The volcanic activity began on August 16, when a series of mini-earthquakes rumbled beneath Iceland’s Bardabunga volcano. On August 28 the surface eruption started, and lava spewed from a long fissure in the 200-year old Holuhraun lava field. The eruption wasn’t as dramatic as when the Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted in Iceland in 2010, creating massive ash plumes that grounded planes for two weeks. In fact, according to CNN Travel when smoke and lava began gushing from Bardabunga, an Icelandair pilot took a slight detour to give passengers a better view of the spectacle. However, being able to safely get that close to one of nature’s most dramatic events is rare. While Iceland’s Meteorological Office only briefly raised the aviation threat level to red, volcanoes are notorious for wreaking havoc and causing widespread loss of life. According to James White, volcanologist at the University of Otago in New Zealand, “there is little that society can do in the face of the largest known volcanic eruptions, and it is a good thing that they happen very rarely on a human timescale.”
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10 Mount St. Helens, Washington State: USA/57 Casualties
On May 18, 1980, an earthquake measuring 5.1 on the Richter scale triggered a series of explosions at Mount St. Helens. It culminated with a violent eruption that caused the largest debris avalanche ever recorded. All in all, 57 people lost their lives. The eruption caused more than $1 billion in damage; forests, roads, bridges, houses and recreational sites were obliterated and the thriving lumber and agricultural industries destroyed. The “indirect human cost” of the eruption makes it one of the worst volcanic tragedies in the world.
9 Nyiragongo, Democratic Republic of Congo/70 Casualties
Located in the Virunga Mountains along the Great Rift Valley, Mount Nyiragongo has erupted at least 34 times since 1882. The active stratovolcano has an elevation of 3,470 ft. and a two-kilometer wide crater that contains a lava lake. In January 1977, Nyiragongo erupted; lava flowed down its sides at nearly 60 miles per hour, killing more than 70 people. Mount Nyiragongo erupted again in 2002. Lava raced towards the city of Goma and the shores of Lake Kivu, but there were no casualties. Due to the high level of volcanism in the region, scientists believe that a major disturbance of Lake Kivu could result in a dangerous release of C02.
8 Pinatubo, Philippines/800 Casualties
Situated in the Cabusilan Mountains on the island of Luzon, Pinatubo was quiet for more than 450 years before it flared to life in June 1991. The dangers of Pinatubo were largely forgotten as the mountain was covered with dense forest -the rich, volcanic soil yielding an abundance of vegetation and agriculture. Luckily, monitoring and successful prediction led to the evacuation of tens of thousands of people. The eruption in 1991 was so violent, however, that the effects were felt worldwide. Aerosols released from Pinatubo formed a global layer of sulfuric acid haze, and it is believed to have caused the global temperature to drop by 9 degrees Fahrenheit from 1991 to 1993.
7 Kelud: East Java, Indonesia/5,000 Casualties
Located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, Kelud has erupted at least 30 times since 1000 AD. Kelud’s most deadly eruption took place in 1919. Hot, fast-moving mudflows killed over 5,000 people. The volcano erupted again in 1951, 1966 and 1990, killing a total of 250 people. In 2007, 30,000 people were evacuated because of volcanic activity; two weeks after the alert, Kelud blew its top, dusting villages eight miles away with ash and debris. Kelud’s most recent eruption occurred on February 13, 2014. 76,00 people were evacuated. The ashfall covered an area of 500 kilometers.
6 The Laki Volcanic System, Iceland/9,000 Casualties
Iceland, the sparsely populated country between the North Atlantic and the Arctic Circle, is known for its waterfalls, fjords, volcanoes, and glaciers. It’s nicknamed “the land of fire and ice” and features 30 active volcanic systems –the high concentration is due to the island’s location on a tectonic plate boundary. In 2010, Eyjafjallajokull erupted, belching thousands of tons of ash and debris into the sky. It created travel chaos across Europe for weeks, stranding passengers and causing billions of dollars in loss for the airline industry. However, it was nothing in comparison to the eruptions that occurred at the Laki Volcanic System in 1784.
