. They are roughly 3,000 miles away! Anyone within 10 miles of the eruption would have gone deaf. Roughly 260,000 feet of ash came out, followed by volcanic ash and tsunamis as well as temperature drops. The Dutch managed to count at least 36,417 confirmed deaths but many feel the real total is closer to over 120,000.
The Lakigigar volcano is actually a fissure, and is often referred to as the “Laki Fissure.” From June 1783 to February 1784, Laki erupted violently and was joined by the nearby Grímsvötn volcano soon into its eruption. In total, 42 billion metric tons of basalt lava and clouds of poisonous hydrofluoric acid and sulfur dioxide contaminated not only the soil but a lot of the breathable air. At least 50% of all Icelandic livestock died from the event, and soon after, most of the crops in Iceland were destroyed entirely. The land remained so contaminated from this that crops could not be grown in the territory for many years after.
Of course, this led to a mass famine that would go on to kill around 25% of the human population in Iceland at the time. This would have been between 9,000 to 9,350 people in that time period. While the aftermath for Icelantic soil and its atmosphere was poor, the world felt this too. Global temperatures dropped due to the 120 million metric tons of sulfur dioxide that flowed into the Northern Hemisphere. European crops were impacted by this drastically, and both Northern Africa and India experienced major droughts due to this too. Volcano eruptions like what we saw with Laki was on the tip of the iceberg for Iceland, sadly.
Iceland was not the only nation to experience a major eruption in the late 1700s. In fact, Mount Unzen’s eruption just a few years later was Japan’s deadliest volcano in its long history. The eruption led to a mass explosion that collapsed the dome of the volcano itself. That resulted in a giant landslide that buried the entire city of Shimabara before flowing into the ocean. While some might feel the loss of the city was bad enough for this to be a horrific eruption, this was just where Mount Unzen’s eruption and its aftermath began. Many volcano eruptions never went with just the eruption itself.
The eruption and its landslide triggered a tsunami that ended up being over 50 feet high. All in all, the event led to the death of an estimated 15,000 people. Of course, to the shock of no one, agriculture in the region was impacted heavily. The fish population in the region naturally decreased too, putting many fishermen who survived this event out of work for a while. The cost of the damages at that time was around 17.4 billion yen, which is about $150 million. If we account for inflation in 2022, that same level of impact would be nearly $5 billion dollars worth of damage.
While this stratovolcano has erupted several times, the eruption in May 1980 is the deadliest and most destructive in U.S. history. The eruption resulted in a major debris avalanche, which triggered a 5.1-level earthquake that did destruction on its own. The mountain’s summit even reduced a lot. It was as high as 9,677 feet but the eruption cut it down to 8,363 feet. It even left behind a one-mile crater shaped like a horseshoe. Ecosystems near the volcano were devasted by the eruption, which seems obvious but the ash actually helped nearby aquatic ecosystems tremendously.
The eruption leveled a lot of things before the earthquake and other events took place. Around 200 homes, 47 bridges, 185 miles of highway, and 15 miles of railway were destroyed. This resulted in the loss of 57 human lives as well. Economically, this event resulted in several millions of dollars worth of repairs. Interestingly, the volcano still remains active and has experienced volcanic activity consistently since 2008. Yet Mount St. Helens remained one of the most popular hiking spots in the United States and it is climbed all year long by both residents and visitors. Apparently, possible volcano eruptions do not scare these people away!
The Nevado del Ruiz volcano has had some massive eruptions over the years, but likely the most notable occurred in 1985. In November, it only took a small eruption to do an enormous amount of damage. Essentially, the volcano did not need a major eruption because it was capable of producing a ton of mudflows without much effort. That is likely due to the local glaciers. In fact, this is essentially what led to a massive loss of life in the local area. Now known as the Armero tragedy, the town of Armero in Tolima was hit by the aforementioned mudflow.
The result of this was that the entire town was destroyed. Sadly, an estimated total of 25,000 people died during the event. It is the deadliest eruption in Columbian history and among the deadliest in South American history today. The volcano is actually part of the Los Nevados National Park where visitors drop by throughout the year. It seems that many did not learn their lesson about building near Nevado del Ruiz as there are many villages and towns close by. Now covered by large glaciers, if it were to go off, it could impact or kill up to 500,000 people from the mudflow potential alone.
Mount Tambora has experienced some major eruptions in its long history. However, in 1815 it managed to be so destructive that it ended more human lives than perhaps any other volcano directly in history. Today, we also know it to be the most powerful volcanic eruption since humans have been on the planet. Rated a 7 by the Volcanic Explosivity Index, it sent around 38 to 51 cubic miles of volcanic material into the atmosphere. Going into April 1815, the magma chamber had been drained by previous eruptions. This allowed the volcano to essentially become dormant…but it was refilling that entire time.
Suddenly, an explosive eruption took place that could be heard as far as Sumatra Island 1,200 miles away. Heavy volcanic ash rained down and could be seen by all nearby islands within hundreds of miles. The direct eruption was estimated to have killed around 71,000 people. However, due to its impact on the global climate, 1816 became the “year without a summer.” North American and European temperatures and weather led to the death of livestock and crops. That led to an enormous famine, which was the worst of the century. Thus, you could say hundreds of thousands were impacted and any of their deaths were due to the eruption too.
Perhaps the most famous of all volcanic eruptions in history is the 79 CE eruption of Mount Vesuvius. This is most certainly due to its location and the historians that were either present or close to the event. Everyone knows that the Roman city of Pompeii was leveled by the eruption. Later archeologists would uncover a lot of major Roman artifacts from the location that were all in pristine condition due to the eruption. However, Pompeii was only one of the cities impacted. Herculaneum, Oplontis, and Stabiae among other settlements were all leveled too.
The eruption sent out a cloud of stones, ashes, and volcanic gases as far as 21 miles. This includes erupting molten rock and pulverizing pumice hundreds of miles per hour. At least 1,000 people died in the eruption, but it is widely assumed many more lost their lives. The only surviving eyewitness account actually comes from historian Pliny the Elder’s nephew and Roman Magistrate Pliny the Younger, as well as Tacitus. Vesuvius has erupted many more times since 79 CE, but this will forever be the most notable eruption. Volcano eruptions do not get more infamous than Vesuvius.