Here are some of the biggest, most destructive volcanic eruptions on Earth, from a series of colossal and sizzling outbursts that occurred about the same time as the dinosaurs went extinct to more recent explosive events like when Mount St. Helens shot a column of dust 15 miles high in 1980. And the countdown wouldn't be complete with Yellowstone supervolcano's enormous eruption some 640,000 years ago (#9 on this list).
The timing of the eruptions roughly coincides with the disappearance of the dinosaurs, the so-called K-T mass extinction, the shorthand given to the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction. Evidence for the volcanic extinction of the dinosaurs has mounted, though many scientists still support the idea that an asteroid impact did in the dinosaurs. An idea put forth in the April 30, 2015 issue of the journal Geological Society of America Bulletin suggests the meteor impact that created the Chixculub crater actually may have kicked the Deccan Traps eruptions into high gear.
Above is an aerial photo of the Lonar Crater in India, which rests inside of the Deccan Plateau, the massive plain of volcanic basalt rock left over from the eruption.
Until 2016, geologists didn't know for certain the number of eruptions in Idaho and surrounding states that predate Yellowstone's supervolcano. Now, research reported Feb. 10, 2016, in the journal Geological Society of America Bulletin suggests that up to 12 huge volcanic blasts occurred between 8 million and 12 million years ago in Idaho's Snake River Plain. The blasts led up to today's supervolcano, they said.
Some researchers have predicted that the supervolcano will blow its top again, an event that would cover up to half the country in ash up to 3 feet (1 meter) deep, one study predicts. The volcano only seems to go off about once every 600,000 years, though whether it ever will happen again isn't known for sure. In more recent years, tremors have been recorded in the Yellowstone area.
But though those residents might have escaped, there is cause to speculate that the volcano severely disrupted the culture, with the massive amounts of sulfur dioxide it spewed into the atmosphere altering the climate and leading to temperature declines. Associated tsunamis also resulted from the eruption, geologists speculate. In fact, the cataclysmic eruptions may have inspired the legend of the lost city of Atlantis, some say.
In January 2011, the mostly underwater volcano awakened, evidenced by small tremors of about magnitude 3.2, researchers reported. The above image shows the volcanic island of Santorini today.
Vesuvius' most famous eruption buried the Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum in rock and dust in A.D. 79, killing thousands. The ashfall preserved some structures of the town, as well as skeletons and artifacts that have helped archaeologists better understand ancient Roman culture. Vesuvius is also considered by some to be the most dangerous volcano in the world today, as a massive eruption would threaten more than 3 million people who live in the area. The volcano last erupted in 1944. [Preserved Pompeii: Photos Reveal City of Ash]
In fact, the Laki eruption was blamed for the cold harsh weather during the following winter. But research published online March 15, 2011, in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, suggested another culprit: an unusual combination of climate phenomena, including the negative phase of the the North Atlantic Oscillation, may be to blame. (Shown here, modern-day Laki.)
The eruption reached its peak in April 1815, when it exploded so loudly that it was heard on Sumatra Island, more than 1,200 miles (1,930 km) away. The death toll from the eruption was estimated at 71,000 people, and clouds of heavy ash descended on may faraway islands. The huge caldera formed by Tambora's eruption, photographed above in 2009, is 3.7 miles (6 km) in diameter and 3,609 feet (1,100 meters) deep. [200 Years After Tambora, Indonesia Most at Risk of Deadly Volcanic Blast]
To learn more about the source of the Novarupta eruption scientists have since installed a network of seismometers around the Katmai Volcanoes.
Over the course of the day, prevailing winds blew 520 million tons of ash eastward across the United States and caused complete darkness in Spokane, Washington, 250 miles from the volcano. The stratovolcano blasted a column of ash and dust 15 miles (24 km) into the air in just 15 minutes; some of this ash was later deposited on the ground in 11 states. The eruption was preceded by a magma bulge on the north face of the volcano, and the eruption caused that entire face to slide away — the largest landslide on Earth in recorded history.
In 2004, the peak came back to life and spewed out more than 26 billion gallons (100 million cubic meters) of lava, along with tons of rock and ash. Though not near an eruption, Mount St. Helens began to recharge in the spring of 2014, with the rise of new magma causing the volcano to heave upward and outward by a smidge, seismologists said. [Gallery: The Incredible Eruption of Mount St. Helens]
The blast also spewed millions of tons of sulfur dioxide and other particles into the air, which were spread around the world by air currents and caused the global temperatures to drop by about 1 degree Fahrenheit (0.5 degree Celsius) over the course of the following year. [Photos: The Colossal Eruption of Mount Pinatubo]