Closer Than You Think
Volcanoes erupting have wiped out entire cities and their inhabitants, which happened in the Roman town Pompeii. However, there are many active volcanoes are all over the world, including many that are likely to be near you! There are almost 170 active volcanoes in the United States and it is only a matter of time until they erupt. Scientists are especially worried about a group of American volcanoes they say have “Very High Threat” levels. An eruption can cause major damage and endangers many peoples’ lives.
Mount Saint Helens
In 1980, Mount Saint Helens, an active volcano in Washington State, erupted and caused many deaths. The explosive natural disaster caused 57 people to lose their lives. Not only that, but a dark cloud of ash blotted out the sun across the state, and reached as far as Spokane, which is more than 250 miles away from the peak. Volcano Hazards Program experts say, “there’s nothing to say that a new, very gas-rich batch of magma couldn’t come in under the thing and start a new explosive cycle.”
This volcano is active, and is near Anchorage, Alaska, where almost 300,000 people live. The volcano has seen a lot of action, with at least four confirmed eruptions, including the most recent, in 2009. In the 1989 eruption, the volcanic ash cloud reached such great heights, that it caused a Boeing 747’s engines to fail. Luckily the pilots could re-start the engines, but they were at extreme risk. Redoubt has erupted for six months at a time, and has caused at least $160 million in damages.
When you look at the skyline of Portland, Oregon, you will notice the massive silhouette of the volcanic Mount Hood looming above it- and it is closer than you would think. It is considered the volcano most likely to erupt when looking at all those in Oregon. An expert from the Cascade Volcano Observatory has labeled Mount Hood as specifically hazardous as, “people live on the flank of the volcano, state highways cross its flanks—so there’s a lot of stuff up close.”
Hawaii’s biggest volcano, Kilauea, has been actively erupting for over 30 years! It is so relentlessly pouring out lava, that the name means “spewing” in the Hawaiian language. The lava has flowed into the surrounding areas where people live, including the village of Pahoa. When the molten, red lava reached a storage shed in town, the people knew it was too close, and they had to evacuate. In fact, Kalapana, another city nearby, was totally destroyed by the volcano in 1990 and 2010.
This 14,000-foot tall, active volcano is dangerously close to Seattle. It is so incredibly dangerous, that it was included in what is called the “Decade Volcano” list, which is a list including infamous, hazard-producing volcanoes. This list of just 16 volcanoes includes Mt. Vesuvius, which wiped out the entire city of Pompeii. Rainier is specifically infamous for producing what is called lahars, which is a slurry of lava, mud, and rocks that put the almost four million Seattle residents on high alert.
Right off the interstate in California is Mount Shasta, a volcano that is perilously close to populated areas (see aerial photo). The United State Geological Survey (USGS) has classified Mount Shasta as a “very-high threat,” due to the possibility of causing dangerously fast flows of hot gas. The government is keeping a close eye on Mount Shasta, because, even though it has not erupted in some time, underneath the surface it is brewing. “In the geologic sense, the volcano has been quite frequently active,” USGS experts say.
Mount Shishaldin is an active Alaskan volcano that is the highest in its mountain range, making it a landmark. That is why the natives in the area named it Sisquk, which means “mountain that points the way when lost.” It is frequently erupting, the last one being in 2014. The eruptions last a long time- this last one was over a year long! Luckily for the Alaskans, though, by 2016, the activity had died down and the monitoring agencies could rest easy. However, they anxiously await the next eruption.
Mount Pavlof is one of the most active volcanoes in America. It has erupted at least 10 times since 1980, with the most recent event being in 2016. The volcanic ash spewing from the volcano has caused many airlines like PenAir and Bering Air to cancel their flights, which cost the economy badly. In the populated areas surrounding the peak, like Nelson Lagoon, ash fell from the sky like snow, with one-tenth of an inch accumulating on the ground. You can even see the eruption from space!
Mauna Loa is an incredibly massive volcano that makes up about half of Hawaii’s main island! It is 56,000 feet tall, and has erupted many times. In 1950, the nearby town Ho’okena had homes, a church and businesses were destroyed by the lava. In 1983, volcanic activity caused earthquakes in the Puna, Ka’u, and Hilo districts, causing $7 million in damages to roads. It used to erupt every six years, on average, and since the last eruption was in 1984, they are long overdue.
