Earth Matters

The Hottest Volcano of Them All

January 9th, 2015 by Adam Voiland


What is the hottest volcano of them all? It depends on how you define “hottest,” but a fascinating new analysis crunches the numbers in a few different ways, using satellite observations of 95 of Earth’s most active volcanoes since 2000.

In terms of total energy radiated, the prize goes to Hawaii’s Kilauea (shown above), which has been spilling lava continuously throughout the study period.  Thanks to its lava lake, Nyiragongo (Democratic Republic of Congo) came in a close second.  Africa’s most active volcano — and Nyiragongo’s neighbor — Nyamuragira came in third for overall energy radiated. For a full ranking of all 95 volcanoes, see the chart at the bottom of the bottom of this page.

Note that the volcanoes emitting the most heat do not necessarily emit it explosively. In fact, most of the top heat producers were shield volcanoes that released mafic lava slowly.

If you ignore the steady, continuous heat produced by volcanoes and look simply at the “extra” heat produced during eruptions, then the rankings look different. Iceland’s ongoing Holuhraun eruption has radiated the most heat for an event. At the time that the study was published, Holuhraun had radiated about one-third more thermal energy than the 2012-2013 eruption of Russia’s Tolbachik, which itself radiated about 50 percent more energy than the 2011-2012 eruption of Nyamuragira.

The study, led by Robert Wright of the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology, was based on data acquired by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometers on NASA’s Aqua and Terra satellites. 


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