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Volcano Watch — Kīlauea’s colleagues: what other volcanoes are currently erupting on Earth?

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by US Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists and affiliates

Telephoto aerial image of eruption in Halemaʻumaʻu at Kīlauea Volcano’s summit taken during an overflight at approximately 7:30 a.m. HST on September 30, 2021. A series of fountains in the central portion of the lava lake are visible, as well as the prominent vent in the west wall of Halemaʻumaʻu. The island, which formed during the early phase of the December 2020-May 2021 eruption within Halemaʻumaʻu, remains above the new lava lake surface and is visible in the center of the photo. USGS image by K. Mulliken.

Kīlauea, one of Earth’s most active volcanoes, has been on the Smithsonian Institution’s Global Volcanism Program (GVP) list of erupting volcanoes since the current summit eruption began on September 29, 2021. 

Prior to that, Kīlauea was on the list continuously from 1983 to 2018, after which it took a welcome 2-year break. Kīlauea jumped back on the list in December 2020, but quickly dropped off when that eruption ended in May 2021. 

Typically, in a given year, 40–50 volcanoes erupt, or a bit less than 10% of the world’s active volcanoes.  Let’s take a look at a few of Kīlauea’s notable contemporaries this year.

Sources/Usage: Public Domain.
Smithsonian Institution Global Volcanism Program map showing the 48 volcanoes that were in a continuing eruption status as of March 17, 2022. “Continuing” does not always mean persistent daily activity but indicates at least intermittent eruptive events without a break of 3 months or more.

As of March 17, the GVP reported 48 volcanoes in an erupting status! This includes volcanoes that may be intermittently erupting without a break of three months or more.  

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Many of the volcanoes in this list have been erupting recurrently for years to decades to even centuries. Yasur volcano, in the Republic of Vanuatu (South Pacific, Oceania), has been erupting intermittently since at least the year 1774. Stromboli volcano, in Italy, is thought to have been erupting semi-continuously for ten times as long according to Roman records! 

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The volcano to join the list most recently is Volcan Wolf in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador (South America). Volcan Wolf began erupting on January 6 of this year, with an 8-km (5-mile)-long fissure sending lava flows about 18.5 km (11 miles) down its flanks.  

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 two months. 

Breaking the list of erupting volcanoes down by continent demonstrates how variable in location 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), 7 in Central America, 7 in South America, and 17 in Oceania. 

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It’s no surprise that Oceania, much of which lies within the “Ring of Fire,” dominates the list of locations on Earth with erupting volcanoes. The Ring of Fire outlines the Pacific Ocean, and it is an area where volcanic eruptions and earthquakes are common due to tectonic plate boundaries.  

Most of the 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 hot spot in the middle of the Pacific Plate and 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 the eight volcanoes on Earth that are known to host 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 whereas Suwanosejima has been doing so since October 2004.  

Domestically, four volcanoes in the United States make the GVP list of volcanoes in an erupting status, 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 the volcanoes that we can see. But hidden deep beneath the ocean surface are volcanoes that erupt undetected. Though they account for 75% of Earth’s magma production, mid-ocean ridge volcanoes are poorly understood and usually erupt unseen.  

Iceland, where the Mid-Atlantic Ridge comes to the surface, offers us a window into this predominantly submarine world. The recent eruption of Fagradalsfjall volcano, from March–September 2021, was a spectacular example of mid-ocean ridge volcanism and one of the rare times when a mid-ocean ridge volcano made 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.

Volcano Activity Updates

Kīlauea volcano is erupting. Its USGS Volcano Alert level is at WATCH.

Over the past week, lava has continued to erupt from the western vent within Halemaʻumaʻu crater. All lava is confined within Halemaʻumaʻu crater in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. Sulfur dioxide emission rates remain elevated and were last measured at approximately 3,900 tonnes per day (t/d) on May 31. Seismicity is elevated but stable, with few earthquakes and ongoing volcanic tremor. Summit tiltmeters showed little ground deformation for most of the past week, though deflation began just before midnight on June 1.

Mauna Loa is not erupting and remains at Volcano Alert Level ADVISORY. This alert level does not mean that an eruption is imminent or that progression to an eruption from the current level of unrest is certain.

This past week, about 30 small-magnitude earthquakes were recorded below the summit and upper elevation flanks of Mauna Loa—the majority of these occurred at shallow depths less than 15 kilometers (9 miles) below sea level. Global Positioning System (GPS) measurements show low rates of ground deformation over the past week. Gas concentrations and fumarole temperatures at both the summit and at Sulphur Cone on the Southwest Rift Zone have remained stable over the past week. Webcams show no changes to the landscape.

One earthquake was reported felt in the Hawaiian Islands during the past week: a M2.2 earthquake 3 km (1 mi) SW of Honalo at 5 km (3 mi) depth on May 31 at 12:46 a.m. HST.

HVO continues to closely monitor Kīlauea’s ongoing eruption and Mauna Loa for any signs of increased activity.

Volcano Watch is a weekly article and activity update written by US Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists and affiliates. Maui Now added information to this report.

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