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2012: The Year in Volcanic Activity

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Out of an estimated 1,500 active volcanoes around the world, 50 or so erupt every year, spewing steam, ash, toxic gases, and lava. In 2012, active volcanoes included Guatemala's Volcan de Fuego, New Zealand's Tongariro, Russia's Plosky Tolbachik, Chile's Puyehue, Italy's Etna, and a new island appearing in the Red Sea. In Hawaii, Kilauea continues to send lava flowing toward the sea, and locals living near Mexico's Popocatepetl continued to deal with ashfalls. Collected below are scenes from the wide variety of volcanic activity on Earth over the past year. [39 photos]

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On March 11, 2012, photographer Andrew Hall captured this fantastic image of Santiaguito, an active lava dome on Guatemala's Santa María Volcano. Hall: "In the middle of the night, restless in my tent after hiking to the top of Volcan Santa Maria with Quetzaltrekkers, I trudged over to the other side of the summit, wrapped myself in my sleeping bag to fight off the chill at 12,000 feet, and watched alone as Volcan Santiaguito erupted again and again over the hours leading up to sunrise. The town of Retalhuleu, just beginning to awake, lies roughly 15 mi beyond." Andrew Hall)
On March 11, 2012, photographer Andrew Hall captured this fantastic image of Santiaguito, an active lava dome on Guatemala's Santa María Volcano. Hall: "In the middle of the night, restless in my tent after hiking to the top of Volcan Santa Maria with Quetzaltrekkers, I trudged over to the other side of the summit, wrapped myself in my sleeping bag to fight off the chill at 12,000 feet, and watched alone as Volcan Santiaguito erupted again and again over the hours leading up to sunrise. The town of Retalhuleu, just beginning to awake, lies roughly 15 mi beyond." Andrew Hall)
A massive plume of ash billows up into the sky as Mount Tongariro erupts at Tongariro National Park, 300 km (186 miles) north of Wellington, New Zealand, on November 21, 2012. The volcano previously erupted in August this year, the first time in more than a century. (Reuters/Stefan Keller) #
Plosky Tolbachnik volcano erupts in Russia's Far Eastern Kamchatka Peninsula, on December 7, 2012. Plosky Tolbachik last erupted in 1976. (AP Photo/Alexander Petrov) #
Indonesia's Mount Gamalama spews volcanic ash as it erupts on Ternate Island, on September 16, 2012. (AP Photo) #
On Russia's Kamchatka Penensula, Plosky Tolbachnik erupts on November 29, 2012. The volcano located on the peninsula's eastern coast, is erupting for the first time in 36 years. (AP Photo/Yuri Demyanchuk) #
Mount Etna spews volcanic ash during an eruption on the southern Italian island of Sicily, on April 1, 2012. Mount Etna is Europe's tallest and most active volcano. (Reuters/Antonio Parrinello) #
A farmer rides his horse in a peanut field as ash continues to spew out of the San Cristobal volcano (background), in Chinandega city, on September 9, 2012. Nicaragua's tallest volcano belched an ash plume up to 2 1/2 miles (4 km) into the atmosphere, prompting the evacuation of hundreds of nearby residents who heard eruptions emanating from its crater. (Reuters/Oswaldo Rivas) #
Big clouds of ash and steam are spewed from the Popocatepetl Volcano as seen from the Santiago Xalitxintla, in the Mexican central state of Puebla, on April 25, 2012. Residents at the foot of Mexico's Popocatepetl volcano no longer sleep soundly since the towering mountain roared back into action, spewing out a hail of rocks, steam and ash. The volcano, Mexico's second highest peak at 5,452 meters, started rumbling and spurting high clouds of ash and steam on April 13, provoking the authorities to raise the alert to level five on a seven-point scale. (Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images) #
Incandescent lines mark the boundaries between migrating crustal plates on the surface of the lava lake in Kīlauea's Halema'uma'u crater, on the Big Island of Hawaii, on October 22, 2012. Here, and at other lava lakes across the world, these rifting zones have a characteristic zigzag pattern. (David Dow/USGS) #
Waves crash over lava as it flows into the ocean near Volcanoes National Park in Kalapana, Hawaii, on November 27, 2012. (Reuters/Hugh Gentry) #
