The striking and stupefying sights of violent, venerable volcanoes

June 18, 2017 1:25 pm Last Updated: June 18, 2017 1:25 pm

Volcanoes look no different from any other mountain most days of the year, but on occasion these formidable ruptures give way to fiery explosions of molten lava, rock, ash, and gasses that shoot out from the Earth’s core.

These forces of nature can invoke as much terror as awe or reverence. Over 50 eruptions happen a year; some dramatic, some harmless.

An undersea volcano erupts off the coast of Tonga, sending plumes of steam, ash and smoke up to 100 metres into the air, on March 18, 2009 off the coast of Nuku’Alofa, Tonga. (Dana Stephenson//Getty Images)
(Dana Stephenson//Getty Images)
Mount Sinabung spews pyroclastic smoke as seen from Tigapancur village in Karo district on November 14, 2013 in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia. (Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images)
The volcano on Mt Sakurajima erupts September 29, 2014 in the air over  Japan.  (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
Mount Sinabung spews pyroclastic smoke, seen from Tiga Pancur village on October 13, 2014 in Berastagi, Karo district, North Sumatra, Indonesia. (Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images)
Hot lava runs down Mount Sinabung. (Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images)

 

Mount Sinabung. (Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images)
Villarrica volcano. (SEBASTIAN ESCOBAR/AFP/Getty Images)

There are about 500 volcanoes in the world. Most of the eruptions occur in “hotspots” (like Hawaii) or along the tectonic plates that line the Pacific Rim, nicknamed the “Ring of Fire.”

Puerto Montt, southern Chile. (Diego Main/AFP/Getty Images)
Volcanic lightnings and lava spewed from the Calbuco volcano on April 23, 2015.  (MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images)
Mount Merapi is seen from Tunggul Arum village, spewing smoke and ash June 11, 2006. (Dimas Ardian/Getty Images)
Volcanic lightnings and lava spewed from the Calbuco volcano on April 23, 2015. (MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images)

Smoke, ash, and rock avalanches are actually more dangerous than slow-moving lava.

Mount Sinabung spews pyroclastic smoke, seen from Tiga Kicat village on June 17, 2015. (Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images)
Local farmers pause from their work as Mount Sinabung spews pyroclastic smoke. (Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images)
Mount Sinabung. (Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images)
Tenggerese worshippers gather at the crater of Mount Bromo during the Yadnya Kasada Festival on August 01, 2015. (Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images)
Mount Etna volcano on the southern Italian island of Sicily on December 6, 2015. (GIOVANNI ISOLINO/AFP/Getty Images)
Popocatepetl volcano spews ash from Paso de Cortes, Puebla, Mexico on January 24, 2016. (PABLO SPENCER/AFP/Getty Images)
Popocatepetl Volcano.  (RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)
El Playon, after the eruption of the San Salvador volcano, in Quezaltepeque, 21 km from San Salvador on June 8, 2017. (OSCAR RIVERA/AFP/Getty Images)

Volcanoes, though dangerous and destructive, are a part of the Earth’s life cycle, creating land and fertile soil, and helping cool the planet.