My first memory about volcanoes comes from a social studies class learning about early Roman and Greek history. As part of the discussion, the teacher discussed Pompeii with us. From there, I checked out a book from the local public library and read about the sad fates of Pompeii’s citizens. From there I was hooked for a few weeks, learning anything I could about them and finding as many facts about volcanoes as I could.
Volcanoes are just as interesting as they are destructive. A list of interesting facts about volcanoes could number in the hundreds, but we’ve tried to narrow that down to simple top 10. If you think we missed one too awesome to omit, let us know in the comments.
If you have a little volcanologist who may be inspired to build her or his own volcano, you can check out our look at some of the best volcano kits for kids.
1. Volcanoes exist on other planets
Humans sometimes get wrapped up entirely with our own planet. But, the other planets in the solar system share some of Earth’s features.
In our solar system, astronomers have identified four exoplanets with volcanic activity: Earth, Io (one of Jupiter’s moons), Triton (one of Neptune’s moons), and Enceladus (one of Saturn’s moons). In addition, Venus and Mars are two other exoplanets who have volcanoes, although neither appear to have active ones. But, recent reports suggest Venus’ may be.
In fact, Mars’ Olympus Mons is the largest volcano in our solar system. It is around 373 miles wide and 13 miles high. For comparison, Mount Everest is only around 5.5 miles high.
2. Volcanic destruction
The biggest eruption in recorder history occurred on Sumbawa Island in 1815. When Mount Tambora erupted, it registered a 7 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI) and could be heard over 1,200 miles away. It was responsible for over 71,000 deaths, around 15% of which occurred directly from the eruption.
The worst eruption in the mainland United States occurred in Washington, the home of Mount St. Helens. The 1980 eruption directly caused around 60 deaths.
The Novarupta Volcano erupted in 1912 and registers as the largest volcanic eruption in the United States and the twentieth century. It had 3 times as much volume as Mount St. Helens.
3. The Ring of Fire is more than just a Johnny Cash song
Scientists believe there are over 500 volcanoes on Earth today. Given the size of the United States, perhaps that doesn’t seem too impressive.
4. Hawaii is the home of the largest and tallest volcanoes
Mauna Kea is the tallest volcano on Earth. It measures around 2.61 miles tall.
Right next to it is the largest volcano: Mauna Loa.
Each of them is a shield volcano, meaning they are broad, dome-like structures with much more gradual slopes than some of the volcanoes we see in Hollywood movies.
5. Volcanic eruptions are not instantaneous occurrences
In fact, one of the most active volcanoes on Earth (Kilauea in Hawaii; on a side note: when it erupted over 200 years ago, it killed more than 400 peple) has been continuously erupting for 34 years (since January 3, 1983).
6. Volcanic eruptions can affect global weather
The Royal Meteorological Society has documented five volcanic eruptions which scientists have hypothesized impacted the world’s temperatures the following year(s). For example Mount Tambora, the largest eruption in the 19th century (and possibly in the last 10,000 years) is believed to have caused the “year without summer” in 1816.
7. Volcanoes hatch eggs
Let’s be clear. Volcanoes do not lay eggs! That would be on an entirely different level of interesting!
But maleos often rely on geothermal heat to incubate their eggs. The eggs are 5 times as large as a chicken’s, and they are much too large for maleos to incubate themselves.
8. It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a supervolcano!
Supervolcanoes is not a technical term geologists and volcanologists in professional writing, but they often use the term to explain the potentially destructive force of certain volcanoes. They are defined as a volcano capable of producing an eruption with ejected mass greater than 1015 kg. Yellowstone is an example of a well-known supervolcano. In recent news, National Geographic reported on the rumblings of Campi Flegrei, a supervolcano in Italy.
9. The Ancient One
People have been documenting Mt. Etna’s volcanic activity for millennia, since at least 1500 B.C. It is the tallest active volcano in Europe and, according to Greek Mythology, contained the monster Typhoon and Hephaestus’ forge.
10. Religious Significance
Many cultures across the globe have held volcanoes in high enough esteem to integrate them into their religions.
- Romans in the areas around Mt. Vesuvius celebrated with a festival on August 23. As part of the festival, they throw living fish into the Tiber river as a way to appease Vulcan (the Roman god of fire)
- People in Tanzania, near Oldonyo Lengai, worshipped the god Engai and would offer him sheep and goats.
- As mentioned earlier, the Greeks believed Zeus had locked away the monster Typhoon under Mt. Etna. They also believed Hephaestus’ workshop was found beneath the volcano.
- Icelandic lore contains a story where a wicked woman, who dies in an ice cap, avenges her fate by spouting fire on nearby areas.
- Hawaiian lore tells the story of Pele, a fire-goddess who lived the volcano Kilauea.
Note: You can find more details about these and more in the entry “Volcanoes and Religion” from Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature.
These are just a handful of the many interesting facts about volcanoes you can find. Some of the facts listed here, and good sources for more facts, can be found at these sites: