Just off the coast of New Zealand’s North Island, in the Bay of Plenty, lies White Island, or Whakaari (it’s Moari name). This private island is quite literally the exposed cone of an underwater volcano. The volcano erupted suddenly around 2pm local time on Monday 12/9, sending up a thick plume of ash and smoke. It is thought around 47 tourists were on the island at the time. Five persons are confirmed dead and numerous others are missing. It is believed no living thing could have survived the blast. Though the eruption is not at all uncommon for this volcano (or others like it around the world) it is a terrible tragedy for those who were visiting the volcano and walking around the crater when it erupted. During the event (it was all over in a matter of minutes) the Volcano Alert Level was raised to 4 (Level 5 is the highest and indicates a major eruption), but it has since been downgraded to 2-3. “White Island volcano is really complicated and just because one thing changes, it doesn’t necessarily mean that everything else will change and it doesn’t necessarily mean that this is going to lead to an eruption.”
This volcano is one of hundreds of active vents that lie in a zone geologists have termed “The Ring of Fire.” It is a 25,000-mile strip in the Pacific Ocean made up of oceanic trenches, volcanic arcs, volcanic belts and plate movements. There are 452 volcanoes on the Ring of Fire and three of the world’s largest ever recorded volcanic eruptions happened there. Click here for an interactive map of real-time volcano activity around the world. It is astonishing to see how many volcanoes are “alive” around the world!