10 Most Dangerous Active Volcanoes on Earth

5. Galeras – Colombia

Galeras Volcano
Galeras has been an active volcano for at least a million years. It is located in southern Colombia close to the border with Ecuador. Its summit rises 4,276 metres  above sea level. It has erupted frequently since the Spanish conquest, with its first historical eruption being recorded on December 7, 1580. It is currently the most active volcano in Colombia. The city of Pasto with 450,000 inhabitants is located on the eastern slope of Galeras.

Galeras became active again in 1988 after only a 10 years of dormancy. A Decade Volcano conference in the city of Pasto, in 1993, ended in disaster when several of the scientists present mounted an impromptu expedition on 14 January to the crater of Galeras. An eruption occurred unexpectedly while they were at the summit, which resulted in the deaths of six scientists and three tourists.

The volcano has been erupting almost every year since 2000. It is dangerous because of the frequency of unexpected eruptions and the number of lives it has claimed. Two small eruption occurred in 2000 after seven years of quiet at Galeras volcano. The eruptions were preceded by tornillo earthquakes. A hydrothermal eruption occurred in 2002 which ejected lapilli, ash, and clay. Elevated levels of gas emission were recorded and in November 2004 there was an explosive eruption at Galeras. An eruption with shock waves felt as far away as miles was seen in 2005. Between January and June 2006 a lava dome continued to grow in the crater at Galeras volcano.  In following years, there was a four-fold increase in daily long-period earthquakes and many eruptive explosions were seen. Ash plumes were visible at Galeras volcano that reached a maximum height of 6 km above sea level. Thousands of people were evacuated from the area. And most recently, the volcano erupted on January 3, 2010, forcing the evacuation of 8,000 people. This is the 10th such eruption of the volcano in the past year, and the first of 2010. Ash was ejected to a height of 12 km. Hot lava fell 3.5 km from the volcano and started fires. Colombian authorities also stated that it could remain volatile in the weeks to come.


4. Sakurajima – Japan

Japan Sakurajima
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Sakurajima is an active composite volcano  and a former island (now connected to the mainland) of the same name in Kyūshū, Japan due to the lava flows of the 1914 eruption which caused the former island to be connected with the Osumi Peninsula in Japan. It is often called the Vesuvius of the east, and has been erupting almost constantly.
The volcanic activity still continues, dropping large amounts of volcanic ash on the surroundings. Earlier eruptions built the white sands highlands in the region. Thousands of small explosions occur each year, throwing ash to heights of up to a few kilometers above the mountain. It is dangerous because of its location in a densely populated area, with the city of Kagoshima’s 700,000 residents just a few kilometers from the volcano.
Sakurajima’s activity became more prominent again in 1955, and the volcano has been erupting almost constantly ever since, with 7,300 eruptions recorded in the last 45 years. In light of the dangers it presents to nearby populations, Sakurajima was designated a Decade Volcano in 1991, identifying it as worthy of particular study as part of the United Nations’ International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction. The city has even built special shelters where people can take refuge from falling debris. On March 10, 2009, Sakurajima erupted, sending debris up to 2 km away. An eruption had been expected following a series of smaller explosions over the weekend.


3. Popocatépetl – Mexico

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Popocatépetl is an active volcano and, at 5,426 m (17,802 ft), the second highest peak in Mexico and lies in the eastern half of the Trans-Mexican volcanic belt, is a natural born killer which could be a serious threat to the capital city (inhabited by fairly 9 million people). The residents of Puebla, a mere 40 km east of the volcano, enjoy the views of the snowy and glacier-clad mountain almost all year long. The name loosely translates to “smoking mountain” and the volcano has had more than 20 known eruptions since 1519.
The latest episode began in December 1994 and there’s been almost continuous volcanic activity ever since. The last major eruption was in the year 2000. Thankfully, scientists were able to warn the Mexican government and had thousands of people evacuated from the area. The eruption in December of that year was the largest documented, most likely in thousands of years.

