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Ready to BlowResidents of volcanically active areas, whether prehistoric creatures or modern humans, haven't always had enough warning to escape before a nearby volcano blew its top, sometimes virtually destroying everything for many miles around.
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).
Deccan Traps (60 million years ago)Slide 2 of 21
Deccan Traps (60 million years ago)The Deccan Traps are a set of lava beds in the Deccan Plateau region of what is now India that cover an area of about 580,000 square miles (1.5 million square kilometers), or more than twice the area of Texas. The lava beds were laid down in a series of colossal volcanic eruptions that occurred between 63 million and 67 million years ago.
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.Slide 3 of 21
Yellowstone Supervolcano (640,000 years ago)Slide 4 of 21
Yellowstone Supervolcano (640,000 years ago)The history of what is now Yellowstone National Park is marked by many enormous eruptions, the most recent of which occurred about 640,000 years ago, according to the United States Geological Survey. When this gigantic supervolcano erupted, it sent about 250 cubic miles (1,000 cubic kilometers) of material into the air. The eruptions have left behind hardened lava fields and calderas, depressions that form in the ground when material below it is erupted to the surface.The magma chambers thought to underlie the Yellowstone hotspot also provide the park with one of its enduring symbols, its geysers, as the water is heated up by the hot magma that flows underneath the ground.
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.Slide 5 of 21
Santorini Island (1645 B.C. and 1500 B.C.)Slide 6 of 21
Santorini Island (1645 B.C. and 1500 B.C.)While the date of the eruption isn't known with certainty, geologists think that Thera exploded with the energy of several hundred atomic bombs in a fraction of a second, sometime between 1645 B.C. and 1500 B.C. Though there are no written records of the eruption, geologists think it could be the strongest explosion ever witnessed. The island that hosted the volcano, Santorini (part of an archipelago of volcanic islands) in the Aegean Sea, had been home to members of the seafaring Minoan civilization, though there are some indications that the inhabitants of the island suspected the volcano was going to blow its top and evacuated.
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.Slide 7 of 21
Mount Vesuvius (A.D. 79)Slide 8 of 21