10 biggest volcano eruptions ever recorded

Volcanic eruptions happen when heat and molten rock move upwards beneath the Earth’s surface. They frequently start with a buildup of magma (melted underground rock that contains gases) collecting in reservoirs or chambers relatively close to the surface. Let us take a look at some of the biggest volcano eruptions in history.

Volcanic eruptions happen when heat and molten rock move upwards beneath the Earth’s surface. They frequently start with a buildup of magma (melted underground rock that contains gases) collecting in reservoirs or chambers relatively close to the surface. However, volcanic eruptions may sometimes be preceded by the release of steam and gases from small openings or vents in the ground before the main eruption occurs. Let us take a look at some of the biggest volcano eruptions in history.

Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, 2022

In January 2022, Tonga, situated in the South Pacific, encountered one of the most significant eruptions in documented history. This underwater volcano started rumbling in December 2021, with the eruption peaking on January 15, 2022. Being submerged, the magma’s contact with seawater led to instant superheating, resulting in a colossal blast that measured a VEI 5.7. Approximately 50 million tons (45 million metric tons) of water vapour were ejected into the atmosphere, a quantity substantial enough to potentially impact the planet’s temperature for years. The eruption spanned 162 miles (260 kilometres), with a pillar of ash, steam, and gas reaching 12 miles (20 km) into the sky, a record-breaking height according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NASA noted that the eruption unleashed energy equivalent to over 100 Hiroshima bombs.

Huaynaputina, 1600 (VEI 6)

In 1600, the peak of Huaynaputina in Peru witnessed South America’s largest volcanic eruption ever recorded. The explosion triggered mudflows that reached as far as the Pacific Ocean, approximately 75 miles (120 km) away, and likely had a global impact on climate. Following the eruption, the subsequent summers were some of the coldest experienced in 500 years. The blast also covered a 20-square-mile area (50 square kilometres) to the west of the mountain with ash, which remains preserved to this day. Despite its substantial elevation of 16,000 feet (4,850 meters), Huaynaputina is not visually striking like typical volcanoes, as it is situated along the edge of a deep canyon without a prominent silhouette. The eruption caused severe damage to nearby cities such as Arequipa and Moquengua, with full recovery taking more than a century, as reported by the Smithsonian Institution.


In the summer of 1883, Krakatoa, a stratovolcano situated within a volcanic island arc where the Eurasian and Indo-Australian plates converge, experienced significant activity culminating in a massive eruption on April 26 and 27. This explosion emitted large quantities of rock, ash, and pumice. The eruption produced the loudest recorded sound in history, audible over 10% of the Earth’s surface according to NOAA.

Additionally, the eruption triggered a tsunami with maximum wave heights reaching 140 feet (40 meters), claiming approximately 36,000 lives. The impact of the tsunami was felt as far as the Arabian Peninsula, more than 7,000 miles (11,000 km) away, as evidenced by tidal gauges registering the increase in wave heights.

Santa María, 1902 (VEI 6)

The eruption of Santa María in 1902 ranks among the most significant volcanic explosions of the 20th century. Before this event, the volcano in Guatemala had remained dormant for 500 years. The eruption resulted in the formation of a sizable crater nearly a mile (1.5 km) wide on the southwest side of the mountain.

Santa María, characterized by its symmetrical shape and lush tree cover, is part of a chain of stratovolcanoes that stretches along Guatemala’s Pacific coastal plain. Following the 1902 eruption, the volcano has exhibited continuous activity, with its most recent significant eruption being a VEI 3 event in 1922.


The Novarupta eruption stands as the largest volcanic explosion witnessed in the 20th century. This eruption occurred at the Novarupta volcano, situated on the slope of the Trident Volcano complex in the southern Alaska Peninsula, within the Pacific Ring of Fire. The immense power of the eruption propelled approximately 3 cubic miles (12.5 cubic kilometres) of magma and ash into the atmosphere. This fallout blanketed an expansive area of 3,000 square miles (7,800 square km) with ash layers exceeding a foot in depth, as reported by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

The impact of the eruption was felt even in Kodiak, Alaska, nearly 100 miles (160 km) away, where the air was heavily laden with ash for approximately 60 hours following the colossal blast, as noted by the National Park Service. Furthermore, the eruption triggered pyroclastic flows that gave rise to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, a region characterized by volcanic activity and dotted with fumaroles emitting smoke and gases.