Mexican culture has accounts of this mountain. They say Iztaccíhuatl was a princess in an Aztec tribe. When she came of age, her father wanted her to marry an Aztec prince; but she wanted to marry Popocatépetl. This made emperor furious but agreed to it on one condition:  Popo’s tribe must help the his troops in a war. He intended on Popo dying in the war. Popo and his tribe joined the Aztecs in war, but they abandoned them at the height of  battle. Miraculously, they were still triumphant. Even so, the emperor told Iztaccíhuatl that Popo had died, and wrote a letter to Popo saying Iztac died of sadness. Popo did not believe, sneaked into the palace to and ran away with her to get married, they lived happily for a few years. Suddenly, Iztac got sick and died. An earthquake occurred. A voice from heavens ordered Popo to bring her body to the peak. He obeyed and then laid down next to her and waited to die. Years later, snow covered them and they became two mountains. The two mountains are named after the lovers to this day.


2. Mount Vesuvius – Italy

mount vesuvius
Mount Vesuvius is a stratovolcano on the Bay of Naples, Italy, about 9 kilometres east of Naples and a short distance from the shore. It is the only volcano on the European mainland to have erupted within the last hundred years. Mount Vesuvius is best known for its eruption in AD 79 that led to the destruction of the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, the ruins of this volcano stand to tell the story. Vesuvius has erupted many times since, most recently in 1944 and is today regarded as one of the most devastating volcanoes in the world because of the population of 3,000,000 people living nearby and its tendency towards explosive eruptions. It is the most densely populated volcanic region in the world. A two week long eruption of Mt Vesuvius volcano began on 18th March 1944 with a lava flow from the summit crater. Eruptions changed to explosive activity on 21st March with eight lava fountains. The lava fountains increased with time, and the last one on 22nd March was the most intense, reaching heights of 1000 m. The volcano has an eruption cycle of about 20 years, so we are lucky that it didn’t explode for many years over. Since 1944, seismicity at Mt Vesuvius has been marked by moderate-energy events with a frequency of a few hundred per year.


1. Yellowstone Caldera, United States

yellowstone supervolcano

It is most dangerous because it is an active super-volcano which means  a volcano capable of producing a volcanic eruption with ejecta greater than 1,000 cubic kilometers which is nearly a thousands of times larger than most historic volcanic eruptions. Super volcanic eruptions typically cover huge areas with lava and volcanic ash sufficient to threaten the extinction of species and can even be one of the causes to bring end to the world because once this volcano erupts, it causes all other volcanoes to erupt causing massive tectonic activity.

One of the largest supervolcanoes in the world lying beneath Yellowstone National Park and scientists say it is still active and even the activity is increasing! Though the Yellowstone system, which spans parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, is active and expected to eventually blow its top, scientists think it will erupt any time soon. Supervolcanoes can sleep for centuries or millenniams before producing incredibly massive eruptions that can drop ash across an entire continent.

Erupting every 6 lac years and it’s already 40 thousand years over, significant activity is mounting beneath the surface, scientists say it can erupt anytime. Back to 640,000 years ago, the area that we know as Yellowstone National Park was the epicenter of a cataclysmic volcanic eruption—an eruption one thousand times larger than Mt. St. Helens. The eruption blasted away mountains, unearthed a vast ocean of lava and spewed hundreds of miles of debris into the atmosphere, burying half of the United States with deadly ash. Largely unknown today, this destructive super volcano is still active, turning the picturesque landscape of Yellowstone into one of the harshest environments on the planet. Due to the volcanic and tectonic nature of the region, the Yellowstone Caldera experiences between 1000 and 2000 measurable earthquakes a year, though most are relatively minor. Brutally cold winters fade into majestic summers, but for the animals that call the park home—including Yellowstone’s great icons: the grey wolf, grizzly bear, buffalo and antelope—this unique and hostile land creates a daily, dramatic battle for survival. Yellowstone captures the essence of this bitter and mercurial environment as it follows the animals that live in the midst of this treasured wilderness.

Worth Mentioning are Mount Unzen (Japan), Mount Etna (Italy), Mount St Helens (USA) and Kilauea (USA).

5 thoughts on “10 Most Dangerous Active Volcanoes on Earth

  1. The Long Valley Caldera in California is also a time-bomb; though in an area of lower human population, its eruption could cause damage similar to Yellowstone. Maybe not on the same scale, but nevertheless catastrophic.

