Volcanic eruptions can devastate cities, change the world's atmosphere, and devastate economic systems. They can create molten lava rivers, mudslides, suffocating ash, and poisonous gases that cause chaos around the world for years.
The Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI), like the Richter scale for earthquakes, is used to determine the magnitude of a volcanic eruption. Volcanic explosions are ranked from 1 to 8, with 1 being a gentle lava outpouring and 8 being a mega-colossal eruption.
The size of an eruption is a strong indicator, but it does not always predict its effect. Calculating the potential loss of life is one of the most common ways to assess the severity of an eruption. Deaths can occur not only as a result of an eruption's effect, but also as a result of a lack of food.
Economically, volcanic eruptions can be devastating. Although calculating the economic cost of ancient eruptions is primarily theoretical, the costs of more recent eruptions are determined by calculating the loss of infrastructure and income to local residents. Volcanic eruptions cost $152.6 billion in damages between 1995 and 2015, or $7.6 billion per year, according to a United Nations report.
A volcanic explosion's effects can be massive, from its size to its death toll to its economic cost. Here is ten world’s most destructive and dangerous volcanic eruption in history:
1. Santa Maria, Guatemala, 25 October 1902 (VEI6)
The Santa Maria volcano was inactive for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. That is, until 1902 when it erupted violently due to a series of earthquakes in the Central American region. At least 5000 people were killed in the eruption, but many believe this figure is exaggerated. Over the course of 19 days, the eruption created a 28-kilometer-high column of pyroclastic debris, resulting in 5.5 km3 of pyroclastic debris. For days, the ash from the eruption obscured Guatemala's sky, spreading all the way to San Francisco. Damages are estimated to be in the millions of dollars.
2. Mt Vesuvius, Italy, 79 AD (VEI5)
Mt Vesuvius has erupted many times in human history, but the most famous is the terrifying eruption of 79AD. On August 24, Vesuvius erupted, burying the surrounding cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum in ash, mud, and poisonous gases. The eruption claimed the lives of 16,000 people. The cities were not excavated and rediscovered until 1595. The cost of a similar eruption today will be in the billions.
3. Mount Pinatubo, Philippines, 1991 (VEI6)
The Mount Pinatubo eruption was the twentieth century's second-largest volcanic eruption. The volcano erupted on June 15, sending a 35-kilometer-high ash cloud into the sky. The eruption triggered huge pyroclastic flows and expelled nearly 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere, lowering global temperatures. Despite the fact that only 722 people were killed, the eruption affected over 200,000 people. The cost of the eruption was estimated to be in the range of $200 million.
4. Nevado del Ruiz, Columbia, 1985 (VEI3)
Despite its small scale, the eruption of Nevado del Ruiz had catastrophic consequences. The mudflow that followed the eruption was the most devastating aspect of the event, burying the town of Armero and killing 20,000 people. The most destructive volcanic eruption, according to the International Disaster Database, was Nevado, which cost an estimated $1 billion.
5. Mt Unzen, Japan, 1792 (VEI2)
Mt. Unzen's eruption is still Japan's deadliest volcanic eruption. The explosion caused the volcano's dome to collapse, resulting in a huge landslide that buried Shimabara and flowed into the sea, causing a 57-meter-high tsunami. Around 15,000 people were killed in the disaster. Damages to agriculture and fisheries facilities is expected to cost $17.4 billion yen ($150 million).
6. Ilopango, El Salvador, 450AD (VEI6+)
Ilopango's first eruption, in 450 AD, was the second-largest volcanic eruption in the last 200,000 years. The magnitude of this eruption is thought to have killed many Mayan cities. For more than a year, the skies were filled with ash and dust. It is estimated that up to 100,000 people were killed and over 400,000 were displaced as a result of the eruption. It is believed to have been the cause of the AD 535-536 global cooling, which resulted in crop failures from Rome to China.
7. Mt Pelee, Caribbean, 1902 (VEI4)
Mt Pelee was believed to be inactive until it erupted in the worst eruption of the twentieth century. Mt Pelee erupted with a blast of hot gas and volcanic rubble on May 8, devastating the entire city of St Pierre. Just two people out of the 28,000 who lived in St. Pierre survived. The eruption was estimated to have cost $50 million.
8. Laki, Iceland, 1783 (VEI6)
The Laki eruption's destruction was felt around the world for years after it happened. The eruption at Laki lasted 8 months and ejected 14.7km3 of lava. Toxic gases polluted Iceland's crops and destroyed 60% of the country's grazing livestock. The volcano emitted enough sulfur dioxide to trigger acid rain and a decrease in global temperatures. A famine followed the eruption, killing over 10,000 Icelanders, about a quarter of the country's population at the time. As Laki's toxic eruption spread south, it killed 23,000 people in the United Kingdom and triggered a famine in Egypt. The European famine triggered by the eruption, according to some environmental historians, may have been a trigger for the French Revolution.
9. Krakatoa, Indonesia, 1883 (VEI 6)
Krakatoa, an Indonesian volcano, erupted in one of the most destructive eruptions in modern human history, destroying the island on which it sits. A series of huge eruptions ripped the volcano's walls apart on the morning of August 27. The last eruption of Krakatoa was four times more strong than the biggest bomb ever detonated by humans. Its radio waves circled the globe seven times. It triggered a series of tsunamis that ravaged on the area, killing 36,000 people and obliterating entire villages. The cost of the eruption has been projected to be as high as $1.5 billion by others.
10. Mt Tambora, Indonesia, 1815 (VEI 7)
Mt. Tambora is the deadliest volcanic eruption in modern human history, with up to 120,000 people killed. Tambora erupted on April 10, 1815, spewing volcanic ash 40 kilometers into the atmosphere. The eruption was the most strong in 500 years. The intensity of the pyroclastic flow entering the ocean resulted in the formation of a series of massive tsunamis. The planet suffered a significant temperature drop as a result of the massive amount of SO2 released, which resulted in global crop failures. Thousands of Chinese people died of starvation as typhus spread through Europe. The price of grain in Switzerland more than quadrupled in the two years following the blast.