10 of the Most Stunning Volcanic Landscapes on Earth

Far more than just bringers of destruction, volcanoes are the master sculptors of our planet. They form islands, mountains and valleys, all while bringing up great riches from deep beneath the surface of the Earth in the form of valuable minerals. Volcanoes don’t just shape our landscapes though; they also shape our climate and, consequently, the very path of evolution itself. In this week’s listicle, I’ll be introducing you to some of the most spectacular volcanic landscapes where you can see with your own eyes just how powerful and creative Mother Nature can be.

#1. Dallol, Ethiopia

Dallol, Ethiopia

You could be forgiven for thinking that you’ve just stepped foot on an alien planet when you arrive in Ethiopia’s Danakil Depression. Not only does the region look more like the surface of Jupiter’s moon Io than anything else in this world; it’s also home to one of the most inhospitable environments on Earth. It boasts the highest daily average temperatures in the world but, even more impressive is the psychedelically colourful terrain in the crater of the Dallol Volcano. This is a place where the chemistry of volcanism has quite literally painted a fantastic work of art.

#2. Lava Fields, Iceland

Iceland lava fields

Iceland is truly the Land of Ice and Fire, a place forged and dominated by its magnificent volcanoes and geysers. Even the tap water in Reykjavik smells strongly of sulphur, owing to the rampant geological activity across the land. Unsurprisingly, the country is also full of lava fields, Hveragerði being one of the best known and the closest to the capital. Driving through the region, you’ll see vast deposits of ancient lava that have formed an extremely rough terrain of jagged rocky outcrops where only the hardiest of mosses and other plants will grow.

#3. Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

The Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is home to two record-breakers: Kīlauea is the world’s most active volcano, while Mauna Loa is the world’s largest shield volcano. The national park is one of the few places in the world where you can reliably see volcanic eruptions up close. Kīlauea has erupted several times in the past century but, this time, it has been active constantly since 1983. Fortunately, the ongoing eruption is on the lowest end of the Volcanic Explosivity Index, although its lava flows have already claimed much of the nearby town of Kalapana.

#4. Montserrat, Caribbean

Plymouth, Montserrat

While we’re on the topic of destruction, there are few places in the world where the destructive power of volcanoes is so evident than it is on the island of Montserrat in the Caribbean. In 1995, much of the British Overseas Territory was evacuated when Soufrière Hills erupted. Fortunately, there were no casualties, but the capital Plymouth lies in ruins, buried by volcanic ash and pyroclastic lava flows, a frightening testament to the wrath of nature. The modern-day Pompeii, what remains of the town is literally frozen in time from 1995, the classic red British telephone boxes and all.

#5. Ijen, Indonesia

Ijen crater lake in Indonesia

Volcanoes are true artists, able to use chemistry to create otherworldly results. In few places in the world is this more evident than in the Ijen volcano complex in East Java. Most notable are the electric-blue flames, fed by sulphuric gas heated to 600°C (1,112°F), that cling to the walls of one of the craters. To experience the sight at its finest, visitors can take an after-dark hike to one of the main vantage points. Ijen is also home to a huge acidic lake, where the waters contain enough sulphuric acid to dissolve an aluminium can, as demonstrated in this video. You can leave your swimming gear at home!

#6. Þingvellir, Iceland

Rift between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates in Thingvellir

I could easily make this entire list about Iceland, since it’s a country that’s practically defined by geological activity. Þingvellir National Park, which is also home to Iceland’s historic parliament, is perhaps best known for straddling the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. As such, there’s a spectacular rift valley where you can stand on the very border of the two plates. In fact, the land is scattered with cracks and faults where the Earth’s crust is literally being gradually torn apart as both plates move away from one another.

#7. Yellowstone Caldera, Wyoming

Geysers in Yellowstone National Park

Although characterised by its serene wilderness, the Yellowstone Caldera has a frightening story to tell. It’s the vast crater of an extinct supervolcano that last erupted 630,000 years ago, spreading ash over more than half of what is now the United States. Fortunately, these super eruptions, that reach the highest level of the Volcanic Explosivity Index (that’s 8), are extremely rare. None have happened in recorded history, and the last one, the Lake Toba eruption 74,000 years ago, may have almost wiped out the entire human race.

#8. Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Mount Kilimanjaro

Although the iconic Mount Kilimanjaro is a single mountain, it has three volcanic cones, two of which (Mawenzi and Shira) are extinct and one (Kibo) which is only dormant. The first European to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro was German geologist Hans Meyer in 1889 and, ever since, it’s been one of the ultimate ambitions among the world’s most intrepid hikers and climbers to follow in his footsteps. The mighty volcano is also home to a rich ecosystem with many exotic creatures, such as chameleons and sunbirds.

#9. Gobustan Mud Volcanoes, Azerbaijan

Bubbling mud volcano in Gobustan

Granted, mud volcanoes might not sound particularly ‘stunning’, but there’s no doubt that these rare geological formations are impressive. Among the most famous mud volcanoes are those found in Gobustan National Park in the small Caucuses country of Azerbaijan. Instead of just spewing out streams of lava, geological activity can also exude mud and water, depending on the content of the surrounding earth. The region is also home to bubbling pools of boiling mud and water, although there are others that are cool enough for more adventurous types to bathe in.

#10. Kamchatka, Russia

Klyuchevskaya volcano in Kamchatka

Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula is analogous to Iceland in that it’s a land forged by volcanic activity. A highly volcanic range of mountains spans the entire region from north to south, and it is home to no less than 160 volcanoes, 29 of which are still active. Klyuchevskaya Sopka is one of the most notable of them, being the highest active volcano in the northern hemisphere, having erupted five times in the last ten years. Another is Kronotsky, towering over the vast expanse of wilderness in one of the most splendid volcanic scenes in the world.

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