A Closer Look At The World’s Volcanoes, And The Risks They Could Pose

If you’ve ever made a faux-volcano in elementary school, you know what damage an explosion can do to tiny villagers made of cocktail weenies.

Obviously, that’s a crudely scaled-down representation of the damage that can be wreaked by real life volcanoes. We know it to be true that these magma-filled hotspots exist across the world, and yet when we think of volcanos, it’s oftens still in relation to middle school plate tectonic lessons, or dinosaur movies.

It’s time to take a more grown-up approach to understanding volcanoes. Here’s what you need to know for more realistic context of 21st century lava, and what kind of risk various hotspots pose today.

There are about 1500 potentially active volcanoes across the world.

That’s not including the belt of volcanoes along the ocean floor. Of these 1,500, 500 have erupted in historical time. There are about 50 to 60 eruptions each year.


The most deadly volcanic eruption in recent history killed 92,000 people.

Some estimates put the death toll at closer to 100,000. The volcano was Mount Tambora in Indonesia, and the explosion occurred in 1815.

Indonesia is home to more volcanoes and eruptions than any other country. It was also the site of the Toba caldera “mega-colossal” eruption, theorized to have wiped out most of humanity and triggered a volcanic winter about 75,000 years ago.

America is home to 169 volcanoes, 18 of which are “very high risk.”


Most of these are in Alaska, where eruptions occur virtually every year. The most active one, however, is Kilauea in Hawaii, which has been erupting almost continuously since 1983.

Ironically, both states rank highly in happiness and life satisfaction.

There are 20 known supervolcanoes: volcanoes that erupt at a volume greater than 1,000 km3, (240 cubic miles)

Supervolcanoes are thousands of times more powerful than regular volcanic eruptions, the most well known of which is Yellowstone Caldera. If this particular supervolcano were to erupt, up to 87,000 people could be killed instantly, and up to two-thirds of America left uninhabitable.


The most recent supervolcano eruption was 27,000 years ago in New Zealand, and scientists estimate the odds of eruption are 1 in 730,000 — similar to  odds of being killed by an asteroid.

Volcanos have not always been monitored well.

A 2005 government report in the U.S. concluded that, at the time, only three of the 55 high- threat volcanoes were being monitored with up-to-date equipment. The report emphasized the dangers of waiting until a volcano’s awakening to put measures in place, especially in highly populated areas.[contextly_auto_sidebar id=”ifO8oDwXOc3huR6TMVn3EIQsS8p7UzTh”]

Now, the Volcano Hazards Program appears to have caught up, maintaining a variety of instruments around the Western U.S., including creepmeters, pore pressure monitors, strainmeters, and tiltmeters, all of which transmit data in real time.

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Alerts are updated on an online map, which evaluates volcanoes are the riskiest.

Even with tools like this, only a few hundred volcanoes are currently monitored out of the Earth’s 1500. Though signs of bubbling can elude to eruptions, which comes next and when it’s anyone’s guess.


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Jennifer Markert