Volcanoes are one of the most destructive forces on earth. With approximately 50-70 eruptions each year, volcanoes can play a major disastrous role in many peoples lives. Volcanoes have a mass of weaponry that they use to destroy and reek havoc in the world today. Here are the top five most destructive forces a volcano has:

1. Lava is volcanic magma that has flowed to the earths surface.

destroyed by lava

While magma usually does not play a major role in the death toll of volcanic eruptions. Lava moves at a very slowly only a few kilometers an hour allowing people to easily out run it. It however plays a major role in property destruction. Lava can and will burn homes, forests, and any other material that will burn. It can also solidify into rock on or within property destroying its usefulness.

2. Pyroclastics are fragmented rock, globs of lava, and ash fall.

Pompeii figures


A pyroclastic can pose a real threat as boulders by their sheer weight and lava bombs can cause massive amounts of damage. However, the ash fall can be the most damaging to people, structures, automobiles, and roads. Think for a second of Pompeii, when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D. the entire city was buried in ash. People who choose to stay behind were buried which left them in their poses of terror only to be rediscovered in the 1600s. Ash from Mount St. Helens was detected halfway across the United States. The road became a slurry causing accidents as people lost control of their vehicles. The ash will also cause respiratory problems with people who are exposed for long periods of time.

3. Lahars are a combination of ash and water that cause mudflows.

Lahar from Mount St Helens courtesy of USGS

Lahars will move downhill from the volcano filling streams and rivers with muddy ash causing floods. When Nevada del Ruiz erupted in Colombia in 1985 the snow capped volcano melted causing mudflows to rush down the side of the volcano where they eventually reached towns killing 20,000 people and leaving a wake of destruction. Longer term effects include streams and rivers with diminishing ability to move water due to the mud deposits. This leaves a higher probability of flooding in the areas, and also will affect towns further down the river.

4. Pyroclastic Flows

Pyroclastic flow Photo by Maurice and Katia Krafft

A pyroclastic flow will make its' way down a volcano moving around 60 mph with temperatures around 1000 degrees Celsius. When a flow moves down from the volcano it can uproot trees, and demolish buildings. The cloud of deadly hot gases and ash moves on a hot pocket of air gliding down burning all things in its path. These flows usually have no warning before they occur, as in a case in 1902. The volcano Monte Pelee on Martinique had a pyroclastic flow with no warning after its' eruption. The flow moved through the town of St. Pierre killing 25,000 to 40,000 people. Pyroclastic flows are by far one of the most deadly munitions of a volcano.

5. Toxic Gas

Lake Nyos photo by Thierry Orban and Corbis Sygma

Carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur gases, hydrochloric acid are all belched from volcanoes. While carbon dioxide isn't lethal in small amounts, the others can overwhelm people fairly quickly. Lake Nyos, the picture above, lies on a volcanically active zone. In this case carbon dioxide was released from the lake bottom forming a cloud that moved into a town killing 1,700 people through suffocation.

Volcanoes harbor a great deal of ways to destroy and kill. They have been a bane to humanity for millennia upon millennia. This article doesn't even touch the long term effects that an eruption has on the environment such as climate and atmosphere. These longer term effects can often lead to famines, and an abundance of colder weather for a number of years further showing the power of volcanoes to affect the world.