Humanity, since the beginning of time, has always straddled the line between admiring and fearing the terrifying power that lies beneath volcanoes. We went from worshiping them as gods to climbing their peaks in order to gain a better understanding of their nature. Entire towns and cities have been wiped out by volcanoes, with some destined to do the same in the future. From Japan’s Unzen to Italy’s Vesuvius, here are some of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world.
1. Vesuvius, Italy
What would be a list of dangerous volcanoes without mentioning Vesuvius? It’s the very volcano that wiped out four ancient Roman cities in 79 AD, including Pompeii, Oplontis, Herculaneum and Stabiae. The eruption was so fierce that all four cities were covered in an estimated 13 to 20 feet of ash, stones and molten rock. For a long time, no one could even remember where the legendary city once stood. Vesuvius has since erupted several more times, including in 1632 and the most recent one in 1944.
2. Nyiragongo, Democratic Republic of the Congo
This African volcano is unique in that it’s home to a lava lake that drains every few decades or so. This makes it even more dangerous than most volcanoes because the fluidity of the lava allows it to travel for much longer distances. In almost three decades, Nyiragongo has drained twice: in 1994 during a civil war, then again in 2002, claiming the lives of 150 people. Unfortunately, international monitoring and research have been limited, mostly due to the political landscape of the country. On the other hand, many locals have taken it upon themselves to study the volcano.
3. Unzen, Japan
Unzen isn’t exactly a lone volcano but rather a group of three large stratovolcanoes and many lava domes that form much of the Shimabara Peninsula. It’s also the same Unzen that erupted, with no warning in 1993 while three volcanologists were up there studying it. Forty other people lost their lives during that same eruption. Unzen is also highly prone to pyroclastic flows and tsunamis due to the collapsing material that occasionally falls from the crater into the sea. This was the case in a 1792 eruption turned tsunami which led to over 14,000 casualties.
4. Mauna Loa, Hawaii
Hawaii is home to several active volcanoes. Among them is Mauna Loa, or “Long Mountain,” the tallest active volcano on Earth which rises nearly six miles above the Pacific Ocean’s sea floor. Here, lava flow is one of the main hazards and sometimes, the flank even collapses. Explosive eruptions there aren’t very common since the Hawaiian Islands are nowhere near a subduction zone. The last known eruption took place in 1984, with a lava flow that came within five miles of the city of Hilo.
5. Taal Volcano, Philippines
On January 12 2020, Taal made a dramatic entrance into the new year with a volatile and explosive eruption. Like Nyiragongo, it’s classified as one of the “16 Decade Volcanoes,” due to active state and threat to the nearby population of 20 million. Taal is no stranger to eruptions. In fact, one such powerful eruption caused the ground to collapse and led to a caldera which eventually filled in, now known as Lake Taal. And similar to Mauna Loa, Taal is also a complex stratovolcano with several conical hills instead of a single dome.
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