Volcanoes of Vanuatu

Mount YasurThe volcanoes in Vanuatu form part of the “Ring of Fire”, as do the volcanoes in Japan and Hawaii. The Ring of Fire is an arc stretching from New Zealand, along the eastern edge of Asia, north across the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, and south along the coast of North and South America. The Ring of Fire accounts for over 75% of the world's active and dormant volcanoes.

This huge ring of volcanic and seismic activity was noticed and described before the invention of the theory of plate tectonics theory. Geologists now recognise the Ring of Fire is located at the borders of the Pacific Plate and other major tectonic plates.

There are twenty-four active and extinct volcanoes in Vanuatu, (Fiji by comparison has four extinct volcanoes). Ten of the Vanuatu volcanoes have erupted in the last fifty years. This summary covers those on the islands of Tanna, Ambyrm, Lopevi and the submarine volcano of Kuwae, which all feature in Cargo Cult.

Mount Yasur on Tanna Island is the King with constant activity providing a dazzling display on most evenings. It is one of the most accessible active volcanoes in the world and a must see in anyone’s bucket list. Touropia lists nine facts about Mount Yasur and they have a link to the twelve most amazing volcanoes in the world.

Boiling lava in Marum craterAmbrym is a basaltic volcanic island with a massive caldera of 12 kms × 8 kms and is the site of two active volcanic cones, Mount Benbow and Mount Marum. They provide wonderful trekking opportunities on this mysterious island, which is well explained with a detailed map by Vanuatu Aelan Walkabaot.

Lopevi is a much smaller volcanic island about 25 kms south of Ambrym and near the island of Paama. Although not particularly large, Lopevi is an awesome looking stratovolcano (strato meaning layers built upon from successive eruptions), rising directly out of the ocean to 1,447m. From the ocean, it looks like a black monolith, tailor made for a doomsday movie. Once inhabited, the villagers have since relocated to avoid the menace of violent eruptions and the peak is tabu for any female to climb. More information is available from Vanuatu Tourism.

Kuwae is truly funky as it hosts a submarine volcano that releases fumaroles, which stain the water yellow above. Over the top of the volcano, hydrogen sulphide bubbles reach the surface. Kuwae was a large island which erupted catastrophically in 1452. The islands of Epi and Tongoa are the remains of the event and smaller islands have come and gone over the centuries. The eruption was one of the largest in the world over the past 10,000 years and it is believed it caused severe cooling of the entire planet for the following three years. The weather disruption is thought to have contributed to the fall of Constantinople, as per the following account from Wikipedia.

Depiction of the Fall of ConstantinopleOn the night of 22 May 1453, the moon, symbol of Constantinople, rose in dark eclipse, fulfilling a prophecy of the city's demise. Four days later, the whole city was blotted out by a thick fog, a condition unknown in that part of the world in May. When the fog lifted that evening, "flames engulfed the dome of the Hagia Sophia and lights, too, could be seen from the walls, glimmering in the distant countryside far behind the Turkish camp (to the west)", historians noted. Residents of the city thought the strange light was due to reflection from a fire set by the Turkish attackers. Pang said, however, such a "fire" was an optical illusion due to the reflection of intensely red twilight glow by clouds of volcanic ash high in the atmosphere. Many such false fire alarms were reported worldwide after the 1883 Krakatoa eruption in Indonesia.

The last word on Vanuatu volcanoes comes from Australian volcanologist John Seach who arranges tours to different volcanoes in Vanuatu.

Vanuatu is one of the world's most exciting adventure travel destinations. The archipelago of over 80 islands in the South West Pacific has active volcanoes, traditional culture, pristine coral reefs, forests, and beaches. Ambrym volcano is famous for the lava lakes which regularly appear in the summit craters. Yasur volcano is one of the world's most active with Strombolian eruptions occurring many times per hour. Lopevi volcano is a perfect volcanic cone, located in a beautiful South Pacific setting. The submarine volcano Karua lies near the northern rim of the Kuwae caldera and is one of the most active volcanoes of Vanuatu. It occupies the area between Epi and Tongoa islands.