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Puyehue Volcano, Chile – Photograph by CLAUDIO SANTANA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

The recent photographs from the volcanic eruption in Chile stirred up memories from last year’s disruptive volcano in Iceland as well as the incredible undersea volcano in Tonga the year prior. When volcanoes erupt, it’s a startling reminder to the awesome and terrifying power of Nature.
From enormous plumes of ash to spewing lava and the menacing look of volcanic lightning, eruptions are a nature photographer’s dream. Here is a collection of the 30 most incredible photographs of volcanic eruptions both past and present. Enjoy!

2. Cleveland Volcano, Alaska – May 23, 2006

ash plume from cleveland volcano 30 Incredible Photos of Volcanic Eruptions
Photograph by NASA

3. Chaiten Volcano, Chile – May 2, 2008

chaiten volcanic storms eruption lightning 30 Incredible Photos of Volcanic Eruptions
Photograph by CARLOS GUTIERREZ

4. Undersea Volcano off the coast of Tonga – March 18, 2009

tonga underwater volcano eruption 2009 30 Incredible Photos of Volcanic Eruptions
Photograph by DANA STEPHENSON/GETTY IMAGES

5. Mount Rinjani, Indonesia 1994

indonesia lombok mount rinjani volcanic eruption 30 Incredible Photos of Volcanic Eruptions
Photograph by OLIVER SPALT

WHAT ARE VOLCANOES?

A volcano is an opening, or rupture, in a planet’s surface or crust, which allows hot magma, volcanic ash and gases to escape from below the surface.
Volcanoes are generally found where tectonic plates are diverging or converging. A mid-oceanic ridge, for example the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, has examples of volcanoes caused by divergent tectonic plates pulling apart; the Pacific Ring of Fire has examples of volcanoes caused by convergent tectonic plates coming together.
By contrast, volcanoes are usually not created where two tectonic plates slide past one another. Volcanoes can also form where there is stretching and thinning of the Earth’s crust in the interiors of plates. [Source:Wikipedia]

6. Sarychev Volcano, Russia – June 12, 2009

sarychev volcano eruption seen from space 30 Incredible Photos of Volcanic Eruptions
Photograph by NASA

7. Mt. Augustine, Alaska – March 27, 2006

mt augustine alaska 2006 volcanic eruption 30 Incredible Photos of Volcanic Eruptions
Photograph by CYRUS READ/AVO/USGS

8. Mt. Bromo, Indonesia – December 11, 2010

mt bromo eruption and mt batok east java indonesia 30 Incredible Photos of Volcanic Eruptions
Photograph by SAEFUL HASYIM

9. Kliuchevskoi Volcano, Russia – October 11, 1994

kliuchevskoi volcano eruption 1994 30 Incredible Photos of Volcanic Eruptions
Photograph by NASA

10. Mount St. Helens, United States – May 18, 1980

mount st helens volcanic eruption black and white 1980 30 Incredible Photos of Volcanic Eruptions
Photograph by ROBERT KRIMMEL/USGS

THE PACIFIC RING OF FIRE

The Pacific Ring of Fire is an area where large numbers of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur in the basin of the Pacific Ocean. In a 40,000 km (25,000 mi) horseshoe shape, it is associated with a nearly continuous series of oceanic trenches, volcanic arcs, and volcanic belts and/or plate movements. The Ring of Fire has 452 volcanoes and is home to over 75% of the world’s active and dormant volcanoes.
About 90% of the world’s earthquakes and 80% of the world’s largest earthquakes occur along the Ring of Fire. The next most seismic region (5–6% of earthquakes and 17% of the world’s largest earthquakes) is the Alpide belt, which extends from Java to Sumatra through the Himalayas, the Mediterranean, and out into the Atlantic. The Mid-Atlantic Ridge is the third most prominent earthquake belt.
The Ring of Fire is a direct result of plate tectonics and the movement and collisions of lithospheric plates. [Source: Wikipedia]

11. Mount Merapi, Indonesia – November 1, 2010

mount merapi volcanic eruption 2010 30 Incredible Photos of Volcanic Eruptions
Photograph by EXOTIKA LANDS

12. Mt. Etna, Italy – April 8, 2010

mt etna volcanic eruption 30 Incredible Photos of Volcanic Eruptions
Photograph by ETNASTURMER

13. Kliuchevskoi Volcano, Russia – October 24, 1994

kliuchevskoi volcanic eruption russia 30 Incredible Photos of Volcanic Eruptions
Photograph by NASA

14. Mount Krakatoa, Indonesia – May 6, 2008

mount krakatoa eruption volcano 30 Incredible Photos of Volcanic Eruptions
Photograph by THOMAS SCHIET

