Thursday, April 15, 2010

Five Active Volcanoes

Volcanoes in Iceland are disrupting air travel all over Europe. Earthquakes and volcanoes go hand-in-hand, with 80% of the planet's earthquakes occurring around the "Ring of Fire," the portion of the Pacific Rim known for volcanic activity.

Humans don't live long enough to be able to declare any volcano truly "extinct," but these five are the opposite; they've been erupting continuously for decades or more. Read more cool stuff about volcanoes here and here.

1. Mt. Etna, Sicily, Italy. The largest active volcano in Europe has been in continuous eruption for more than 3,000 years. Mt. Etna has been the subject of myth and literature since people started writing things down, and its activity played a major role in the early history of the Mediterranean. Virgil gave what was probably an eyewitness description of an eruption in the Aeneid. An eruption in 396 BC defeated the invading Carthaginians. Etna has four active craters and more than 300 vents on its flanks. Major eruptions in 1669 and 1928 destroyed nearby towns, and an eruption of ash in 2002–2003 spewed debris all the way to Libya, in addition to destroying a tourist station on the mountain. Earlier this month the mountain had a series of earthquakes, followed by an eruption of ash from the summit last week. More than five million people live on the island of Sicily, and they are braver than I am.

2. Mt. Stromboli, Italy. Stromboli is a volcanic island off the north coast of Sicily, one of the nine Aeolian Islands immortalized by Homer. Stromboli has been in constant eruption for all of recorded history, and geologists estimate that those eruptions date back at least 20,000 years. Its constant activity made it the "Lighthouse of the Mediterranean" for ancient navigators; brightly-lit explosions of ash and lava exploded from Stromboli's craters. The most recent large eruption, from December 2002 to July 2003, caused lava flows, landslides, and tsunamis. Between 400 and 850 people live on Stromboli.

3. Mt. Yasur, Vanuatu. I first learned about Vanuatu from a stamp collection; do kids collect stamps anymore? Vanuatu is a volcanic island nation in the south Pacific, formerly a British/French colony known as the New Hebrides. Mt. Yasur is on Tanna Island, one of the archipelago's most heavily-populated islands (20,000 residents). The glow from its constant eruptions attracted Captain James Cook in 1774, and today the volcano is a sacred place for the John Frum cargo cult.

4. Piton de la Fournaise, Reunion. This volcano on is on the eastern side of Reunion Island, a French territory in the Indian Ocean. It has three craters, or caldera, and several less active fissures or vents on its flanks. More than 150 eruptions have been recorded since the 17th century; the most recent major eruption lasted for ten days this past January. The top part of this volcano is collapsing, and will eventually collapse into the ocean. When that will happen, and what kind of tsunami that will cause, are not things scientists can predict.

5. Santa Maria, Guatemala. Santa Maria has been erupting more or less constantly since 1922, following a catastrophic explosion in 1902 that destroyed much of southwestern Guatemala. Here's an object lesson in "extinct": before the 1902 eruption, the volcano had been dormant for at least 500 years. A series of earthquakes starting in January 1902 preceded the eruption in October, but people didn't recognize the warning, and more than 5,000 died. The eruption was one of the largest recorded in the 20th century, with volcanic ash reported as far away as San Francisco, California.


Larry said...

You missed Kilauea and Mauna Kau on Hawaii. Kilauea is the world's most active.

AnswerGirl said...

The blog's theme is five a day, and I get to pick the five. I missed Erebus, Vesuvius, Pinatubo and Mt. St. Helens, too, among dozens of others. That's why I linked to the larger volcano sites.

delux2222 said...

You have to love Mt Stromboli, for the name alone. Frank

Karen Olson said...

I learned about Vanuatu from J. Maarten Troost's book GETTING STONED WITH SAVAGES. Highly highly recommend this book.

Jack said...

People actually live inside Mt Aso, Japan.