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What is the Largest Volcanic Eruption in Recorded History?

Michael Anissimov
Updated May 23, 2024
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The largest volcanic eruption in recorded history is that out Mount Tambora on Sumbawa island, Indonesia. Taking place on 10 April 1815, the eruption was so loud it sounded like a a gunshot to people on the island of Sumatra, 2,600 km (1,615 mi away). Only one larger eruption has occurred in the last three thousand years: that of Mt. Taupo, New Zealand in 181 CE. However, because no historians — in fact, no humans at all — were on New Zealand at the time, the largest volcanic eruption in history remains Mt. Tambora.

Signs of the eruption began when a dark cloud of ash formed over the mountain and the ground started to rumble. Several minor eruptions occurred over several days. Thousands watched the eruption unfold. At 7 PM on 10 April, three columns of flame "rose up and merged" and the mountain was turned into "liquid fire". About 100 km3 (38.6 mi3) of pyroclastic trachyandesite was ejected, enough to qualify as a 7 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index. All vegetation on the island was destroyed. 10,000 people were killed in the pyroclastic flows.

The eruption ejected enough ash into the upper atmosphere to block part of the light from the Sun for months on end. This caused 1816 to be called The Year Without a Summer, in which crops failed worldwide and at least 300,000 people starved or froze. On the plus side, the atmospheric dust from the volcanic explosion caused interesting optical effects, including the most spectacular sunsets in history.

The Year Without a Summer was harsh. Two huge snowstorms hit eastern Canada and New England dead in the middle of June. Nearly a foot of snow fell in Quebec City. As a result, the price of oats and other grains increased by about 700%. The event was called "the last great subsistence crisis in the Western world."

Although the explosion of Mt. Tambora was large, it is not the largest volcanic eruption in all of human history — just recorded history. The largest volcanic eruption in all human history is that of the former Mt. Toba. This was about 28 times larger than the 1815 eruption, and it is believed that the global human population may have been reduced to as few as 1,000 breeding pairs in the aftermath of the event.

The largest volcanic eruption in the history of the Earth were probably the series of eruptions 251 million years ago that created the Siberian Traps, a rock formation in what is now Russia. These eruptions lasted about a million years and released almost enough lava to cover the continent of Australia in a layer 1,000 m deep. This event resulted in the greatest mass extinction in Earth's history, during which 96 percent of all marine species and 70 percent of terrestrial vertebrates were wiped out.

Historical Index is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Anissimov
By Michael Anissimov , Writer
Michael Anissimov is a dedicated Historical Index contributor and brings his expertise in paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism to his articles. An avid blogger, Michael is deeply passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. His professional experience includes work with the Methuselah Foundation, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and Lifeboat Foundation, further showcasing his commitment to scientific advancement.

Discussion Comments

By anon297870 — On Oct 17, 2012

The most recent one changed the Richter scale. Now the Richter scale is from 1 to 10 (including 1 and 10). This was in Philippines and occurred during 2008. It reached 9.2 on the Richter scale, the largest figure ever recorded! And just to let you know some people think the strongest one was in San Francisco in 1906 or others, but from what I have heard from the Humanities Department at my college, this is false. Hope you enjoyed this answer and I believe it is correct but I cannot be 100 percent sure.

By anon157380 — On Mar 02, 2011

what is the deadliest cinder cone volcano?

By StormyKnight — On Oct 09, 2010

I did a report in my science class on volcanoes and learned a lot of interesting facts. Some volcanoes take thousands of years to form and others can grow overnight.

An example of that would be that the cinder cone volcano Paricutin appeared in a cornfield on February 20, 1943. Within just one week, it was five stories tall. At the end of the year, it had grown to almost 340 meters.

It stopped growing in 1952.

By GardenTurtle — On Oct 09, 2010

@oceanswimmer: Thanks for the info. Obviously, I meant to ask about volcanoes and not earthquakes. Thanks for the catch.

By OceanSwimmer — On Oct 09, 2010

@gardenturtle: The deadliest volcano recorded was in Tambora, Indonesia in 1815. There were 92,000 deaths, most from starvation. The second deadliest was in Krakastsu, Indonesia in 1883 which killed 36,417. Most of those deaths were from a tsunami that was a result of the volcano.

Number 3 was in Mount Pelee, Martinique in 1902 which killed 29,025 people. Most of those deaths were from ash flow.

By GardenTurtle — On Oct 09, 2010

What are some of the deadliest earthquakes?

Michael Anissimov

Michael Anissimov


Michael Anissimov is a dedicated Historical Index contributor and brings his expertise in paleontology, physics, biology...
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