Steam rises as lava meets seawater near Volcanoes National Park in Kalapana, Hawaii on November 27, 2012. (Reuters/Hugh Gentry) #
Pele's hair from the lava lake in Halema'uma'u crater, in the caldera of Kīlauea in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, on May 3, 2012. Pele's Hair is the name given to volcanic glass threads or fibers formed when small particles of molten material are thrown into the air and spun out by the wind into long hair-like strands. Pele's hair covers much of the ground in the area immediately downwind of the vent at Halema'uma'u crater. Accumulations about one meter wide are found on the windward sides of the curbs in the Halema'uma'u parking lot. (Matthew Patrick/USGS) #
Tinakula is a small, volcanic island in the South Pacific, located about 2,300 kilometers (1,400 miles) northeast of Brisbane, Australia. This natural-color satellite image shows a plume of volcanic gas, possibly mixed with a bit of ash, rising above the island's summit. Around the island, the reflection of sunlight on the ocean -- sunglint -- gives the surface a milky appearance that makes the wave patterns readily visible. (NASA/Jesse Allen, Robert Simmon (Earth Observatory)) #
A plume of smoke rises from the Popocatepetl volcano as seen from Cholula, in the Mexican state of Puebla, on May 24, 2012. Popo, as the volcano is commonly known, has put out small eruptions of ash almost daily since a round of eruptive activity began in 1994. The Nuestra Señora de los Remedios or Our Lady of Remedies church stands in the foreground. (AP Photo/Chema Alvarez) #
The Havre Seamount volcano erupted a tightly-packed raft of floating pumice (center) on July 19 and 20, 2012. Over several weeks, wind and waves dispersed the pumice among the remote Kermadec Islands, northeast of New Zealand. This satellite image shows the start of the spread of the pumice. (NASA/Jeff Schmaltz LANCE/EOSDIS MODIS Rapid Response Team, GSFC) #
Mount Lokon volcano spews a giant column of volcanic ash during an eruption seen from Tomohon town located in Sulawesi Island, Indonesia, on October 7, 2012. The 1,580-meter Mount Lokon erupted at 2 pm on October 7, and was heard as far as five km away. The volcano experienced its biggest eruption last year, in July, when more than 5,200 people were evacuated as it sent huge clouds of ash as high as 3,500 meters (11,500 feet) into the sky. (AFP/Getty Images) #
Snowcapped mount Etna erupts not far from Zafferana Etnea village, in Italy, on April 12, 2012. The southeastern crater, "born" in 1971, has been the most active in the last few years. In the recent past lava flows have mainly damaged properties, but due to its slow speed lava has not killed human beings. (AP Photo/Salvatore Allegra) #
Ecuador's Tungurahua volcano spews a large cloud of ash over the nearby town of Bilbao, on August 21, 2012. Authorities encouraged residents living near the volcano to evacuate due to increased activity of the volcano, according to local media. Tungurahua has been in an active state since October 1999. (Reuters/Gary Granja) #
Ash and steam spew from Popocatepetl volcano in Panotla community, Mexico, on September 30, 2012. (Guadalupe Perez/AFP/Getty Images) #
Late last year, evidence made it appear likely that this newly-formed volcanic island might become a permanent land feature, as it continued to grow. The island, rising in the Red Sea, is part of a group of islands called the Zubair Group, belonging to Yemen. Newly-formed volcanic islands can often wash away within years, but within a span of a few months, this as-yet-unnamed island grew to approximately 530 by 710 meters (1,700 by 2,300 feet). (NASA Earth Observatory/Jesse Allen) #
Volcanic ash spews from the Volcan de Fuego or Volcano of Fire as seen from Palin, south of Guatemala City, on September 13, 2012. The long-simmering volcano exploded into a series of powerful eruptions, hurling thick clouds of ash nearly two miles high, spewing rivers of lava down its flanks and forcing the evacuation of more than 33,000 people from surrounding communities. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo) #
