You Gotta Know These Active Volcanoes
All of the volcanoes in this article are either stratovolcanoes or shield volcanoes. A stratovolcano is a conical volcano that has been gradually built up by layers of rock strata. A shield volcano is built up over time by broad sheets of viscous lava until it resembles a warrior’s shield. Stratovolcanoes are more common and tend to have more dramatic profiles.
- Mount Erebus, a stratovolcano, is the second-highest volcano in Antarctica (but tallest active one) and the southernmost active volcano in the world. Mount Erebus sits on Ross Island. It took its name from the primordial personification of darkness in Greek mythology. The northeast slope of Mount Erebus is known as “Fang Ridge,” and the volcano’s underground magma produces unique pieces of feldspar known as “Erebus crystals.” In 1979 an Air New Zealand jet crashed into the side of Mount Erebus during a whiteout, killing over 250 people.
- Mount Etna is a stratovolcano in eastern Sicily that plays a significant role in ancient Greek myths. Zeus trapped the monster Typhon under Mount Etna, and the volcano is also the site of Hephaestus’s forges. Mount Etna overlooks the Sicilian town of Catania. It most recently erupted in 2015. Earlier eruptions occurred in 1928 (destroying the village of Mascali) and in 1669, after which the volcano was thought to have gone dormant. There is a large depression on the side of Mount Etna known as Valle del Bove, or “Valley of the Ox.”
- Mount Fuji, a stratovolcano on the island of Honshu, is Japan’s tallest mountain. Mount Fuji is one of the “Three Holy Mountains” of Japan, along with Mount Haku and Mount Tate. Mount Fuji last erupted in December 1707 in the lava-less Hoei Eruption. Because of its beautiful shape, Mount Fuji is a frequent muse for artists, including the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai, whose woodblock series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji includes The Great Wave off Kanagawa. Aokigahara, popularly known as the “Suicide Forest,” is on the volcano’s northwestern slope.
- Kilauea is a shield volcano that is the most active of the five volcanoes on the Big Island of Hawaii. The name “Kilauea” means “spewing” or “spreading” in the Hawaiian language. In Hawaiian mythology, the volcano is the home of the fire goddess Pele. The three primary craters of Kilauea are Halemaʻumaʻu Crater, Puʻu Crater, and Puʻu ʻOʻo Crater. In addition, part of the volcano is covered by the Kaʻu Desert, a plain of dried lava and volcanic ash. The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory is on the rim of Kilauea’s caldera.
- Krakatoa is a stratovolcanic island in the Sunda Strait between the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Java. Prior to its massive 1883 eruption, there were three separate volcanic peaks: Perboewatan (completely destroyed by the eruption), Rakata (extant), and Danan (almost completely destroyed). The 1883 eruption of Krakatoa killed more than 35,000 people and is believed to have produced the loudest sound ever. Krakatoa is one of the largest volcanoes in the Pacific Ring of Fire. The continued activity of Krakatoa formed a new island, Anak Krakatau (or “Child of Krakatoa”) in 1927.
- Mauna Loa is a shield volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii that is the most massive above-sea volcano on Earth. It should not be confused with Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano that is the tallest mountain in Hawaii. Both Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa are taller than Mount Everest when measuring from base-to-summit rather than from sea level. Along with Kilauea, Mauna Loa forms the Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, which was established in 1916 by Woodrow Wilson. When Mauna Loa erupted in 1942, four months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government gagged the press from reporting on the eruption.
- Mount Pinatubo is a stratovolcano in the Zambales Mountains on the eastern coast of the island of Luzon in the Philippines. In the aftermath of its 1991 eruption, the global temperature briefly decreased by almost a full degree Fahrenheit due to the ejection of aerosols and sulfuric acid. That eruption was ten times more powerful than the 1980 eruption of Mount Saint Helens; it killed at least 800 people and forced the evacuation of some 20,000 people. In its aftermath, monsoon rains created Lake Pinatubo in the resulting crater. In 2010, the indigenous Aeta people were formally granted domain over the volcano.
- Mount Rainier is a stratovolcano that is the highest peak in the Cascades and in the state of Washington. It is located about 50 miles southeast of Seattle. The three principal peaks of Mount Rainier are Columbia Crest (the tallest), Point Success, and Liberty Cap; the Little Tahoma Peak is a remnant of an older, much larger Mount Rainier that has since eroded away. Mount Rainier has not erupted since the mid-to-late nineteenth century. The Nisqually Glacier, on Mount Rainier’s southwestern slope, is used to track climate change. The Emmons Glacier on Mount Rainier is the largest glacier by area in the contiguous U.S., while the Carbon Glacier is the largest by volume. The entirety of Mount Rainier is in Mount Rainier National Park, the fifth national park established in the U.S.
- Mount Saint Helens is another stratovolcano in the Cascades of Washington state. It is about 100 miles south of Seattle and about 50 miles north of Portland. It last erupted in May 1980, killing 57 people in the most devastating volcanic eruption in U.S. history. Perhaps the most famous casualty of that eruption was an innkeeper named Harry Truman (no relation to the president of the same name) who refused to evacuate from the mountain. Because of an avalanche of volcanic debris during that eruption, Mount Saint Helens lost about 1300 feet in height; lahars (mudflows of pyroclastic material) reached all the way to the Columbia River. The volcano is surrounded by Gifford Pinchot National Forest.
- Mount Vesuvius is a stratovolcano on the Gulf of Naples in Campania in south-central Italy. Mount Vesuvius, which last erupted in 1944, is the only active volcano on mainland Europe. The most notable eruption of Mount Vesuvius was in AD 79 when it buried the Roman cities of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Stabiae. The only surviving eyewitness accounts of that eruption are a pair of letters written by Pliny the Younger to Tacitus. The 1908 Summer Olympics were relocated from Rome to London after a surprise eruption of Mount Vesuvius.
This article was contributed by NAQT writer Justin Millman.