Bogoslof Island is an American island that is actually a volcano that is mostly underwater, with the ash-spewing peak protruding above the surface. In 2016, there were many eruptions that caused major concern among scientists, as ash was shot 34,000 feet into the atmosphere. This caused major issues with airlines, as “ash and aircraft do not mix, as volcanic ash is abrasive, melts at jet engine temperatures, and can cause engine failure,” according to the United States Geological Survey.
Mammoth Mountain is a lava dome in California, which is a volcano that slowly releases lava, forming a rocky hump on the peak. The mountain last erupted ages ago, however, there are still hazards which result in human deaths even today! Besides for a massive explosion of magma, there are fumaroles, which are cracks in the earth near volcanoes that exude hot steams as well as gasses like carbon dioxide. In 2006, some unlucky people fell into one of these geothermal vents and suffocated from breathing the hot gas.
Three mountains right next to each other, called sisters, are some of the tallest peaks in Oregon. “South Sister” is considered a very high threat volcano. Scientists can tell that something is brewing under the surface- literally. This is because a stewing of lava caused the land near the mountains to disfigure into a bulbous shape that they called “the Bulge.” Movements like this “may be evidence of a process that may eventually produce,” an eruption, according to the Cascades Volcano Observatory.
Pagan Island is a commonwealth of the United States, and also is a volcanic island. The volcano itself is actually two volcanoes that are connected by a narrow strip of land. There are no complaints from the residents there to the US government, as they were all forced to permanently evacuate their homes due to massive eruptions that occurred in 1981! Recently, the volcano still shows activity, with ash and smoke actively being expelled from the top of the volcano.
This Northern California volcano started experiencing explosions in 1914, with one huge one in 1915, called the “great explosion.” It was so massive, the ash rose 40,000 feet into the atmosphere, and was visible from 150 miles away! It all culminated in a 1917 eruption which was so massive, it created a new crater on top of the volcano and destroyed a nearby forest. Steam pours out of the mountain still today, as it is still active and perhaps signals that more activity will occur.
The United States is responsible for Anatahan, a volcanic island. It is very active, with an eruption in 2007 that lasted into the next year! In 2005, the volcano had its biggest eruption, shooting ash 50,000 feet high. The Emergency Management Office of the archipelago saw this and decided the island was so dangerous to any potential inhabitants that they declared that it was off-limits. The island famously held Japanese soldiers who finally surrendered six years after World War II already ended.
Volcán de Colima
One of the most active volcanoes in North America is called Volcán de Colima, or sometimes called Volcán de Fuego (Fire Volcano). This active volcano is in a populated part of Mexico; 300,000 people live right by it. Since it erupts frequently, it is considered one of the most hazardous active volcanoes in the world. The dense population has to be evacuated when there is a lot of activity. The most recent activity was a massive explosion that happened in January 2017.
This unpronounceable volcano is in Iceland, which erupted in 2010. This caused much trouble for people who wanted to fly, as the ash cloud ended that possibility, grounding many people. What was remarkable about this volcano was the lighting strikes that happened as it erupted. These bolts are “unlike a regular old thunderstorm,” according to a University of Florida professor, but a new kind, called “long sparks.” The images are an incredible mixture of color and light that is almost otherworldly.
In Indonesia, the Sinabung Volcano erupted in 2014, which resulted in the deaths of fourteen people, sadly including a teacher and young pupils. Many thousands had been evacuated before the event. In fact, the last time it erupted in 2010, a whopping 30,000 people were displaced. The residents of that area were not making an illogical choice when they picked a place to live, as the volcano had not erupted in 400 years until 2010. Now, sadly, it cannot seem to stop.
There is an island in Japan called Sakurajima, which means cherry blossom island. The locals are more focused on the massive volcano rather than the cherry blossoms. The locals in the neaby town Kagoshima had to deal with many eruptions, when, if they are lucky, the damage is limited to ash raining down from the sky onto their vehicles and houses. “Everything in my town is being covered with volcanic ash from Sakurajima. I can’t breathe!!” one resident posted on social media.