The Laki eruption lasted eight months. All in all, it spewed 14.7 cubic kilometers of lava. Nevertheless, it wasn’t the high volume of volcanic material that killed 9,000 people; it was the large quantities of gas. The Laki eruption released carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen chloride, and fluoride into the atmosphere. The toxic cloud created acid rain that poisoned the livestock and tainted the soil.
5 Mount Unzen, Japan/12,000-15,000 Casualties
Located near the city of Shimabara, Nagasaki Prefecture, on the Japanese island of Kyushu, Mount Unzen is a group of overlapping stratovolcanoes. In 1792, Mt. Unzen erupted; the blast created an earthquake that collapsed the east flank of the dome, resulting in a megatsunami that killed between 12,000 and 15,000. It is considered the deadliest volcanic event in Japan’s history. Mt. Unzen erupted again in 1990, ‘91, and ‘95. Forty-three people were killed in 1991, including three volcanologists.
4 Mount Vesuvius, Italy/16,00-25,000 Casualties
Located 9 km east of Naples, Italy, Mount Vesuvius is the most infamous volcano in the world. The large cone is best known for destroying the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum when it erupted in AD 79. The eruption column was 20-miles long and featured a spout of molten rock, pulverized pumice, stones, and ash. The amount of thermal energy released in the eruption is said to be one hundred thousand times the energy released by the Hiroshima bombing. The death toll was estimated to be between 16,000 and 25,000. The most recent eruption at Mount Vesuvius occurred in 1944. Due to the 3,000,000 people living in the vicinity, Mount Vesuvius is still regarded as one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world.
3 Nevado del Ruiz, Colombia/25,000 Casualties
Nevado del Riuz, otherwise known as La Mesa de Hurveo, is a stratovolcano in Colombia. It is located 80 miles west of the capital city of Bogota. A stratovalcono differs from the average volcano in that it is composed of many alternating layers of lava, hardened volcanic ash, and pyroclastic rocks. The volcano is two million years old and part of Los Nevados National Natural Park.
Nevado del Riuz is known for its deadly lahars, a type of mud and debris flow that can quickly bury towns and cause significant loss of life. Nevado del Ruis has erupted three times. In 1595, 635 people were killed in a landslide of boiling mud. The volcano erupted again in 1845, killing over 1,000. However, the deadliest eruption occurred in 1985. An estimated 25,000 people died when the village of Armero was buried under a 40-mile an hour lava flow.
2 Pelee, West Indies/30,000 Casualties
Mt. Pelee, located at the northern end of Martinique, was thought to be a dormant volcano. However, a series of eruptions began on April 25, 1902 and culminated with an explosion on May 8 that has been called the worst volcanic disaster of the 20th century. Pyroclastic flows annihilated Saint-Pierre, the largest city on the island. The eruption killed at least 30,000 people. According to reports, there were only two survivors; Louis-Auguste Cyparis survived the volcano because he was locked up in a poorly ventilated jail cell, and a young girl named Havivra Da Ifrile escaped the eruption by fleeing in a small boat and hiding in a cave along the shore. She was later found drifting two miles off the coast of Martinique.
1 Tambora, Indonesia/92,000 Casualties
Mt. Tambora erupted on April 10, 1816 and killed an estimated 92,000 people. At 38 cu mi, Tambora’s ejecta volume is the largest in recorded history. Mt. Tambora was 13,000 feet tall before the explosion and reduced to 9,000 feet after the eruption. It's said the concussion from the eruption could be felt 1,000 miles away. Tambora is not only the deadliest volcano in terms of loss of life, but it triggered what became known as The Year Without Summer. The eruption was so massive that it caused severe anomalies in the global climate: crops failed; it snowed in New England in June; and livestock died in parts of the northern hemisphere, causing a severe famine. The phenomenon became known as the “volcanic winter.”
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