But all are thrilling masses of dynamic earth.
Here are 11 of the globe’s most infamous, and some little known, volcanoes from around the world.
Alaska’s Novarupta doesn’t look like a typical mountain-shaped volcano. Instead, it exists as a 200-foot high lava dome.
But don’t be fooled.
Novarupta is responsible for the most powerful eruption of the 20th century, making Mount Saint Helens’ 1980 blast look small. The 1912 eruption — overshadowed by the sinking of the Titanic — is believed to be one of the top-five most powerful eruptions in human history.
Its ash cloud spread to Africa. The eruption turned a once verdant, river-filled valley into a barren, steaming moonscape called the Valley of 10,000 Smokes. It also caused another volcano’s summit to collapse. And it’s ash plunged nearby Kodiak Island into darkness for nearly three days.
What’s more, prior to 1912, Novarupta didn’t exist. Volcanologists believe the huge vent formed during the violent eruption before a thick mass of lava eventually oozed up and sealed off the volcano — at least for now. This volcano hasn’t erupted in over a century, but it’s young, at times steaming, and definitely active.
Parícutin was born in a Mexican cornfield, in 1943.
It rose out of the ground one February day, and after about eight hours “began to roar and hurl out quantities of incandescent bombs with great force,” according to U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists.
Within a week, it had surpassed a height of 500 feet. The eruption ended after nine years, and left a cone-like hill of volcanic rock and debris over 1,000 feet high. Parícutin hasn’t erupted in over half a century, but sits in a volcanically active land.
3. Mount Vesuvius
Mount Vesuvius is probably the most infamous mountain in history. Nearly 2,000 years ago, in 79 A.D., the mountain erupted violently, burying Roman communities like Pompeii in avalanches of sand-like volcanic rock.
This type of eruption, which blasts ominous columns of ash more than 11 kilometers (6.8 miles) into the sky, is called a plinian eruption, named after a local Roman who lived to document the event.
Pliny the Younger, nephew of the famed Roman general Pliny the Elder (who died during the eruption), fled Vesuvius as the ash cloud collapsed down the mountain in devastating, fiery avalanches.
The dark cloud turned day to night, terrifying the fleeing Romans. As Pliny wrote:
People bewailed their own fate or that of their relatives, and there were some who prayed for death in their terror of dying.
Many besought the aid of the gods, but still more imagined there were no gods left, and that the universe was plunged into eternal darkness for evermore.
The volcano has been active ever since, but its eruptions, like many volcanoes, are intermittent.
Many volcano scientists don’t simply consider Yellowstone to be a volcano, but a
“supervolcano,” as it’s capable of blasting out colossal amounts (at least 240 cubic miles) of molten material, which has happened at this supervolcano twice in the last 2 million years.
These major eruptions are rare — in human time, anyways — but the volcano is unquestionably active.
Yellowstone National Park, which sits atop the volcano, contains over 500 erupting geysers, fueled by the scorching underground where molten rock brews close by.
The volcano is one of the most closely monitored in the world. Earthquakes would foreshadow an eruption weeks, if not years, in advance. So, don’t worry, we’ll have plenty of notice if the supervolcano threatens to erupt anytime in the near future.
5. Mount Pelée
In 1902, there were only a handful of reported survivors in Saint-Pierre, the city sitting at the foot of Mount Pelée in the Caribbean. (One of them happened to be saved by imprisonment in a stone cell.)
The eruption is estimated to have killed about 28,000 people as an avalanche of scorching rock demolished the unassuming city. While horrifying, the event motivated volcanologist Thomas Jagger to found the world’s first volcano observatory, in Hawaii.
After witnessing more than 20,000 bodies buried by destroyed buildings and volcanic rocks, Jagger felt compelled to improve a lacking science.
“I realized that the killing of thousands of persons by subterranean machinery totally unknown to geologists… was worthy of a life work,” he wrote.
The volcano last gave off meaningful tremors in 1985, so it’s currently in an inactive phase.
During an extreme 1883 eruption, Krakatau emitted a sound so loud, people 3,000 miles away documented hearing the boom.
“People within this 160 km [100 miles] vicinity of the eruption would have experienced intense ear pain and permanent hearing loss from exposure to these concussion waves,” writes Oregon State University.
“Estimates of exposure levels indicate it would have been like standing on a rocket launching pad with no ear protection.”
Many folks nearby, however, had even greater concerns: Some 36,000 were killed by ensuing flows of scorching volcanic rock.
Every few years Krakatau will send thick lava flows down it’s slopes or spew ash into the air — but ear-damaging explosive events are much rarer.
Not all volcanoes, fortunately, are so deadly.
Hawaii’s youngest volcano, Kilauea, is now synonymous with lava. The volcano has been continuously erupting lava for some 35 years. It tends to ooze lava, rather than explode.
Deaths here are rare, but certainly possible if one wanders close to spatting lava vents or toxic gas.
Kilauea’s lava flows often meet the sea, where they cool and gradually add more land to the Big Island.
8. Mauna Loa
Looming above Kilauea is the largest, by mass, mountain on Earth.
When measured from the dark depths of the Pacific Ocean seafloor, Mauna Loa is taller than Mount Everest. It comprises over half of Hawaii’s Big Island.
It’s still an active, growing volcano, built entirely of lava.
This ice-clad active volcano is Iceland’s largest, and an eruption here could halt air traffic in Europe for days or weeks — similar to its cousin Eyjafjallajökull, which shut down European airports for nearly a week in 2010.
Planes can’t fly in ashy conditions, as the engines inhale the tiny volcanic rocks, or ash. Though exactly how long flight disruptions might last depends on a variety of factors, like wind direction and the amount of ash in the air.
When Öræfajökull does erupt, it will blast through a long-settled layer of ice and snow.
About a mile underneath the Pacific Ocean lies the volcano Havre.
It attracted quite a bit of attention in 2012 when both airline passengers and the Royal New Zealand Navy spotted a 150-square mile floating collection of porous volcanic rock, called pumice, above it.
Upon deeper investigation, researchers found the volcano had unleashed a massive eruption, “approximately equivalent” to the largest eruption on land in the 20th century — here’s looking at you, Novarupta.
Shishaldin sits in one of the most volcanically active regions of the world, the Alaskan Peninsula.
It’s young volcanic cousin, Novarupta, can also be found in this glacier and volcano-laden territory. Shishaldin, known for its impressive symmetry, is often emitting ash, steam, or both from its summit.
Bonus volcano: Olympus Mons
This Martian behemoth is the largest volcano in our solar system.
It’s the size of Arizona.
Similar to Hawaii’s Kilauea, it is a shield volcano, which takes on a gentle-sloping structure as lava flows pile up over time.
But Mars is almost totally dead, geologically. And so, then, is Olympus Mons.