Lava erupting from a vent on the northeast flank of Pu'u 'Ō'ō, an active volcanic cone, part of Hawaii's Kīlauea, travels through tubes to the coastal plain, where surface flows were active, on October 17, 2012. Holes in the roof of the lava tube, called skylights, revealed the lava stream contained within. (Tim Orr/USGS) #
High lava levels and spattering at Kīlauea's Halema'uma'u, on May 14, 2012. The level of the lava lake at Halema'uma'u was relatively high, with lava close to the level of the deep inner ledge. Continuous spattering at the southern lake margin tosses spatter onto the crusted lake surface as well as onto the rim of the ledge, building a steep spatter rampart, visible on the left side of the image. (David Dow/USGS) #
A plume of smoke rises from the volcanic activity in Kīlauea crater in Volcanoes National Park in Volcano, Hawaii, on November 27, 2012. (Reuters/Hugh Gentry) #
Mount Etna spews volcanic ash during an eruption on the southern Italian island of Sicily, on January 5, 2012. (Reuters/Antonio Denti) #
Lava erupts from Mount Etna, flowing down its slopes on the southern Italian island of Sicily, on February 9, 2012. (Reuters/Antonio Parrinello) #
Mount Etna spews volcanic ash during an eruption on Sicily, on April 1, 2012. (Reuters/Antonio Parrinello) #
Ecuador's Tungurahua volcano spews lava, ash and pyroclastic material into the air, on August 21, 2012. (Reuters/Gary Granja) #
After last year's explosive eruption of Chile's Puyehue-Cordón Caulle Volcano, many more smaller eruptions took place, into early 2012. This image from December 23, 2011 shows a minor eruption, with a large field of gray ash, and huge rafts of pumice still floating on the surface of nearby lakes. (NASA Earth Observatory/Jesse Allen) #
Ecuador's Tungurahua volcano spews ash over the nearby town of Banos, on August 21, 2012. (Reuters/Gary Granja) #
A boy helps another adjust his surgical mask, handed out by the Red Cross, in San Nicolas de los Ranchos, Mexico, on April 17, 2012. A powerful plume of steam and ash rose from the Popocatepetl volcano in central Mexico, prompting local schools to cancel classes and emergency teams to prepare for evacuations. (Reuters/Imelda Medina) #
Residents walk near the Popocatepetl volcano, as it spews a cloud of ash and steam high into the air, near the town of Santiago Xalizintla, on the outskirts of Puebla, Mexico, on May 2, 2012. (Reuters/Imelda Medina) #
Incandescent materials, ash and smoke are spewed from Popocatepetl, as seen from Santiago Xalitzintla, Mexico, on April 24, 2012. (Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images) #
Ecuador's Tungurahua volcano spews volcanic lava, accompanied by large clouds of gas and ash near Banos, about 178 km (110 miles) south of Quito, on May 23, 2012. (Reuters/Carlos Campana) #
Shiveluch Volcano, on Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula, erupted on October 6, 2012, sending a plume of ash high into the air, carried first south, then east, as winds shifted. Shiveluch is one of the biggest and most active volcanoes on the Kamchatka Peninsula. (NASA/Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE MODIS Rapid Response Team) #
Lava flows from the Volcan de Fuego, or Volcano of Fire, as seen from the town of Palin, south of Guatemala City, on September 13, 2012. The long-simmering volcano exploded with a series of powerful eruptions outside one of Guatemala's most famous tourist attractions, hurling thick clouds of ash and spewing rivers of lava down its flanks. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo) #
Birds fly in the foreground as a plume of ash and steam rise from Popocatepetl volcano as seen from San Andres Cholula, Mexico, on April 18, 2012. (AP Photo) #
In the ocean just south of La Restinga, Canary Islands, the submarine volcano of El Hierro continued its eruptions this year, building, and spewing volcanic material into the ocean above. By late February 2012 the depth of the highest point of the volcano was 100m below sea level. (NASA Earth Observatory/Jesse Allen, Robert Simmon) #
Lava flows from a crater of the giant Etna Volcano on the southern Italian island of Sicily, on January 6, 2012. A column of hot ash spewed high into the sky on January 5, as Europe's highest active volcano rumbled back to life. (Marcello Paternostro/AFP/Getty Images) #

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