Kīlauea, one of Earth’s most active volcanoes, has been on the Smithsonian Institution’s Global Volcanism Program’s list of erupting volcanoes since the current summit began erupting on September 29, 2021.
Prior to that, Kīlauea was on the roster continuously from 1983 to 2018, after which it took a welcome two-year break. Kīlauea returned to the list in December 2020, but quickly dropped when this eruption ended in May 2021.
Typically, in any given year, 40-50 volcanoes erupt, or just under 10% of the world’s active volcanoes. Let’s take a look at some of Kīlauea’s notable contemporaries this year.
As of March 17, the GVP reported 48 volcanoes erupting! This includes volcanoes that can erupt intermittently without a break of three months or more.
Many of the volcanoes on this list have been recurring eruptions for years, even decades, or even centuries. The Yasur volcano in the Republic of Vanuatu (South Pacific, Oceania) has been erupting intermittently since at least the year 1774. The Stromboli volcano in Italy was said to have been in semi-continuous eruption for ten times longer according to records. Romans!
The volcano that joined the list most recently is Volcan Wolf in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador (South America). Wolf Volcano began erupting on January 6 this year, with an 8 km (5 miles) long fissure sending lava flows about 18.5 km (11 miles) down its flanks.
The Instituto Geofísico-Escuela Politécnica Nacional, the organization responsible for monitoring volcanic activity in Ecuador, reported that the eruption ceased on May 5. So Volcan Wolf may not be long on the list of erupting volcanoes unless the eruption resumes or another eruption begins within the next couple of months.
Breaking down the list of erupting volcanoes by continent shows how variable they are on Earth: 1 in Antarctica, 2 in Europe, 4 in Africa, 4 in North America, 6 in Asia (including 3 on the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Russian Far East). East), 7 in Central America, 7 in South America and 17 in Oceania.
It’s no surprise that Oceania, much of which lies within the “Ring of Fire”, tops the list of places on Earth with erupting volcanoes. The Ring of Fire delineates the Pacific Ocean and is an area where volcanic eruptions and earthquakes are common due to tectonic plate boundaries.
Most erupting volcanoes in Oceania, South America, Central America, North America and Asia are part of the Ring of Fire. Kīlauea, however, is located on the Hawaiian hotspot in the middle of the Pacific Plate and the Ring of Fire.
Well-known volcanoes on the list of erupting volcanoes include Erebus (Antarctica) and Erta Ale (Ethiopia, Africa). Erebus, Erta Ale and Kīlauea are three of eight volcanoes on Earth known to harbor persistent lava lakes.
Lesser known volcanoes on the list include Dukono in Indonesia (Oceania), Telica in Nicaragua (Central America) and Suwanosejima in Japan (Asia). Dukono occupies the remote island of Halmahera and has been erupting sporadically since 1933. Telica has been erupting intermittently since April 2021 while Suwanosejima has been erupting since October 2004.
Nationally, four volcanoes in the United States are on the GVP list of erupting volcanoes, including Kīlauea and three volcanoes in Alaska: Pavlof on the Alaska Peninsula has been on the list since August 2021; Great Sitkin, in the central Aleutian Islands, since May 2021, and Semisopochnoi, in the western Aleutian Islands, since February 2021.
So far, this discussion has been human-centric, only considering volcanoes that we can see. But hidden deep below the surface of the ocean are volcanoes that erupt undetected. Despite accounting for 75% of Earth’s magma production, mid-ocean ridge volcanoes are poorly understood and typically erupt invisibly.
Iceland, where the Mid-Atlantic Ridge comes to the surface, gives us a window into this mostly underwater world. The recent eruption of the Fagradalsfjall volcano, March to September 2021, was a spectacular example of mid-ocean ridge volcanism and one of the few times a mid-ocean ridge volcano was on the GVP list.
If you’re curious to learn more about volcanoes and eruptions on Earth over the past 12,000 years, the GVP hosts a “Volcanoes of the Word” database that you can explore at https://volcano.si .edu/.
Volcanic activity updates
The Kīlauea volcano is erupting. Its USGS Volcanic Alert Level is at WATCH (https://www.usgs.gov/natural-hazards/volcano-hazards/about-alert-levels). Kīlauea updates are posted daily.
Over the past week, lava has continued to erupt from the western vent of Halema’uma’u Crater. All of the lava is confined within Halema’uma’u Crater in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Sulfur dioxide emission rates remain high and were last measured at around 3,900 tonnes per day (tpd) on May 31. Seismicity is high but stable, with few earthquakes and ongoing volcanic tremors. Summit tiltmeters showed little ground deformation for most of the past week, although deflation began just before midnight on June 1. For more information on Kīlauea’s current eruption, see https://www.usgs.gov/volcanoes/kilauea/recent-eruption.
Mauna Loa is not erupting and remains at the ADVISORY Volcanic Alert Level. This alert level does not mean that an eruption is imminent or that progress to an eruption from the current level of unrest is certain. Mauna Loa updates are released weekly.
Last week, about 30 low-magnitude earthquakes were recorded below the summit and upper flanks of Mauna Loa, the majority of them occurring at depths less than 15 kilometers (9 miles) below the level of the sea. Global Positioning System (GPS) measurements show low rates of ground deformation over the past week. Gas concentrations and fumarole temperatures at the summit and at Sulfur Cone on the southwest rift zone have remained stable over the past week. The webcams show no change in the landscape. For more information on current Mauna Loa monitoring, see: https://www.usgs.gov/volcanoes/mauna-loa/monitoring.
An earthquake was reported felt in the Hawaiian Islands during the past week: a M2.2 earthquake 3 km (1 mi) southwest of Honalo at 5 km (3 mi) deep on May 31 at 12:46 a.m. HST.
HVO continues to closely monitor the ongoing eruption of Kīlauea and Mauna Loa for any signs of increased activity.
Visit the HVO website for past articles on Volcano Watch, updates on Kīlauea and Mauna Loa, photos of volcanoes, maps, recent earthquake information, and more. Email questions to [email protected]
Volcano Watch is a weekly article and activity update written by scientists and affiliates of the US Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.