If you live in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, you can tell time by the Santa María volcano’s “Santiaguito” lava dome. Why? Since this peak erupts every hour, on the hour (pretty much). Volcanologist Stephanie Grocke explained that “there has not been an extensive period of time since 1922 when Santiaguito [lava dome] was quiet.” Scientists want to open this grandfather clock to see the gears. As of now, they know that “magma and gas are steadily rising from deep within the system, allowing the volcano to continuously show signs of life.”
When people think of Santorini, Greece, they usually think of blue and white houses lining the coast of the Mediterranian Sea- a perfect spot for a vacation filled with gyros, ouzo and feta. However, Santorini also has a volcano that erupted catastrophically. It was in ancient times, but still within the bounds of recorded history, and it completely destroyed Santorini, which at the time was known as Thera. The impact was so widespread that Egyptian weather was messed up by the ash.
Mount Etna is about 11,000 feet high, and is in Italy, specifically on Sicily. The island is famous for giving the namesake to square pieces of pizza, but is also known for famous eruptions. Mount Etna actually ended up being a weapon of sorts, as a timely eruption stopped the invading Punics from attacking the important city of Syracuse. As recently as 2017, people have been injured by the volcano, as hot magma and cold snow combined in an explosive combination.
Japan’s Mount Unzen was responsible for the deaths of 14,000 people in the year 1792, when a collapse of a precarious volcano dome caused a tsunami. This disaster is the absolute worst when it came to death toll from a volcano-caused event. In the early 1990s, many people had to be evacuated from their homes in nearby Shimabara. Thousands of houses have been destroyed by lahars, a slurried, destructive mixture of water, rocks, lava, and debris from volcanoes.
In Papua New Guinea, there is a volcano called Ulawun, which is seemingly always exploding. Perhaps they are not big explosions, but they are constant. It was first seen erupting in 1700, and since then has bona fide erupted at least twenty-two times. It is 7,600 feet tall, and Rabaul is nearby, where thousands of residents have their lives. Scientists are fascinated with the fact that this specific volcano releases a lot of sulfur dioxide, which is important to understand for the environmental sustainability.
This is perhaps one of the most famous volcanoes of all time. It is known for having completely wiped out Pompeii in 79 CE. The explosive eruption spewed ash over 20 miles into the air! The cities were so covered in ash, they were forgotten about until the 1700s. There were thousands of casualties, and only one documented account of the event, written by Pliny the Younger. Since then, the volcano erupted fifty more times. This is why we need to monitor volcanoes, to avoid these tragedies.
Taal Volcano in the Philippines has erupted 33 times. The first one happened in 1572, but one of the biggest ones was in 1808. This caused such an ashen rain, that there were almost three feet of ash accumulated, like a grey snow on the ground. An observer recorded that “After the eruption, the crater had widened and the pond within it had been reduced …the height of the crater walls has diminished and near the center of the new crater floor, a little hill that continually emitted smoke.”
In Costa Rica, the Turrialba Volcano has recently been showing a lot of activity, as recently as April 2017. The peak is about 11,000 feet high, and the eruptions have had quite an effect on the local economy. Juan Santamaría International Airport has been closed multiple times due to the falling ash from the many eruptions that have occurred there as of late. Also, health-wise, many people had to check into the hospital because of breathing problems due to the ash.
Soputan is a volcano located on an island called Sulawesi in Indonesia. In the last 600 years, there have been thirty-nine confirmed eruptions, most recently in 2016. The volcanic activity was so bad that there were recommendations to remove residents from the area surrounding it, to prevent the ash in the air from affecting them. They set up a radius that was wide enough to prevent locals from being hurt. Indonesia is prepared for the volcanic activity, as they have 129 in the country.
Scientists from NASA believe that the devastation that could come from the eruption of the supervolcano located in Yellowstone is, “substantially greater than the asteroid or comet threat.” 75,000 years ago, a supervolcano in Indonesia erupted, causing it to be winter for about ten years! It is up to scientists to try and lower the temperature of the magma to prevent this earth-shattering disaster. Yellowstone is in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, and its eruption would have dire consequences for the United States and the world at large.