Volcanoes erupt when magma (molten rock) from deep under the earth works its way up through the earth’s mantle and crust, forcing its way through weaker rock, before breaching the surface of the earth. Some eruptions are explosive whilst others ooze lava slowly. An active volcano is defined as one that has erupted within the last 10,000 years and is expected to erupt again. By that definition, there are 1500 active volcanoes in the world today, with three-quarters of them located along the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’. But active volcanoes don’t necessarily erupt all the time and there are around 50 to 70 volcanic eruptions each year. Let’s take a look at some of the world’s most active volcanoes.
Mount Etna is the largest active volcano in Europe. It first erupted around 500,000 years ago and has been continuously erupting for the past 3500 years. In Greek mythology, Zeus, the ruler or the gods, trapped the one hundred-headed monster, Typhon, beneath the ground. Typhon’s rage at his imprisonment causes rivers of fire to pour out of the mountain. Italy is home to two other active volcanoes – Stromboli, known for its violent bursts of lava, and Mount Vesuvius, the volcano that brought about the destruction of Pompeii in 79 CE.
Found on Hawaii’s Big Island, Kilauea is situated on the south-east slope of the neighbouring volcano, Mauna Loa. Initially it was thought that Kilauea was a satellite of Mauna Loa, but recent research has shown that it has its own system of magma tunnels. The volcano has caused the destruction of much of the surrounding area and so local people often leave flower leis as offerings to the fire goddess Pele who, it is believed, lives in the lava lakes of Kilauea’s Halema’uma’u crater. Mauna Loa, the largest volcano on Earth, is thought to have been erupting continuously for the past 700,000 years.
This volcano caused havoc for the commercial aviation industry in the spring of 2010 when a series of eruptions sent huge clouds of ash into the sky, covering a large area of northern Europe. The eruptions continued from March until June that year forcing 20 countries to close their airspace for a week in April as it was too dangerous to fly, disrupting the travel plans of millions of passengers.
This volcano, thought to have produced more lava flow than any other volcano in the world, also wreaked havoc in 2010 when it began to erupt in October. The series of eruptions continued for weeks, causing the deaths of over 350 people, and leaving thousands more homeless after destroying hundreds of homes. In a 1994 eruption, the volcano claimed the lives of 64 people. It is the most restless of Indonesia’s 130 active volcanoes, with smoke continuously rolling across the mountaintop.
Situated on Ross Island, Mount Erebus is the southernmost of all the world’s active volcanoes and is home to one of the planet’s small number of permanent lava lakes. This volcano is also known for its fumaroles; vents in the Earth’s crust which allow steam and gas to escape, creating huge snow chimneys as the steam instantly freezes.
If you’re interested in learning about the most recent volcanic eruptions, you can view data about them the at the Global Volcanism Program website.