Volcanic eruptions make up a fifth of all-natural disasters.
A succession of massive and sizzling eruptions when the dinosaurs went extinct to more recent explosive events like Mount St. Helens shooting a cloud of dust 15 miles high in 1980 are some of the world’s most significant and destructive volcanic eruptions.
The Deccan Traps are a series of lava beds in India’s Deccan Plateau region that covers 580,000 square miles, or more than twice the size of Texas. Between 63 million and 67 million years ago, a series of massive volcanic eruptions put the lava beds down.
The eruptions generally correspond to the demise of the dinosaurs, known as the K–T mass extinction (a shorthand for the Cretaceous-Tertiary end).
According to the United States Geological Survey, many massive eruptions have occurred throughout the history of Yellowstone National Park, the most recent of which occurred about 640,000 years ago. When this massive supervolcano erupted, it ejected nearly 621 cubic miles of material into the atmosphere, leaving hardened lava fields and calderas, depressions formed in the Earth when material beneath it discharges to the surface.
Because the water is heated by the hot magma that flows beneath the ground, the magma chambers assumed to underpin the Yellowstone hotspot also provide the park with one of its enduring emblems, geysers.
While the exact date of the eruption is unknown, geologists believe it occurred sometime between 1645 BC and 1500 BC, with the energy of several hundred atomic bombs exploding in a fraction of a second. The island that hosted the volcano, Santorini (part of an archipelago of volcanic islands) in the Aegean Sea, had been home to members of the maritime Minoan civilization.
In January 2011, the mostly underwater volcano awakened, evidenced by small tremors of about magnitude 3.2, researchers reported.
Mount Vesuvius is a stratovolcano to the east of Naples, Italy. Stratovolcanoes are tall, steep, conical structures that erupt explosively regularly. They are frequent where one of Earth’s plates subducts beneath another, creating magma along a specific zone.
In A.D. 79, the most famous eruption of Vesuvius covered the Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum in rock and dust, killing thousands of people. However, some of the town’s structures, skeletons, and artifacts were preserved by the ashfall, which has helped researchers better comprehend ancient Roman civilization.
In 1783, the Laki volcano erupted, releasing stored volcanic gases brought to Europe by the Gulf Stream. Many people died as a result of the gas spill across the British Isles. The volcanic material thrown into the air resulted in flaming sunsets captured by 18th-century painters.
According to the Smithsonian Institution’s Global Volcanism Program, extensive agricultural devastation and cattle losses caused a famine in Iceland, killing one-fifth of the population. In addition, the volcanic eruption altered the world’s climate by blocking some of the sun’s incoming rays with particles released into the sky.
Mount Tambora’s explosion is the greatest ever recorded by humanity, with a rating of 7 (or “super-colossal”) on the Volcanic Explosivity Index, the index’s second-highest rating. The still-active volcano is located on Sumbawa Island and is one of the Indonesian archipelago’s tallest peaks.
The eruption peaked in April 1815, when it erupted with such force that it could be heard 1,200 miles away on Sumatra Island. The death toll from the blast was believed to be 71,000 persons, with clouds of thick ash falling on many distant islands. The massive caldera created by Tambora’s eruption is 3.7 miles in diameter and 3,609 feet deep.
The explosion triggered a tsunami, with maximum wave heights of 140 feet, and 34,000 people died. The increase in wave heights was detected by tidal gauges more than 7,000 miles away on the Arabian Peninsula.
While the eruption primarily destroyed the island that previously housed Krakatoa, subsequent eruptions beginning in December 1927 created the Anak Krakatau (“Child of Krakatau”) cone in the caldera formed by the 1883 eruption.
Novarupta, one of a line of volcanoes on the Alaska Peninsula, part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, erupted in the twentieth century’s most significant volcanic blast.
The massive eruption ejected three cubic miles of lava and ash into the air, which dropped to cover an area of 3,000 square miles at a depth of over a foot. In addition, the blast was so powerful that it drained magma from beneath another volcano, Mount Katmai, 6 miles east, forcing Katmai’s top to fall, forming a half-mile-deep caldera.
Mount St. Helens
Mount St. Helens is one of the most active volcanoes in the United States, located about 96 miles south of Seattle. The most famous eruption was on May 18, 1980, when it erupted, killing 57 people and causing devastation for miles around.
During the day, prevailing winds swept 520 million tons of ash eastward across the United States, resulting in total darkness in Spokane, Washington, 250 miles from the volcano. In just 15 minutes, the stratovolcano fired a column of ash and dust 15 miles into the air, with part of the ash landing on the ground in 11 states. A magma bulge on the volcano’s north face preceded the eruption, which caused the entire north face to fall away – the most significant landslide on Earth in recorded history.
The explosion eruption of Pinatubo blasted over one cubic mile of debris into the air, creating a 22-mile-high column of ash. Ash rained down across the countryside, stacking up to the point where some roofs caved in, reported Live Science.
The explosion also released millions of tons of sulfur dioxide and other particles into the atmosphere, which were carried across the world by air currents and caused global temperatures to drop by around 1 degree Fahrenheit during the following year.