    Well-written and very informative!

  2. I agree with you Greg about Longs Valley. But I think that a eruption there would be far worse than Yellowstone. There more major urban areas closer to Longs Valley. I also now believe that Crater Lake in Oregon is a ticking time bomb..
    I also believe it is in fact the third super volcano in the lower 48. What really worries me is that it is a lake volcano which would increase the power of the eruption.

  3. vesuvius should be number one because it’s most likely to go off very soon, has 3,000,000 ppl in its shadow, and produces explosive eruptions that could devastate the jam-packed city. Ever try to get around in Naples? it’s a parking lot 24/7

  4. Besides Yellowstone, yes, Long Valley could also reduce the human population by a bunch as it’s also a super volcano like Yellowstone! Also there is Valles Caldera in New Mexico as well as Aira Caldera in Japan, Taupo in New Zealand, Lake Toba in Sumatra, Campi Flegrei near Naples, all active super volcanoes, all potential slate wipers which could wipe out a large percentage of life on Earth, including humans! The geological location won’t matter if the eruption from any one of these is a true super eruption because the real killer besides the immediate lava flows, explosions, earthquakes and tsunamis which could be generated, is the massive amount of ash and sulfur dioxide gas which would be ejected high into the atmosphere which would cool the global temperature by such a severe degree that it would cause most of the plant life to die which in turn would cause massive starvation as well as other problems. The cooling would probably cause an Ice Age due to a kind of volcanic ‘nuclear winter’! When super volcano Toba erupted 73,000 years ago it wiped out so much life that humans were bottlenecked, reduced to only several thousand in total number, survivors were mainly in Africa probably due to the temperature being survivable and perhaps some other related factors? Also as far as the US is concerned, there are several hazardous volcanoes near population centers which are expected to erupt sometime in the near future? Ticking time bombs like Mount Rainier near Seattle or Mammoth Mountain in California? Mount Adams and Mount Baker are also eruption possibilities?

  5. just to add to jack’s comment amount Mt. Toba in Indonesia, it erupted around 70000-75000 years ago and spewed out a total of 2800 cubic kilometers of volcanic ash and lava. The volcanic ash created a blanket over the atmosphere reducing global temperatures by a lot. This mega-bang caused a prolonged world-wide nuclear winter and released ash in a huge plume that spread to the north-west and covered India, Pakistan, and the Gulf region in a blanket 1–5 metres (3–15 feet) deep. Toba ash is also found in the Greenland ice-record and submarine cores in the Indian Ocean, allowing a precise date marker. In our story the Toba eruption is the most accurately dated, dramatic, and unambiguous event before the last ice age.

    The Toba event specifically blanketed the Indian subcontinent in a deep layer of ash. It is difficult to see how India’s first colonists could have survived this greatest of all disasters. So, we could predict a broad human extinction zone between East and West Asia. Such a deep east-west division, or ‘furrow’, is still seen clearly in the genetic record.

    The exact chronological relationship of the exodus and the subsequent arrival in Southeast Asia to the massive Toba volcanic explosion of 74,000 years ago is critical. First, Toba is one of the most accurately and precisely dated events of the Palaeolithic, and its ashfall acts as a time datum for the whole of southern Asia. Second, the effects of Toba’s direct ashfall followed by the inevitable ‘nuclear winter’ would have been disastrous for any life in its path, and pretty bad farther afield. The presence of tools thought to be made by modern humans found with Toba ash in the Malay Peninsula suggests that the beachcombing vanguard had arrived in the Far East before the eruption. Triangulation of this anchor date with other pieces of evidence supports this scenario.

    Now, if Toba really did blow its top after India was first colonized, we would expect a mass extinction event on the Indian Peninsula which affected the eastern side more than the west. This is certainly one interpretation of the paradox of the Indian genetic picture, in which the genetic trail of the beachcombers can be detected, but the bulk of Indian subgroups of M and R are unique to the subcontinent, especially among the tribes of the south-east. This is what we would expect for a recovery from a great disaster. The oldest of these local lines have been dated to around 73,000 years ago.

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