Volcano watch: The five volcanoes that could erupt as Merapi explodes in fiery eruption

Indonesia: Mount Merapi spews smoke into sky as it erupts

Indonesia’s most active volcano Mount Merapi erupted only two weeks ago, resulting in a spectacular red-hot river of lava and searing gas clouds running 9,850ft (3km) down its slopes. Although no casualties were reported, the sounds of the explosive eruption were audible 18 miles (30km) away – serving as a timely reminder of these events’ unimaginable power.

Understanding which of the world’s 1,500 potentially active volcanoes will erupt is important for numerous reasons.

When you go back in the geological record, [the traces of] many eruptions disappear because of erosion

Professor Luca Caricchi

Human settlements have popped-up around volcanoes due to their fertile soils, exciting potential for tourism and the generation of geothermal energy.

However, it remains frustratingly difficult to predict when and how the, on average, 50 annual volcanic eruptions will happen.

Geophysicists are increasingly-aware how several factors are involved when assessing exactly how dangerous a volcano is.

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Obviously, where a volcanic eruption occurs is important, as one taking place in a remote area is of less concern than one in a populous region – as immediate evacuation may be necessary.

Knowing where a volcano will erupt from is one thing, but knowing when it will do so is a different matter.

Although there is a relationship between eruptions’ frequency and their size, with big eruptions occurring very rarely compared to smaller ones, a lack of reliable data makes it hard to examine the processes that control eruption frequency and magnitude.

Professor Luca Caricchi, of the University of Geneva, said: “When you go back in the geological record, (the traces of) many eruptions disappear because of erosion.”

The specific type of magma spewed during eruptions and each volcano’s eruption history is also important.

Long-dormant volcanoes have recently been recognised as actually posing a significantly higher risk for eruption due to mounting pressure underground linked to a more apocalyptic eruption.

Despite each of the following five volcanoes listed below posing its own distinct threat, these are generally regarded as the most likely to blow in 2021.

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Mount Fuji:

The Japanese government warned in 2020 a major eruption of Mount Fuji would eject so much matter over nearby capital Tokyo, the city infrastructure would collapse.

Visibility would immediately vanish and inches of toxic ash would swiftly clog the filters at power plants.

Although Mount Fuji last erupted more than 300 years ago, the volcano remains active and enters cyclical periods of activity.

Some volcano experts anticipate an eruption on the scale of Mount Fuji’s most recent eruption could last for a fortnight.

Mount Vesuvius:

Europe’s largest and most active volcano, every year spews enough lava to fill a skyscraper.

And tens of million tons of lava and seven million tons of carbon dioxide, water and sulphur dioxide are produced by Etna each year

Geologists recognise the 700,000-year-old Vesuvius – aka Mount Etna – as the world’s second most active volcano, after Hawaii’s Mount Kilauea.

The cause of Mount Vesuvius’s near-continuous eruption is its situation between the African and Eurasian tectonic plates.

Mount Vesuvius’ most recent eruption occurred only five years ago, resulting in the injury of 12 people.

Mount St Helens:

Viscous magma is known to be bottled-up inside pressure-cooker of Mount St Helens, which is now thought to be ominously surfacing to form a lava dome.

William Rose, a professor of geology at Michigan Technological University recently said in a statement: “The gas emission rate of St Helens is very high and suggests that significant amounts of magma are the surface.”

However, Donald Peterson, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) scientist in charge of the Mount St Helens project, has warned how experts are really unsure what to expect.

He said: “Mount St Helens has a wide repertoire. It’s likely to do anything that it has done in the past, but it could also come up with some new acts.”

Mount Pinatubo:

A magnitude-7.8 earthquake occurred approximately 60 miles (100km) northeast of Mount Pinatubo on the island of Luzon in the Philippines in 1990.

At Mount Pinatubo, this major earthquake triggered landslides, earthquakes and several super-hot steam plumes from a preexisting geothermal area – but the volcano otherwise appeared undisturbed.

However, in the following months, magma spewed to the surface from more than 20 miles (32km) beneath Pinatubo.

This, in turn, resulted in yet-more earthquakes and violent steam explosions eventually blasted three craters on the north flank of Pinatubo volcano.

Yellowstone Caldera:

Although another catastrophic eruption at Yellowstone remains theoretically possible, USGS scientists are increasingly confident one will ever happen again on the apocalyptic scales of its predecessors.

The rhyolite magma chamber beneath Yellowstone is considered only five to 15 percent molten, while the rest is solidified but still hot.

This hopefully means it is highly unlikely there is now enough magma beneath the caldera to feed another epic super-eruption.

So were Yellowstone to ever erupt again, it need not be an explosion on a devastating scale.

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