Five biggest volcano eruptions in recent history
The eruption at Eyafjallajökull volcano in Iceland has been hugely disruptive to world travel. But as a volcanic event, it's barely worth mentioning.
By the measure of the Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI) – a sort-of Richter scale for eruptions – the current outburst is probably a 2 or a 3, experts say. In other words, eruptions like Eyjafjallajökull happen virtually every year somewhere in the world.
The biggest eruption of the past millennium, by contrast, was a 7. Given that each number on the scale represents an eruption 10 times more powerful than the previous, that means Eyjafjallajökull is 10,000 times less powerful than one in Indonesia's Sunda Islands in 1815.
(For a look at Iceland's long volcanic history, click here.)
April 10, 1815
The Tambora eruption was the largest in modern history. According to the Global Volcanism Program, it was the only eruption in at least 1,000 years to rate a VEI 7.
The eruption of Mt. Tambora in what is now Indonesia cast a veil of ash around the world, lowering global temperatures by more than 5 degrees Fahrenheit. The result was the "year without a summer" in 1816. A foot of snow fell in Quebec City, Quebec, in June. Crops failed worldwide in what historian John Post called "the last great subsistence crisis of the Western world."
The eruption is also tangentially credited with the invention of the bicycle, as the cost of maintaining horses rose, both because of the cost of oats and the death of many horses.
Aug. 27, 1883
The obliteration of the Indonesian island of Krakatoa in a series of eruptions ending on Aug. 27, 1883, is, in many ways, the most famous modern volcanic cataclysm. The sound of the explosion was heard some 3,000 miles away, across the Indian Ocean on Rodrigues Island.
The VEI 6 eruption created a tsunami 150 feet tall, and a ship 50 miles away reported being blasted by hurricane-force winds from the eruption.