Mount Pinatubo, 1991


Mount Pinatubo, located in Luzon, Philippines, is a stratovolcano situated within a volcanic arc formed along a subduction zone where the Philippine and Eurasian plates converge. The eruption of Pinatubo was characterized by its explosiveness, ejecting over 1 cubic mile (5 cubic kilometres) of material into the atmosphere and generating an ash column that reached heights of 22 miles (35 km). The fallout of ash was extensive, causing roofs to collapse under its weight in some areas.

Furthermore, the eruption released millions of tons of sulfur dioxide and other particles into the atmosphere. These particles dispersed globally via air currents, leading to a decrease in global temperatures by approximately 1 degree Fahrenheit (0.5 degree Celsius) over the subsequent year. Despite being a significant eruption occurring in a densely populated region, the impact was mitigated by effective evacuation plans and continuous monitoring efforts.

Ilopango Volcano, A.D. 431 (VEI 6 +)

Located just east of San Salvador, the capital city of El Salvador, this mountain in central El Salvador has only experienced two eruptions in its history. The first eruption, estimated to have occurred around A.D. 431, was particularly significant. It covered much of central and western El Salvador with pumice and ash, leading to the destruction of early Mayan cities and the displacement of inhabitants, as documented by the Smithsonian Institution.

A study published in the journal PNAS in 2020 provided precise dating of the eruption, revealing that it caused a cooling effect of about 0.9°F (0.5°C) for a few years. This event likely disrupted trade routes and contributed to the relocation of the Mayan civilization from the highland areas of El Salvador to lower-lying regions to the north and in Guatemala.

Mount Thera, approx. 1610 B.C. (VEI 7)

Geologists speculate that the eruption of the Greek island volcano Thera unleashed an explosion equivalent to the energy of several hundred atomic bombs in just a fraction of a second. Despite occurring during recorded history, there are no written accounts of the eruption. However, given that the island was inhabited at the time, experts believe it could have been the most powerful explosion ever witnessed by modern humans.

The eruption of Mount Thera, located on Santorini in the Aegean Sea, is estimated to have been four or five times more massive than the famous Krakatoa eruption. It created a massive crater in Santorini. During this time, the Minoan civilization thrived on the island. Some evidence suggests that the inhabitants may have sensed the impending eruption and evacuated. Nonetheless, archaeologists argue that even if residents managed to escape, the eruption likely had a profound impact on the culture. Tsunamis and significant temperature drops caused by the enormous quantities of sulfur dioxide released into the atmosphere are believed to have disrupted the climate and profoundly affected the society of the time.

Changbaishan Volcano, A.D. 1000 (VEI 7)

Changbaishan also referred to as Baitoushan Volcano, lies on the border between China and North Korea. A massive eruption occurred about a thousand years ago, scattering volcanic material as far as northern Japan, approximately 750 miles (1,200 kilometers) away. This eruption formed a large caldera measuring nearly 3 miles (4.5 km) across and half a mile (0.8 km) deep at the summit of the mountain. The caldera is now filled with the waters of Lake Tianchi, also known as Sky Lake, which is jointly shared by China and North Korea. This picturesque lake attracts numerous tourists drawn to its natural beauty and the purported sightings of unidentified creatures residing in its depths.

The volcano’s most recent eruption took place in 1702, and it is classified as dormant by geologists. While gas emissions were reported from the summit and nearby hot springs in 1994, there was no evidence of renewed volcanic activity observed.

Mount Tambora, 1815 (VEI 7)

Mount Tambora’s eruption stands as the largest ever recorded by humans, earning a VEI rating of 7, which is classified as “super-colossal,” the second-highest rating on the scale. This active volcano is among the tallest peaks in the Indonesian archipelago.

The eruption peaked in April 1815, producing a deafening explosion that could be heard on Sumatra Island, over 1,200 miles (1,930 km) away. The direct casualties from the eruption, primarily due to exposure to pyroclastic flows, were estimated to exceed 11,000. However, the aftermath of the eruption led to food shortages that persisted for over a decade, resulting in an estimated death toll of 100,000 people, as reported by NOAA.


This article has been modified using Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools.