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History has seen some monstrous eruptions of volcanoes, from Mount Pinatubo's weather-cooling burp to the explosion of Mt. Tambora, one of the tallest peaks in the Indonesian archipelago.
The power of such eruptions is measured using the Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI) a classification system developed in the 1980 that's somewhat akin to the magnitude scale for earthquakes. The scale goes from 1 to 8, and each succeeding VEI is 10 times greater than the last.
There haven't been any VEI-8 volcanoes in the last 10,000 years, but human history has seen some powerful and devastating eruptions. Because it's extremely difficult for scientists to be able to rank the strength of eruptions in the same VEI category, here we present the 10 most powerful volcanoes within the last 4,000 years (within human records) first in order of strength, then within each category, in chronological order.
But let's start with a supervolcano eruption surprisingly close to home, registering a magnitude-8, from our distant past (scroll up and hit the "Next" button).
Yellowstone, 640K years ago (VEI 8)Slide 2 of 23
Yellowstone, 640K years ago (VEI 8)
The entire Yellowstone National Park is an active volcano rumbling beneath visitors' feet. And it has erupted with magnificent strength: Three magnitude-8 eruptions rocked the area as far back as 2.1 million years ago, again 1.2 million years ago and most recently 640,000 years ago. "Together, the three catastrophic eruptions expelled enough ash and lava to fill the Grand Canyon," according to the U.S. Geological Survey. In fact, scientists discovered a humongous blob of magma stored beneath Yellowstone, a blob that if released could fill the Grand Canyon 11 times over, the researchers reported on April 23, 2013, in the journal Science.
The latest of the trio of supervolcano eruptions created the park's huge crater, measuring 30 by 45 miles across (48 by 72 kilometers).
The chance of such a supervolcano eruption happening today is about one in 700,000 every year, Robert Smith, a seismologist at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, told Live Science previously.
Next Up: Largest eruption in historySlide 3 of 23
Huaynaputina, 1600 (VEI 6)Slide 4 of 23
Huaynaputina, 1600 (VEI 6)
This peak was the site of South America's largest volcanic eruption in recorded history. The explosion sent mudflows as far as the Pacific Ocean, 75 miles (120 km) away, and appears to have affected the global climate. The summers following the 1600 eruption were some of the coldest in 500 years. Ash from the explosion buried a 20-square-mile (50-square-km) area to the mountain's west, which remains blanketed to this day.
Although Huaynaputina, in Peru, is a lofty 16,000 feet (4,850 meters), it's somewhat sneaky as volcanoes go. It stands along the edge of a deep canyon, and its peak doesn't have the dramatic silhouette often associated with volcanoes.
The 1600 cataclysm damaged the nearby cities of Arequipa and Moquengua, which only fully recovered more than a century later.
Next Up: The infamous KrakatoaSlide 5 of 23
Krakatoa, 1883 (VEI 6)Slide 6 of 23
Krakatoa, 1883 (VEI 6)
The rumblings that preceded the final eruption of Krakatoa (also spelled Krakatau) in the weeks and months of the summer of 1883 finally climaxed with a massive explosion on April 26-27. The explosive eruption of this stratovolcano, situated along a volcanic island arc at the subduction zone of the Indo-Australian plate, ejected huge amounts of rock, ash and pumice and was heard thousands of miles away.
The explosion also created a tsunami, whose maximum wave heights reached 140 feet (40 meters) and killed about 34,000 people. Tidal gauges more than 7,000 miles (11,000 km) away on the Arabian Peninsula even registered the increase in wave heights.
While the island that once hosted Krakatoa was completely destroyed in the eruption, new eruptions beginning in December 1927 built the Anak Krakatau ("Child of Krakatau") cone in the center of the caldera produced by the 1883 eruption. Anak Krakatau sporadically comes to life, building a new island in the shadow of its parent.
Next: A huge and recent one . . .Slide 7 of 23
Santa Maria Volcano, 1902 (VEI 6)Slide 8 of 23