What Were The Biggest Volcano Eruptions?

Written by Emmanuel Kingsley
Updated: May 12, 2022
Image Credit fboudrias/Shutterstock.com
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No doubt, when we hear about volcanic eruptions, many things run through the human mind with a constant reminder that the earth can be dynamic with what it births and be dangerous simultaneously. Although volcano images undoubtedly create a beautiful atmosphere for onlookers from afar off, they can trigger other life-threatening natural disasters to nearby communities and wild animals. Did you know that an erupting volcano can activate natural disasters, including flash floods, earthquakes, rock falls, tsunamis, mudflows, and ash, into surrounding regions?

But the big question is, has any eruption triggered these many natural disasters at once? Let’s look at some of the biggest volcanic eruptions.

The Biggest Volcano Eruptions

1. Mount Tambora

Mount Tambora Indonesia
Mount Tambora birthed the worst volcanic eruptions.

This image was taken by the NASA Expedition 20 crew. / This file is in the public domain in the United States because it was solely created by NASA. NASA copyright policy states that “NASA material is not protected by copyright unless noted”. (See Template:PD-USGov, NASA copyright policy page or JPL Image Use Policy.)

Indonesia is home to the most active volcanoes, and Mount Tambora tops the list of the 100-plus active volcanoes in this region. Unfortunately, it birthed the worst volcanic eruptions in history and terrible after-effects. The 1815 eruption rocked the world with severe after-effects causing diseases, harming crop growth in the surrounding regions, and tampering with climate change as far away as North America. Over 100,000 lives were lost as a result of this natural disaster.

2. Mount Krakatoa

Mount Krakatoa
The eruption of Mount Krakatoa in 1883 killed more than 35,000 people.

iStock.com/Byelikova_Oksana

In truth, Indonesian volcanoes cannot be swept under the carpet when talking about volcanic eruptions with massive destruction. A notable story was the eruption in 1883, killing more than 35,000 people. The massive death and destruction were courtesy of the tsunamis triggered by the eruption. In the same year, Indonesia witnessed a series of extreme explosions lasting over a few months. The gigantic blast propelled ash 50 miles away into the air and could be heard 2,800 miles away in Australia.

3. Mount Pelée

Mount Pelée
Of all the volcanic disasters of the 20th century, the eruption of Mount Pelee could be considered the worst.

iStock.com/thierry64

Like Indonesia, the Caribbean tops the list among the geographical locations with devastating volcanic eruptions. Of all the volcanic disasters of the 20th century, the eruption of Mount Pelee could be considered the worst. The eruption took place on Martinique Island in the Caribbean, leaving about 30,000 people dead.

4. Mount Ruiz

Mount Ruiz
The 1985 eruption of Mount Ruiz killed 25,000 people.

Edgar Jiménez / flickr – License

In 1985, South America experienced the most destructive volcanic eruptions. Sadly, the gigantic blast claimed about 25000 lives. A mixture of ash, mud, and water rushed down the volcano’s slope through river channels, and the mud almost totally buried a town 30 miles from the volcano.

5. Mount Vesuvius

Mount Vesuvius Italy
Mount Vesuvius experienced a dreadful volcano in Italy in AD 79.

iStock.com/Cylonphoto

The most dreadful volcanic eruptions list would not be complete without mentioning the great Pompeii incident. Mount Vesuvius experienced a dreadful volcano in Italy in AD 79, which devastated the nearby cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii. Sadly, thousands of lives were lost.

Health Effects of Volcanoes

Volcanoes generally spew hot, dangerous gases, lava, ash, and rock that can be powerfully destructive to almost all living things. They can trigger power outages, mudslides, floods, auto crashes, wildfires, and contaminate drinking water, affecting the human system. Unfortunately, the health problems associated with volcanic eruptions include burns, respiratory illness, and injuries from falls.

Side Effects of Volcanic Eruptions to the Environment

Volcanic ash

Exposure to volcanic ash is harmful to animals, the environment, children, and even adults. Unfortunately, the ash blast contains crystalline silica, which causes respiratory diseases like emphysema, asthma, and other chronic lung diseases when inhaled. Disastrously, it can be severe for people with existing respiratory conditions. Moreover, volcanic ash is naturally unpleasant, abrasive, gritty, and sometimes corrosive, and tiny ash particles can irritate the front of the eye.

Volcanic gas

In truth, most gasses that erupt from a volcano rapidly blow away. However, some heavy residual gasses like hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide sadly affect the residents inhabiting volcano regions even after days of explosion. These volcanic gasses cause eye, nose, and throat irritation, headache, dizziness, asthma, suffocation, swelling, increased heart rate, and death.

Positive and Negative Effects of Volcanoes

Volcanic eruptions come with a wide range of devastating effects on the immediate locality and their surrounding regions. The volcanic bombs, lava, ash, pyroclastic flows, and lahars can inconsolably exterminate plants, including the most beautiful flowers. However, not minding the repeated chants about the dreadful volcanoes, it is quite relieving to know that they can have some advantage to the environments and residents therein.

Positive Effects of Volcanoes

  • Geothermal energy is harnessed to generate electricity for locals and is a good source of increasing renewable energy.
  • The volcanic process releases ash which acts as a good soil fertilizer for higher crop yield for farmers.
  • As magma rises, valuable minerals are brought to the surface, creating mining opportunities.
  • Volcanic eruption surprisingly attracts tourists who enjoy the view of the eruption scenery. 

Negative Effects of Volcanoes

  • Volcanic eruptions are pretty dangerous and capable of damaging properties and lives.
  • Ash from large volcanoes could affect climates globally.
  • The eruption’s aftermath could hit hard on the economy, making businesses and other economic activities suffer.
  • Lava flows could ultimately destroy landscapes and the natural habitats of animals and plants.
  • Settlements, woodlands, and agriculture could tear down due to lava flows and lahars.

Why Do People Still Live in Volcanic Regions?

For the devastating and sometimes long-lasting effects of volcanic eruptions, one would wonder why some people still live in these areas. The truth is, for some people, living in volcano-prone areas is a huge life risk. However, to some others, it is just a risk worth taking. Beyond the threats associated with these areas, people take advantage of some opportunities after eruptions, including:

  • For farmers, the resultant ash and volcanic rock deposited during a volcanic eruption break down to provide fertile land resulting in a higher crop yield. 
  • Through geothermal energy, locals enjoy the benefit of free electricity and mineral deposits like diamonds contained in lava, which automatically increases the financial strength of the economy.
  • Residents harness the dramatic scenery that unfolds in the process of volcanic eruptions as a catch for tourists.

Volcano Erupting

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