A Closer Look at the World's Top 9 Most Active Volcanoes

The world's most active volcanoes contain an immense amount of energy and destructive power

Volcanoes rank up there in the world's arsenal of most powerful forces. These spewing cones of magma are behind the creation of many islands and even continents across the globe. 

Scientists define an active volcano as one that has erupted in the last 10,000 years. This essentially equates to the understanding that it takes many thousand years for volcanoes to go dormant and closed off from the earth's underground magma.

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Looking from this definition, the earth has 1,500 active volcanoes across the globe. 75 percent of those are located along the Pacific ring of fire – a region that spans the perimeters of landmasses on the Pacific ocean.

Determining a top list of most active volcanoes gets slightly subjective in certain cases, but thanks to new research, the volcano rising in at the number one spot definitely deserves to be there.

Let's take a look at the world's most active volcanoes.

9. Santa Maria - Guatemala

Santa Maria Volcano

Source: NASA Earth Observatory

The Santa Maria volcano is located 130 kilometers away from the city of Guatemala. Its crater was formed during an explosion during 1902, which ranks as one of the three largest eruptions in the 20th century, and one of the 5 largest eruptions in the last several hundred years. This volcano sits along the fault line of the Cocos plate and the Caribbean plate; the movement of which is usually the cause of eruption. The last eruption occurred in March of 2011 and lava flows have remained fairly constant in the surrounding landscape. 

8. Sakurajima - Japan

Sakurajima used to be its own island volcano before it's lava flows grew large enough to connect the mass to the Osumi Peninsula in Japan. For every year since 1955, this volcano has erupted, creating hazardous conditions for the nearby city of Kagoshima. Currently, the most active volcano in Japan, an eruption in 2009 caused thousands of deaths in the area. 

Notably, Sakurajima erupted in 1914, after being dormant for over a century. Luckily for the residents at the time, large earthquakes in the days prior gave them enough warning to flee to safety before the eruption hit. Once it did, it generated massive lava flows that are responsible for connecting the island to the mainland. In fact, the 1914 eruption was atypical for volcanoes, trending away from being explosive and tending to produce massive lava flows that continued on for months. During the flow of lava from its mouth, the once island engulfed several other smaller islands around it.

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7. Galeras - Colombia

Galeras

Source: Crisneda2000/Wikimedia Commons

Galeras's summit rises an impressive 4,276 meters above sea level and has been quite active for millions of years. It's first recorded eruption was in 1580 after the Spanish conquest. Nearby sits the city of Pasto, which the volcano consistently poses a threat to. An eruption over 500,000 years ago actually expelled 15 cubic kilometers of material into the surrounding landscape, drastically impacting the geology of the region. 

Notably, in 1978, scientists thought this volcano had gone dormant, but just 10 years later it erupted. After that in 1993, it erupted during a Volcano Conference, killing 6 scientists. Its constant activity in recent times causes consistent tremors in nearby cities and makes living nearby a perilous task.

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6. Mount Merapi - Indonesia

Mount Merapi has produced more lava flow than any other volcano anywhere in the world. In October of 2010, a high-alert was raised for people living in the surrounding areas and on the 25th of October lava erupted from its southern slopes. This eruption caused the death of around 400 people and left many in the surrounding population homeless. It's known as the most active volcano in all of Indonesia, erupting as recently as 2018, causing evacuations in the region.

5. Taal Volcano - Phillipines

Having had 33 recorded eruptions, located 30 miles off of Manila, this volcano is notable due to its fatality rate over the years. The death toll is now at 5 to 6000 people and due to it's proximity to dense population, that could rise at any moment. Now, the volcano has been fairly quiet since 1977, but has been showing signs that the next big eruption might be around the corner since 1991. 

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4. Mount Nyiragongo - Congo

Nyiragongo
Source: Cai Tjeenk Willink/Wikimedia Commons

Mount Nyiragongo has one of the largest lava lakes of modern time inside of its main crater. Located in the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it's responsible for roughly 40 percent of all eruptions in Africa. Since 1882, the volcano has erupted 32 times and it's lava lake consistently shows fluctuation in levels. Due to its large lava activity, it poses a significant threat to the surrounding areas as large lava flows are so of the most destructive aspects of volcanic eruptions.

3. Mount Vesuvius - Italy

Nearly all active volcanoes around the world can be dangerous if you're located near them during an eruption, but in many cases our focus on one volcano in perticular tends to be due to it's geographic vicinity to a population center. Mount Vesuvius is located only 9 kilometers from the city of Naples, Italy. This closeness means that this is the most densley populated region with volcanic activity anywhere in the world. This is what caused the catastrophic eruption in 79 AD, which buried Pompeii under ash and lava. Due to its activity, it's thought that a similar eruption will only be a matter of time.

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2. Eyjafjallajokull - Iceland

A Closer Look at the World's Top 9 Most Active Volcanoes

Source: Bjarki Sigursveinsson

Apart from having the most unpronounceable name on this list, Eyjafjallajokull erupted as recently as 2010. The ash plume from this eruption caused a global air traffic crisis causing many flights to be heavily diverted or canceled. Due to this relatively recent prominence, it's arguably one of the most famous volcanoes today. This particular volcano has an ice cap covering its caldera, a notably different trait compared to the other volcanic mountains on this list. 

1. Mauna Loa - Hawaii

A Closer Look at the World's Top 9 Most Active Volcanoes
Source: National Parks Service

Mauna Loa is the biggest volcano on Earth, a title it held for a long time, briefly lost in 2013, but now has back again. In 2013, scientists announced that they believed the Tamu Massif underwater volcano was the world's largest, but now they don't even think it's a volcano, according to National Geographic. Mauna Loa has been erupting now for 700,000 years continuously – most recently in 1984. Due to its network of lava flowing around it, it poses a great risk to surrounding communities.

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