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The World’s Most Dangerous Volcanoes

24 April 2020

Volcanoes continue to be a fascinating subject for budding geographers and geologists to learn about as part of their studies. Their complex structures and vast history, sometimes spanning millions of years, continually proves to be a much-loved part of any curriculum.

Currently, there are around 1,500 potentially active volcanoes spread around the world. Of these, around a third have erupted – causing smoke, ash and lava to explode from the surface and into surrounding towns and cities.

In order to help students learn more about some of the world’s most infamous volcanic structures, we’re taking a closer look at some of the world’s most dangerous volcanoes, as well as the best volcanoes to visit on a geography school trip.

Mount St. Helens, Washington

Despite its last outbreak being in 2008, St Helens is noted for its infamous eruption of 1980 – where a series of explosions caused earthquakes over several months, as well as the largest landslide ever recorded. The resulting ash and debris was recorded in eleven American states and two Canadian provinces.

Currently, St. Helens is still active, with the top of the volcano filled with a lava dome and a large glacier.

Mount Kilauea, Hawaii

The world’s most active volcanic mass, Kilauea is home to many frequent eruptions. These are nonexplosive, and are generally contained within a boiling lake of active lava – which occasionally overflows along the caldera.

Kilauea’s most famous eruption occurred in 1955, followed by violent earthquakes and lava which poured for 88 days and destroyed 15km2 of nearby sugarcane fields and orchards. Similarly, an eruption in 1975 was rooted as the cause of a tsunami in the region.

Mayon Volcano, The Philippines

This active volcano has recorded over 30 eruptions since the 17th century – with one in 1993 causing 79 deaths. Since 2000, there have been five eruptions alone, each causing tens of thousands of nearby villagers to evacuate their homes.

Mayon’s symmetrical shape has caused it to be dubbed ‘the world’s most perfect volcanic cone’. Following Typhoon Durian in 2006, this shape caused destructive mudslides and floods at the foot of the mountain, which killed over 1,000 people.

Redoubt Volcano, Alaska

The most dangerous of 51 active volcanoes in Alaska, Redoubt stands at a mammoth 10,000ft above sea level. Between 1989 and 1990, an eruption caused a disruption in air traffic, making it one of the most expensive volcanic eruptions in US history.

Although covered in a glacier, experts have warned that hot gases and lava caused by another eruption could cause water and debris to fall down the side of the mountain, and the nearby Drift River to flood.

Mount Pinatubo, The Philippines

Located in the Zambales Mountains, Pinatubo is notorious for its recent 1991 eruption, which was the second largest volcanic eruption in the world. Its effects were felt worldwide – with the global temperature dropping by 0.5 degrees, and a layer of sulfuric acid haze.

Before the 1991 eruption, there was little known about the history of Pinatubo, as the surface was heavily eroded and covered in forests.

Mount Agung, Bali

In 1963, an eruption of Mount Agung caused one of the most devastating natural disasters in the region’s history, killing as many as 1,500 people.

More recently, the volcano was erupting from 2017-2019. In September 2017, the area suffered a total of 844 earthquakes because of the activity, with 300-400 occurring on one day alone. Around 122,500 people were evacuated from their homes, and the activity continued on and off until May 2019, when an explosion spewed lava and rocks over a 3km distance.

Mount Fuji, Japan

About 100km southwest of Tokyo, Mount Fuji is one of Japan’s ‘Three Holy Mountains’. Although lying dormant since its last eruption in 1707, Fuji is still considered active by scientists, with fears that a 2011 earthquake could have caused the volcano to erupt once more.

It is widely considered dangerous due to the amount of damage that a large eruption could cost – with economists suggesting it could cost around ¥2.5 trillion – with ash and resulting debris bringing Tokyo to a halt.

Popocatépetl, Mexico

With a name translating to ‘smoking mountain’, it’s no wonder that this volcano has been undergoing a constant eruption since 2004 It is the second most active volcano in Mexico, but ranks the highest when it comes to explosive activity and population threat.

In October 2019, Popocatépetl erupted overnight with 215 explosions resulting in ash, smoke and gas.

Volcanoes you can visit

In general, volcanoes get a bad reputation – when in fact, a lot that lie dormant are completely safe to visit. Below are some of the best, safer volcanoes to visit. To arrange a trip to any of these, simply get in touch with a member of the WST team, who will be more than happy to help.

Mount Vesuvius, Italy

One of history’s most infamous volcanic eruptions, the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD79 caused the deaths of more than 1,000 people.

Timinfaya, Lanzarote

Most of Timinfaya National Park was created during volcanic eruptions in the 18th century. Today, it is a national park filled with lava beds and volcanic craters.

Reykjanes, Iceland

The Reykjanes peninsula is home to an active volcanic system underneath its surface. A trip here includes sights such as volcanic landforms earthquake simulations and saltwater mud pools.

Mount Etna, Sicily

Europe’s highest volcano, Mount Etna is a great place to potentially witness some volcanic activity. Here, you can travel to 2167 above sea level to see the summit and fantastic views of the island.