15. Mount Redoubt, Alaska – April 21, 1990

mount redoubt volcano eruption on april 21 1990 alaska 30 Incredible Photos of Volcanic Eruptions
Photograph by R. CLUCAS

SUPERVOLCANOES

A supervolcano is a volcano capable of producing a volcanic eruption with ejecta greater than 1,000 cubic kilometers (240 cubic miles). This is thousands of times larger than most historic volcanic eruptions. Supervolcanoes can occur when magma in the Earth rises into the crust from a hotspot but is unable to break through the crust. Pressure builds in a large and growing magma pool until the crust is unable to contain the pressure. They can also form at convergent plate boundaries (for example, Toba) and continental hotspot locations (for example, Yellowstone).
The Discovery Channel highlighted six known supervolcanoes: The Yellowstone, Long Valley, and Valles Caldera in the United States; Lake Toba, North Sumatra, Indonesia; Taupo Volcano, North Island, New Zealand; and Aira Caldera, Kagoshima Prefecture, Kyushu, Japan.
Although there are only a handful of Quaternary supervolcanoes, supervolcanic eruptions typically cover huge areas with lava and volcanic ash and cause a long-lasting change to weather (such as the triggering of a small ice age) sufficient to threaten the extinction of species. [Source: Wikipedia]

16. Mayon Volcano, Philippines – September 23, 1984

pyroclastic flows at mayon volcano philippines 1984 30 Incredible Photos of Volcanic Eruptions
Photograph by C.G. NEWHALL

17. Mount Vesuvius, Italy – April 26, 1872

eruption of mount vesuvius on 26th of june 1872 30 Incredible Photos of Volcanic Eruptions
Photograph by GIORGIO SOMMER

18. Mount Soputan Volcano, Indonesia – June 6, 2008

mount soputan voalcno eruption plume cloud smoke 2008 30 Incredible Photos of Volcanic Eruptions
Photograph by STR/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

19. Sakurajima, Japan – November 23, 2009

sakurajima volcano at sunset japan 30 Incredible Photos of Volcanic Eruptions
Photograph by KIMON BERLIN

20. Mt. Etna, Italy – October 30, 2002

mount etna volcanic eruption oct 30 2002 nasa 30 Incredible Photos of Volcanic Eruptions
Photograph by NASA

21. Mount Merapi, Indonesia – November 1, 2010

mount merapi volcano eruption 30 Incredible Photos of Volcanic Eruptions
Photograph by DWI OBLO/REUTERS

22. Undersea Volcano off the coast of Tonga – March 18, 2009

tonga undersea volcanic eruption 2009 30 Incredible Photos of Volcanic Eruptions
Photograph by DANA STEPHENSON/GETTY IMAGES

23. Mount St. Helens, United States – May 18, 1980

mount st helens volcano eruption 1980 black and white 30 Incredible Photos of Volcanic Eruptions
Photograph by USGS

24. Mount Merapi, Indonesia – November 3, 2010

mount merapi spewing lava volcanic eruption 30 Incredible Photos of Volcanic Eruptions
Photograph by BEAWIHARTA/REUTERS

25. Chaiten Volcano, Chile – May 6, 2008

chaiten volcano eruption chile 2008 30 Incredible Photos of Volcanic Eruptions
Photograph by AP PHOTO/LA TERCERA

26. Eyjafjallajokul Volcano, Iceland – April 17, 2010

eyjafjallajokul iceland volcano eruption smoke plume 2010 30 Incredible Photos of Volcanic Eruptions
Photograph by AP PHOTO/ARNAR THORISSON/HELICOPTER.IS

27. Chaiten Volcano, Chile – May 5, 2008

plume of ashes cloud chaiten volcano eruption 2008 30 Incredible Photos of Volcanic Eruptions
Photograph by ALVARO VIDAL/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

28. Eyjafjallajokul Volacano, Iceland – April 17, 2010

eyjafjallajokul iceland volcanic eruption 2010 30 Incredible Photos of Volcanic Eruptions
Photograph by LUCAS JACKSON/REUTERS

29. Mt. Bromo, Indonesia – September 28, 2006

mount bromo volcano eruption 30 Incredible Photos of Volcanic Eruptions
Photograph by FISCHERFOTOGRAFIE.NL

30. Puyehue Volcano, Chile – June 5, 2011

chiles puyehue volcano eruption june 2011 21 30 Incredible Photos of Volcanic Eruptions
Photograph by REUTERS/AIR FORCE OF CHILE/HANDOUT