6 Volcanoes That Could End the World As We Know It

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Sakurajima volcano erupting in 2013
Image: Ion Tichy

From dangerous lava flows to potentially catastrophic mega-tsunamis, the effects of volcanic eruptions can be awesome, mesmerizing and frankly terrifying. What’s more, it’s perfectly conceivable that these eruptions could be powerful enough to end the world as we know it.

Whether they wipe cities from the map or bring nations’ economies to their knees, when the world’s deadliest volcanoes blow their tops, there’s likely to be little anybody can do about it. One, Japan’s Mount Fuji, is a national landmark both loved and feared; another, the “supervolcano” lurking beneath Yellowstone National Park, is barely traceable to the untrained eye. Yet all six of the following volcanoes have one feature in common: the devastating potential to change the face of the Earth forever.

Vesuvius erupting in 1944
Image: USAAF

6. Mount Vesuvius – Gulf of Naples, Italy

Mount Vesuvius has stirred explosively to life around 30 times since infamously destroying Pompeii in 79 C.E.; most recently during the Second World War, when mainland Europe’s solitary active volcano killed 26 individuals. Moreover, according to Japanese volcanologist Nakada Setsuya, another eruption may be on the cards. This time, though, the damage could be catastrophic – potentially erasing Naples from the map and putting the lives of three million people at risk. “Vesuvius will erupt – that is certain, because it is an active volcano, even if we cannot predict when,” Dr. Nakada told a gathering of volcano experts in 2013. “Italy must discuss and prepare a plan to manage the situation.”

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Vesuvius smouldering in 2013
Image: Carlo Mirante

Unfortunately for the more than half a million people living in Vesuvius’ immediate firing line, the volcano rests on a 154-square-mile bed of magma. That’s some seriously explosive potential, and what’s more, scientists believe that it will be realized sooner rather than later. The next eruption is predicted to be “Plinean” – a term named for Pliny the Younger, who penned letters chronicling Pompeii’s destruction. Rocks and ash could hurtle through the air at nearly 100 miles an hour, and dangerous gases may be discharged into the atmosphere. Some residents living in Vesuvius’ shadow are so concerned about their fate that it’s been reported that they have approached the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that the existing evacuation procedures are “inadequate” in the face of such peril.

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