On 8:32 AM, May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens erupted. The Sunday morning earthquake measured a 5.1 on the Richter scale and in its wake, “nearly 150 square miles of forest was blown over or left dead and standing,” according to the USDA Forest Service. “The eruption lasted 9 hours, but Mount St. Helens and the surrounding landscape were dramatically changed within moments.” That was 31 years ago. So, what about today? Which volcanoes pose great danger?
On the anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helens, the ATM blog team, with the help of curator Elizabeth Cottrell, director of the Global Volcanism Program in the Department of Mineral Sciences at the National Museum of Natural History, has compiled a list of five volcanoes that currently threaten population centers. They are:
1. Ecuador: Tungurahua—This stratovolcano is one of Ecuador’s most active, and it has been erupting this year. Tungurahua threatens multiple nearby populations, especially the city of Baños, located at the foot of the volcano. In 1999, Baños was temporarily evacuated due to a long-term eruption.
2. United States: Mt. Rainier—The highest peak of the Cascade Mountain Range, located southeast of Seattle, Washington, Mt. Ranier last erupted in 1894. A new eruption could melt its glacial ice, sending landslides of mud and ash (called lahar) into the Seattle-Tacoma metro area.
3. Indonesia: Merapi—In one of the world’s most densely populated areas lies one of Indonesia’s most active volcanoes. Merapi has been erupting for the past year, killing hundreds and displacing hundreds of thousands of residents in the Jakarta area.
4. Italy: Vesuvius—Best known for its massively destructive eruption in 79 AD that buried the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, Vesuvius last erupted in 1944. It is the only volcano on the European mainland that has erupted within the past hundred years. Vesuvius threatens millions of people living in or near the city of Naples.
5. Mexico: Popocatépetl—From the Aztec word for smoking mountain,Volcán Popocatépetl is the second-highest volcano in North America. Currently erupting, this stratovolcano threatens Mexico City.
To learn more about these and other volcanoes, visit the Plate Tectonics Gallery in the Geology, Gems and Minerals Hall of the National Museum of Natural History and check out the website of the Global Volcanism Program.