Scientists weigh in on 6 volcanoes that are heating up in 2018

Scientists weigh in on where things will heat up.

The eruption of Mount Agung on the island of Bali has sparked worldwide media interest, yet volcanic eruptions in Indonesia are nothing new. Of the country’s 139 “active” volcanoes, 18 currently have raised alert levels, signifying higher than normal seismic activity, ground deformation or gas emissions. On a global scale, in any week in 2017, there were at least between 14 and 27 volcanoes erupting.

Most observed volcanic activity takes place along the Pacific Ring of Fire, a region around the Pacific Ocean where several tectonic plates meet, causing earthquakes and a chain of what geologists call subduction zone volcanoes. Other eruptions occur at volcanoes within continental interiors such as Ol Doinyo Lengai in Tanzania, or on oceanic islands like Hawaii. Many also take place hidden from view on the sea floor, with some of the most active underwater volcanoes located in the Tonga-Kermadec island arc in the south-west Pacific.

RELATED: Indonesia volcano erupts

10 PHOTOS
Indonesia volcano erupts
See Gallery
Indonesia volcano erupts
Police help residents leave on a truck following a deadly eruption of Mount Sinabung volcano in Gamber Village, North Sumatra, Indonesia May 22, 2016, in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Irsan Mulyadi/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. MANDATORY CREDIT. INDONESIA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN INDONESIA.
Police help residents leave on a truck following a deadly eruption of Mount Sinabung volcano in Gamber Village, North Sumatra, Indonesia May 22, 2016, in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Irsan Mulyadi/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS MANDATORY CREDIT. INDONESIA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN INDONESIA.
Indonesian soldiers search an area following a deadly eruption of Mount Sinabung volcano in Gamber Village, North Sumatra, Indonesia May 22, 2016 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Irsan Mulyadi/via REUTERSATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS MANDATORY CREDIT. INDONESIA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN INDONESIA.
An Indonesian soldier helps others search an area following a deadly eruption of Mount Sinabung volcano in Gamber Village, North Sumatra, Indonesia May 22, 2016 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Irsan Mulyadi/via REUTERSATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS MANDATORY CREDIT. INDONESIA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN INDONESIA.
A dog is seen following a deadly eruption of Mount Sinabung volcano in Gamber Village, North Sumatra, Indonesia May 22, 2016, in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Irsan Mulyadi/Antara Foto/via REUTERSATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS MANDATORY CREDIT. INDONESIA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN INDONESIA. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Indonesian soldiers help residents evacuate following a deadly eruption of Mount Sinabung volcano in Gamber Village, North Sumatra, Indonesia May 22, 2016, in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Irsan Mulyadi/Antara Foto/via REUTERSATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS MANDATORY CREDIT. INDONESIA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN INDONESIA.
A woman mourns over the coffin of a relative after a deadly eruption of Mount Sinabung in Sukandebi village, Karo, North Sumatra, Indonesia May 22, 2016, in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Irsan Mulyad/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS MANDATORY CREDIT. INDONESIA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN INDONESIA.
Indonesian soldiers search an area following a deadly eruption of Mount Sinabung volcano in Gamber Village, North Sumatra, Indonesia May 22, 2016 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Irsan Mulyadi/via REUTERSATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS MANDATORY CREDIT. INDONESIA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN INDONESIA.
A visitor takes photographs of Mount Bromo, an active volcano and popular tourist destination, in Probolinggo, East Java province, Indonesia April 3, 2016 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. REUTERS/Zabur Karuru/Antara Foto ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS MANDATORY CREDIT. INDONESIA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN INDONESIA. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

The current eruptions on land range from gentle lava effusions to moderate-sized explosions and are tiny compared to the largest in Earth’s history. Even the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora, also in Indonesia, arguably the largest eruption in recent recorded history, is dwarfed by super-eruptions in the geological past such as that of Toba volcano on Sumatra some 74,000 years ago. Toba erupted approximately 70 times more magma than Tambora, helped plunge the earth into another ice age and may have even created a genetic bottleneck in human evolution.

In fact, Toba was the largest eruption in the past 25m years, so there is little chance of a similar catastrophe any time soon. Nevertheless, it is the frequent, small- to moderate-sized eruptions that pose a constant volcanic threat. Around the globe today, about 800m people live within 100km, and 29m within 10km of active volcanoes.

“Volcanic threat”, a measure that combines the level of hazard and the number of people exposed to it, is by far the highest in Indonesia, followed by the Philippines, Japan, Mexico and Ethiopia. These five countries combine to make up more than 90% of the total global volcanic threat. However, as a proportion of population, volcanic threat is highest on small islands such as Montserrat, which are entirely volcanic.

Which are the volcanoes to watch in 2018? Some of the volcanoes that currently show signs of unrest may simply calm down without eruption, while others may enter a phase of eruption in the months to come and will need to be watched and monitored closely.

As well as Agung, here is our choice of some to keep an eye on:

 

Kirishima, Japan

One of Japan’s less known but most active volcanoes, Kirishima, is a group of several volcanic cones with eruptions recorded on and off since 742. An eruption at one of these cones, Shinmoedake, in 2011 was the largest at Kirishima for more than 50 years. Shinmoedake erupted for the first time in six years in October, with white plumes rising 200 meters above the crater rim. Presently, the alert level remains elevated.

 

Merapi, Indonesia

Merapi is one of the most dangerous volcanoes in Indonesia due to its frequent eruptions and densely populated slopes. With a death toll of nearly 400 people, its 2010 eruption is so far the deadliest of the 21st century. One may argue that another eruption of Merapi is overdue, although there are no immediate signs of increased volcanic activity or unrest.

 

Öræfajökull, Iceland

This ice-covered volcano has erupted twice since the early settlement of Iceland, including the country’s largest-ever explosive eruption in 1362 and another in 1727-28. In both cases the eruptions were followed by massive and lethal flooding, as meltwater from subglacial lakes on the mountain were suddenly released.

Öræfajökull appears to be waking up. Small seismic tremors inside the volcano have been recorded since August 2017 and, in November, a depression on the surface of the ice inside the main crater appeared – a phenomenon that is usually caused by ice melting below the surface as heat builds up.

 

Popocatépetl, Mexico

Mexico’s “smoking mountain”, pictured at the top of this article, lies 70km south-east of Mexico City and is the country’s most active volcano. The volcano is currently erupting – as it has done so intermittently since 2005 – with lava dome growth, explosions, ash plumes up to a few kilometers high and minor ash fall in surrounding areas.

 

Villarrica, Chile

Snow-covered Villarrica volcano is one of only a small number of volcanoes around the world with an active lava lake. A gradual increase in seismic and lava lake activity, producing lava fountains up to 150 meters high, have been documented since mid-November 2017.

When Villarrica erupted in 2015 the volcano spewed ash and lava 1,000m into the air.

 

Kilauea, US

Kilauea volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island has spewed basaltic lava almost continuously for 35 years and there is no reason to expect this eruption will end any time soon. The volcano continues to erupt at its summit and from the Puʻu ʻOʻo vent on its East Rift Zone, producing lava flows that occasionally enter the ocean.

So these are some of the volcanoes that will need to be monitored closely over the next weeks and months. But volcanic unrest can also start suddenly at dormant volcanoes such as Hekla in Iceland which, based on its past record of decades of quiescence followed by sudden huge eruptions, may awake with little warning.

RELATED: Hawaii Volcano Kilauea

11 PHOTOS
Hawaii Volcano Kilauea
See Gallery
Hawaii Volcano Kilauea
PAHOA, HAWAII - OCTOBER 28: In this handout provided by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), A portion of the front of the June 27th lava flow pushes through a fence marking a property boundary on October 28, 2014 in Pahoa, Hawaii. Scientists of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory conducted ground and air observations of the lava flow from the Kilauea Volcano and determined that it was 510 meters (560 yards) upslope from Pa-hoa Village Road and the flow width was about 50 meters (55 yards) at the leading edge. Molten rock from the flow is inching its way towards homes in the town of Pahoa on Hawaii's Big Island where close to a thousand people live. (Photo by USGS via Getty Images)
PAHOA, HAWAII - OCTOBER 28: In this handout provided by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), A portion of the front of the June 27th lava flow pushes through a fence marking a property boundary on October 28, 2014 in Pahoa, Hawaii. Scientists of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory conducted ground and air observations of the lava flow from the Kilauea Volcano and determined that it was 510 meters (560 yards) upslope from Pa-hoa Village Road and the flow width was about 50 meters (55 yards) at the leading edge. Molten rock from the flow is inching its way towards homes in the town of Pahoa on Hawaii's Big Island where close to a thousand people live. (Photo by USGS via Getty Images)
Kilauea volcano, Hawaii. Cool to see what earth must have been once. http://t.co/p2SQ2XuEJE
Paddling near to a volcano. The Kilauea is throwing lava into the ocean since 1983. Photo by AleSocci http://t.co/jrVKdEIthm
#Hawaii mayor declares state of emergency as lava from #Kilauea volcano flows towards homes http://t.co/kkBSBPG2Bw http://t.co/qTsXIPhOKj
Lava flowing from Hawaii volcano http://t.co/ie6XNHobao http://t.co/wcMWCazvjJ
Lava is crawling inch-by-inch towards a Hawaii rural community, but there's no evacuation yet. http://t.co/s4zfLppubS http://t.co/fEe6em3sNf
BIG ISLAND, HAWAII - APRIL 6. EXCLUSIVE: Pahoehoe lava is entering the sea during the day from Kilauea volcano on April, 6, 2005 in Hawaii. German electrical engineer Martin Rietze specialises in astronomical and meteorological equipment, his work takes him to strange environments such as the Arctic and volcanos around the world. As a lover of photography Martin always documents his trip with pictures and noticed how alien landscapes can look despite being here on earth. Martin has produced a stunning set of images entitled Alien Landscapes on Planet Earth which he hopes one day will form a book. (Photo by Martin Rietze / Barcroft Media / Getty Images)
BIG ISLAND, HAWAII - APRIL 6. EXCLUSIVE: Pahoehoe lava is entering the sea at dawn time from Kilauea volcano on April, 6, 2005 in Hawaii. German electrical engineer Martin Rietze specialises in astronomical and meteorological equipment, his work takes him to strange environments such as the Arctic and volcanos around the world. As a lover of photography Martin always documents his trip with pictures and noticed how alien landscapes can look despite being here on earth. Martin has produced a stunning set of images entitled Alien Landscapes on Planet Earth which he hopes one day will form a book. (Photo by Martin Rietze / Barcroft Media / Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 2003: Eruption of Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (UNESCO World Heritage List, 1987), Island of Hawaii, Hawaii, United States of America. (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Ralf Gertisser is a Senior Lecturer in Mineralogy and Petrology at Keele University, Katie Preece is a Research Associate in Volcanology at University of Glasgow, and Sylvain Charbonnier is an Assistant Professor in Volcanology at the University of South Florida. This article was originally featured on The Conversation.

Read Full Story